Media Comment: The inattentive media

Is the media afraid Jewish presence on the Temple Mount would undermine their secular cultural and post-modern views?

Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount 390 (photo credit: Ilan Evyatar)
Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount 390
(photo credit: Ilan Evyatar)
This year, the Hebrew month of Av, with its three-week mourning period (beginning with the 17th of Tammuz fast) and the 25-hour Tisha Be’av fast, all connected with the destruction of the two Temples 2,500 years ago and 1,900 years ago, coincided with the Muslim month-long Ramadan. As a result, the media was full of reports on issues and incidents relating to the Temple Mount.
Here are a few examples: Jews were disintegrating foundations of the Aqsa mosque through the use of chemicals; Israel was burrowing under the Temple Mount compound in the area of the Mughrabi Gate; a group of youth movement demonstrators intended to march with signs bearing the slogan “the Temple Mount is in Our Hands” (made famous by Mordechai Gur after Jerusalem’s Old City was conquered during the Six Day War) but the signs were banned by police who claimed it constituted incitement; a tree fell over and Israel was blamed, again, due to underground excavations; hundreds of religious Jews who visited the site were described as “storming” the compound.
Then there was the discovery of scaffolding placed on the Foundation Stone as well as pails, shoes and other renovation materials strewn about, a clear case of religious desecration. The US State Department’s annual Religious Freedom Report included a note that “only Muslims are allowed to pray at the [Temple Mount/Haram A-Sharif]... [and] Non- Muslim religious symbols are not allowed to be worn on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.”
Following an unexpected closure of the Temple Mount to Jewish ascent on the 9th of Av fast, MKs Arieh Eldad (National Union) and coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) announced legislative moves to fix time and location arrangements permitting Jewish prayer at the site and, last but not least (or all), Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein’s letter to the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem police and the Antiquities Authority was made public. The letter stated unequivocally that the Temple Mount is under Israeli law while the authorities must be “extra sensitive” in applying the law.
In June, a visiting Jewish student from the UK was told by a Wakf official to remove his kippa and in August, a Palestinian flag was flying from the Temple Mount. Over the past few months several Jews have been banned from entrance with no time limit fixed and no adequate judicial recourse provided.
HOWEVER, WE must make clear that by “the media is full,” we meant that the Arab-language media. The Hebrew-language press and the Israeli TV and radio broadcasting networks paid minimal attention.
Despite the criminal acts of desecration which in a normal country would lead to prosecution according to Paragraph 2 of the Law for the Protection of the Holy Sites, the blatant attempts by Muslims to agitate, incite and generate acts of violence against Jews and the quite obviously false claims of Jews harming the Mount – and the list above is only partial – Israel’s media hardly paid attention.
The whole issue was portrayed as affecting mostly the extreme right wing. The events were characterized more as an anomaly rather than a fundamental issue of civil liberties and religious freedom, basic rights that the law should guarantee and uphold.
Highlighted was MK Eldad’s suggestion, a reaction to the government’s proposal to slice up the Ulpana neighborhood houses, that the Muslim Temple Mount structures be similarly treated, but no serious panel discussion was conducted nor were government representatives grilled over the discriminatory police actions or their lack of response to the outlandish Muslim claims.
The Arabic-speaking population in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as the rest of the Arab world, was being fed a constant stream of invective.
Sheikh Raed Salah, banned from Jerusalem and who has been tried and convicted of funding Hamas, and of having contact with an Iranian intelligence agent, continued his anti-Jewish tirades.
Yet the biggest story in the Israeli press was the belated announcement of the discovery of hundreds of skeletons near the Temple Mount, although the ramifications of that discovery are more historical than current.
This past Sunday, Sheikh Ikrama Sabri, a senior imam at al-Aqsa Mosque, released a statement that the Aqsa Mosque, by which he means the entire Temple Mount compound, “is not subject to negotiation, and... the Jews have nothing to do with al-Aqsa Mosque.”
THE DECIDED lack of Israeli media interest in pursuing these stories, delegating them to the level of religious oddities, has two major effects.
The first is that when violence does break out, as in 1996 when the Hasmonean Tunnel opening caused riots or in 2000 when Ariel Sharon’s visit was wrongfully described as the cause of the second intifada, we are left in the dark. As researched by Dr. Dore Gold, media consumers have no true perspective or knowledge regarding the Muslim fanaticism that feeds a Temple denial attitude.
The second is that the Jewish side of the story is relegated to, at best, eccentricity status. It is presented to Israel’s populace as something insignificant and if it does make headlines, it’s the fault of the Jews.
As Giulio Meotti has pointed out, the Temple Mount is, since 1929, the major front in the effort by the Palestinians and Arabs to erase Jewish historical identity from the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, our media minimizes its magnitude as a reflection of the national struggle between Jews and Arabs.
Michael Freund on these pages was more specific in his accusations that “incidents that should have sparked outrage across the Jewish world but instead were met with stony silence... detestable acts of anti-Semitism elicited neither... a peep of public protest from world Jewish leaders or organizations.”
There is no question that this lack of reaction is at least partially due to the fact that the Israeli media downplays Temple Mount incidents against Jews.
The Israeli media prides itself and even demands special rights as the country’s watchdog. Why then does it react so sluggishly to the real discrimination and delegitimization of anything Jewish in the Temple Mount? Is that how responsible media acts in a democratic country? As we have witnessed during the same period, editors, if they so wish, are quite successful at creating agendas even on rather minor issues, such as Keren Neubach’s broadcasting woes, or Adar Cohen’s firing as civics supervisor for the Education Ministry.
The evidence from the media coverage this summer and the lack of interest by our media icons such as Amnon Abramovich, Ilana Dayan or Motti Kirschenbaum, as well as the self-appointed “guardians of democracy” such as the Israel Democracy Institute, the Association for Civil Rights or B’tselem, all indicates that they are wantonly ignoring the fundamental issue of freedom of religion for Jews and Christians on the Temple Mount.
Is the media afraid Jewish presence on the Temple Mount would undermine their secular cultural and post-modern views? Are our politicians impotent due to the media’s anti-Mount sentiments?
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.