Media Comment: The invisible minority

The fact that the Israeli Arab political leadership largely does not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state does not reflect the attitude of all Arab citizens.

Arab MKs 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Arab MKs 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
This past week one of the more high-profile news stories our media reported was that of two women who were raped in the north (there were additional rape stories). The rapists were arrested, but Michal Galperin complained to the Israel Broadcasting Authority about the omission of the identity of the suspects.
They are Israeli Arabs. She received a prompt reply from Elisha Spiegelman, the ombudsman of the IBA, explaining that the policy of the IBA is not to identify criminals as “religious,” haredi,” “left wing” or “right wing,” and in accordance with this policy the suspected rapists were not described as “Arabs.”
Spiegelman’s attitude is commendable, in principle.
One should not associate a body of people with the criminal acts of any individual.
This principle is found in the Bible, when Moses replies to God: “if one man sins, shall you be angry with the entire congregation?” (Numbers 16:22). But theory and practice do not always coincide.
On January 29, Moshe Finkel complained to the same ombudsman that on the IBA’s Reshet Bet radio station, reporter Assaf Pozailov and anchor Yigal Ravid let us know that the suspects in the desecration of graves in Ashdod were haredim.
Mr. Spiegelman’s answer on that occasion was: “the police suspected that the perpetrators were haredim... your claim that the report throws suspicion on the whole haredi community is unjustified as the report was only about a few individuals coming from that community.”
The case described above typifies the attitude of the Israeli mainstream media to two of the most important minority groups in Israel – the Arabs and the haredim.
Tons of ink have been spilled to describe the threats to Israeli society emanating from the haredi community.
Last summer during the “social demonstrations” and following the actions of the government, the media claimed that haredim were receiving cheap governmental housing, while the mainstream Israeli middle class was struggling to afford suitable housing.
But consider the Arab sector.
Some of them, most notably the Beduin communities, solve their housing problems by simply having complete lack of respect for the law. Tens of thousands of illegal structures exist. Judging by the attitudes of the mainstream Israeli press one would think that it is better to violate the law via illegal construction than use political influence to legally and democratically obtain housing for your constituents.
The now-defunct “Tal Law” has also been and continues to be a “fruitful” source for filling up newspaper pages and air time. The very sensitive issues of having the haredi community participate in Israeli society, help carry its burdens, whether military or social, and participate in the economic sphere are justifiably topics of media discussions.
Yet, the haredi community comprises only nine percent of Israeli society, while the Arab section makes up 20%.
It too, largely does not serve in the IDF and does not volunteer en masse for national service. Their rate for paying state and local taxes is comparable, if not worse, than the haredi sector. They, too, in general, do not stand at attention on Independence Day, a standard item in the media every year. The legality and the moral justification of the Arab sector’s abstention from military service is not less questionable than that of the haredi sector.
PARAGRAPH 36 of the Armed Services Law states that the defense minister may exempt anyone from military service if he finds this to be necessary.
The grounds for such an exemption are: “the size of the regular forces needed for the IDF; educational needs; security or economically related settlements; family reasons or other reasons.”
In other words, the defense minister can exempt anyone from military service and this serves as the basis for exempting the Arab population.
But for this purpose he has to provide some rationale.
The Tal Law is known to all, but the legal and moral basis for exempting the much larger Arab population is unknown, and the media does not attempt to obtain from the defense ministry the formal rationale behind the very broad exemption given to the Arab population. The legal and moral aspects of the exemption of Arabs from military or national service is hardly an issue in the eyes of our media.
Israel’s Media Watch has recently undertaken a study of the extent of TV coverage allocated to various minorities in Israel. The bottom line is that issues dealing with the Arab sector receive somewhat less than 6% airtime, much less than their percentage in the population. This statistic includes IBA’s Channel 33, which has special programs for the Arab sector. If one does not take this special programming into account, the percentage is much lower. On a daily basis, the Arab sector is simply a non-issue in our media.
The statistics concerning the Arab minority shout for attention.
Crime statistics for 2007 show that it is more than double in the Arab sector relative to the Jewish one. In 2008, the percentage of Jewish students who finished high school with passing marks in their matriculation exams was 54%, in the Arab sector it was only 44%.
The size of black market transactions in the Arab sector (as well as in the haredi one) is known to be very high, skewing national statistics, which show a very high level of poverty.
The Arab sector receives substantial subsidies from the state in various forms. Their “contribution” to traffic accidents is approximately double the relative size of their population.
The lack of serious discussion of what really happens within the Arab sector, within their newspapers, mosques and educational institutions leads at the end of the day to the present distancing of the Jewish population from the Arab one.
Instead of a consolidated media effort to integrate them, the opposite happens. By ignoring them and not worrying about the democratic process within the Arab sector, our media contributes to the exacerbation of the problem.
The fact that the Israeli Arab political leadership largely does not recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state does not reflect the attitude of all Arab citizens.
Why is it, then, that they do not manage to elect a different kind of leadership? Could it be that the Israeli media colludes by not paying sufficient attention and so allows those politicians whose respect for the law and the democratic process is lacking to dominate them?
The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch,