Media comment: Ups, downs of Temple Mount reporting

When events, especially violent ones, transpire, the press should be there.

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)
When events, especially violent ones, transpire, the press should be there. All the more so when the site where these events happen is a known flashpoint affecting Israel-Arab peace. What happened, how it happened and why are of sufficient importance to necessitate that media consumers be informed. In-depth articles and interviews are to be expected. Coverage should be appropriate to the importance of the event and, of course, the possible ramifications of the story on each the society’s political, economic or cultural life should be discussed.
During this past Succot, Jews were arrested or detained, as were Arabs. The Jews were detained for either praying, attempting to pray or being presumed guilty of praying on the Temple Mount. The Arabs were arrested for trying to prevent those Jews from doing so. And last Friday, police entered the Temple Mount compound to forcefully disperse rioting, rock-throwing Arabs.
Following up on our previous observations on media behavior regarding the Temple Mount in these pages on August 16, one may ask: has the media’s performance in this regard improved, deteriorated or remained the same (i.e. apathetic and disinterested)? The week’s events could have been straightforwardly reported as Jews being prevented from exercising their human rights as legally sanctioned by the Law of the Protection of Holy Places, 1967, which reads: “Whosoever desecrates or otherwise violates a Holy Place shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of seven years; Whosoever does anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.”
According to the law, in this case the Arab rioters should receive stiff jail sentences, while the police’s job was to ensure that the rights of Jews to visit and pray on the Mount were protected.
A New York Times report provides a basis for comparison with the Israeli media – as well as insight into media bias.
They published a story on October 6 entitled, “New Clashes at Site in Jerusalem Holy to Both Muslims and Jews.” While the arrest of Jews, among them politician Moshe Feiglin, is duly noted, a most interesting item is missing, namely that Judge Malka Aviv expressed her personal opinion regarding prayer on and access to the Temple Mount, writing, “There is room to allow for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount,” adding that “the [police] explanation that Muslims don’t approve of Jews praying on the Temple Mount cannot, in and of itself, prevent Jews from fulfilling their religious obligations and praying on the Temple Mount.”
Interesting? How about remarkable and very newsworthy.
Their long-term significance could be extremely great. But they were not reported. The Israeli media, on the other hand, did provide its consumers with the content of Judge Aviv’s decision.
The New York Times did, however, include two elements that jarred. According to its story, “religious Jews revere the site.” Is the implication here that secular Jews do not revere it? Do any Jews deny that the two Temples ever existed? Secondly, the story asserts that “the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, was set off in 2000 by a visit to the site by Ariel Sharon,” thus repeating a stock calumny. Not only was the first Israeli casualty of the intifada, 19-yearold Sgt. David Biri, killed in a bombing near Netzarim the previous day, but it is well documented that the violence was Arab-initiated, the visit but an excuse.
The Temple Mount story as reported in the Israeli media, for the most part, was lacking in perspective. Why were there no reports on the increasing level of Muslim fabrications concerning the Jewish presence on the Mount? These have included chemical attacks on al- Aqsa’s foundations, underground excavations, falling trees due to Jews, incitement and threats of violence. The Palestinian Temple Denial campaign is in full swing.
Yet the campaign of incitement intended to deny Jews rights while mobilizing violence is somehow “understood” and “accepted” by the press. Israeli Arab leaders were not called upon to condemn the Arab violence.
The leaders of B’tselem, the citizen rights movement, and the Israeli Democracy Institute were not asked what their position is on this fundamental violation of Jewish human rights.
On the other hand, a demonstration of less than 30 people and the exhortations of extremist Meretz MK Nitzan Horovitz against the date of change of daylight savings time received major headlines, opened the radio news the following morning and led to long discussions on talk shows.
What is more important, DST or the implications of Jewish-Arab confrontation and violations of human rights on the Temple Mount? But the picture is not all bleak. Weeks of preparation led to the publication in Haaretz of a profile on Jews who ascend to the Temple Mount. Shany Litman’s magazinelength story, “mounting tension,” was fair. It followed those who actively seek the rebuilding of the Temple, with a special angle on women, even secular women, who are involved. They were given a voice without heavy editorial intercession.
The readers could judge for themselves whether these activists were extremists or no worse – or perhaps even better than – other groups of social activists. The story provided its readers with new insight, which is, after all, what a newspaper or other news outlet is supposed to do. It even led to an interview of Litman on Channel 2’s morning television program, in which she recounted her experiences with the group, which mostly were positive.
Due credit should be given in this case to Haaretz, which made the effort and sent their correspondent to the scene to gain first-hand knowledge of what is really happening on the Temple Mount.
In comparison, the Galatz army radio station mostly mouthed the press releases of the police, without publicizing at the same time the press releases of the Jews wanting to enter the Mount.
Another piece, by Kalman Liebskind in Ma’ariv, “The Temple Mount in Their Hands,” based on documentary research, revealed the apparently negligent aspect of police behavior in the courtrooms. According to Liebskind, police prosecutors regularly rely on a government decision, No. 761 from 1967, when informing judges that prayer is not permitted. However, government minutes indicate that this was a one-time decision, directed at the intention of the late IDF chief rabbi Shlomo Goren to conduct services with a proper quorum on Tisha Be’av that summer, with ministers explicitly saying at the time it should not be considered a permanent condition.
In addition to these we note that the right-wing media, such as Israel National News (also known as Arutz 7), the daily Makor Rishon, the News 1 website and the Galei Yisrael radio station did give the Temple Mount issue ample space and in-depth coverage.
The bottom line then is that yes, the coverage has somewhat improved. However, it has not reached the attention level of other issues whose import is certainly not greater, such as disgusting “price tag” graffiti on churches and mosques.
The true missing element is, as usual, in-depth attempts to cover the events, rather than just repeating police statements. Haaretz understood how important it is to send a reporter to check events on the spot. Channel 2 provided a one-on-one interview. One would hope that the issue of Jews on the Temple Mount calms down, but if not, the least the media should do is be there on the spot to know what is really happening and provide the public with the in-depth coverage it needs and deserves.The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch