Media Comment: A media descent

The media’s responsibility to defend the public’s right to know is not upheld.

Israeli police in front of Al Aqsa mosque 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Israeli police in front of Al Aqsa mosque 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
This past Friday, March 8, violence erupted on the Temple Mount. The Muslim- initiated riots resulted in nine police officers and dozens of Arab Muslims being wounded.
Some of the police had been struck by firebombs tossed from within some of the buildings, including the Aksa mosque. The police noted that this was an “escalation.”
The Temple Mount is, as our Supreme Court has decided in numerous of its judgments, a “sensitive” matter. This paper reported on Thursday, March 7, that Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said “officers were ‘on high alert’ for disturbances on Friday but did not issue age restrictions for Muslims wishing to enter.”
After the events on Friday, March 8, our police claimed that Likud MK Moshe Feiglin’s visit the previous Sunday, March 3, was one of the factors that contributed to the Muslim behavior. A second cause was a rumor. A police officer supposedly had not only knocked a Koran out of a female Muslim’s hands, but had kicked and stepped on it.
Both in this case and this past Friday, the Temple Mount had been closed by police to non- Muslim visitors.
The media could have put spokesman Ben-Ruby on the spot, asking him, “but what happened on February 22 this year?” On that day, just two weeks earlier, Arab protests also turned violent at the Temple Mount when exiting Arab worshipers hurled stones at security forces stationed near the Mughrabi Gate. The security forces entered the compound and used stun grenades to disperse the protesters.
Jerusalem District police chief Yossi Pariente was quoted saying, “our forces were hit by a hail of stones.”
There was no Feiglin visit to blame, nor had any policeman disparaged a Koran. What was the reason for the disturbances at that time? Feiglin’s March 3 visit ended with the closure of the Mount to non-Muslims. He sought to enter the Dome of the Rock, invoking, unsuccessfully, his parliamentary immunity. MK Feiglin was within his legal rights, he was not breaking any law and still his entry was barred. Interestingly, the same immunity served three female MKs well on Tuesday this week when they successfully violated the law and a Supreme Court ruling by praying and wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall Plaza.
Three days after Feiglin’s attempted visit, Muslim women, on Wednesday, March 6, created a provocation, shouting at and trying to interfere with a group of Jewish visitors.
The media did not raise the question of whether the police could have prevented some of the unrest by limiting access also for the Muslims. The police were also not pressed to clarify whether their current attitude was influenced by their frustration that their request, made in July 2011, to criminally charge Feiglin for previous actions at the Temple Mount, was rejected by the state prosecutor.
Not only was there no serious media discussion of whether the correct element was being punished, but the very fact that after this past Friday’s contretemps the police were spinning a narrative about themselves was ignored. At the end of the day, excusing Islamic fanaticism – rather than serving the public order and the oath of their office to protect democracy – should be considered a fundamental flaw which is unacceptable.
One exception to this media silence was Moran Sharir of Haaretz. Reviewing a Channel 2 interview with Feiglin, he wrote on March 5 that Feiglin’s presence on the Temple Mount was legal but that Channel 2’s police reporter, Moshe Nussbaum, seemed to be personally hurt by Feiglin’s actions.
“He condemned Feiglin’s action,” Sharir fearlessly wrote, “and Nussbaum sounded as if the police were speaking from his mouth... Feiglin gave clear and interesting answers but [Oded] Ben-Ami and Nussbaum weren’t listening...
all they saw was a kippa and a provocateur.”
The reason for the earlier violence couldn’t have been American President Barack Obama. It was only on February 26 that the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups threatened, as Mushir al-Masri announced, that a visit by US President Barack Obama to the Temple Mount during his upcoming visit to Israel would be a declaration of war on the Arab and the Islamic world that would require a third intifada and “resistance.”
Should not the media be paying more attention to Islamic fundamentalism? Media people could also have pressed the police as to their response to a February 21 statement issued by the Al- Aksa Heritage Foundation which extended Islamic demands beyond the Temple Mount to the Western Wall, claiming it is holy not to Jews, but to Muslims.
The group declared that Israel is “defiling the holiness of the site” by conducting Jewish prayers there. In fact, the exact same statement was made on January 4, 2010, and on other occasions. For example, the main cause for the 1929 riots was the Mufti el- Husseini’s claim, the same repeated today by Ra’ad Salah of Israel’s Islamic Movement, that Jews were placing al-Aksa in danger.
If there is any real desecration which should have been reported extensively by the media it was the work done by Wakf tractors on February 16, three weeks ago, removing stones and remains from the eastern side of the holy site.
That activity is illegal. The Supreme Court had specifically prohibited it in a judgment granted the Public Committee for the Prevention of Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount. The police did nothing, and the media did not deem that inaction is worthy of mentioning or investigation.
The mainstream media also could have given greater prominence to the remarks made by former Labor MK Daniel Ben-Simon, who was forced to cut short a visit to the Temple Mount on March 3. He had personally witnessed the discriminatory policies of police toward Jewish visitors to the holy site. His observations, which could have better explained what happened last Sunday, were limited to rightof- center media.
Ben-Simon, reacting to the Koran desecration incident, said, “because of a fallen book they close the Temple Mount to hundreds of people who are waiting to get in? The minister of internal security must be summoned and asked about the reality in which the police are on high alert because of a fallen book. Who’s in charge here? All this is done without explanation.”
Ben-Simon admitted that despite having served as an MK, he had previously been unaware that this reality was what Jews faced on the Temple Mount. Most Israeli MKs, he added, do not visit the site and are unaware of this absurd reality. Could it be that our parliamentarians are simply not interested, or is our media are keeping them in the dark? His suggestion was that delegations of MKs should be taken on a tour of the Temple Mount so they can see the situation firsthand and then closely examine appropriate ways to solve it. In other words, they should not be dependent on the media.
As we highlighted last October 10, (“Ups, downs of Temple Mount reporting”), media “coverage should be appropriate to the importance of the event and, of course, the possible ramifications of the story...
should be discussed.” It appears that too many of our media personnel, both reporters as well as their editors, are still locked in a mindset which permits official bodies, the police in this case, to spin, through press releases and off-the-record briefings, a misleading narrative.
The public is fed incorrect “facts” and inconvenient truths are hidden. The media’s responsibility to defend the public’s right to know is not upheld. An insidious relationship between the news source and the media is created and the media is quiet. It is such irresponsibility that creates deep distrust of the media, leads to legislation which would limit the media’s powers and ultimately harms Israel’s democratic fabric.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman, respectively, of Israel’s Media Watch (