Knesset hosts conference on Arab representation in Israeli m...

Knesset hosts conference on Arab representation in Israeli mainstream media

October 27, 2017

In August 2017, the Knesset convened a conference for MKs, members of the media, and civil society activists on various aspects of Arab representation in mainstream Israeli media. In recent years, a number of studies on these issues have shown that coverage of Arab citizens in all mainstream Hebrew media in Israel falls short relative to the size of the population (around 2% of coverage in all media channels combined). Moreover, this coverage is disproportionately focused on issues of crime, terrorism and violence, while rarely representing Arab perspectives and voices on other subjects and fields of expertis.

The Knesset convened this conference to explore concerns that this representation limited in this way is a form of incitement against Arab citizens, and damaging to Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. A number of recent breaking news stories were presented as examples of how media coverage contributes to a specific picture of the Arab population and plays a role in escalating feelings of mistrust between Arab and Jewish citizens.

Yoav Etiel, a radio correspondent in Haifa, spoke about coverage of the 2016 wildfires in Haifa. According to his analysis, coverage of the fire reinforced mainstream Jewish Israeli assumptions that “Arabs started the fires on nationalist grounds.” Etiel explained that during and in the aftermath of the fires, the media publicized statements from the chief of police, PM Netanyahu, and Minister Yoav Galant that made claims of nationalist arson and terrorism as causes for the fires. Though six Arab citizens were indicted for starting what officials described as minor fires in the north of the country, following investigations, no charges were made against arsonists on nationalist grounds.  In Etiel’s opinion, the media “gave the masses what they wanted concerning the fire.” Closing, he drew attention to the fact that though the claim of nationalistically motivated arson “cannot be repeated in court today, [sic] it was said in newspapers, on radio and television.”

Raed Abu Al-Qian, a member of Umm al-Hiran’s local council, spoke about media coverage of the events surrounding home demolitions in the unrecognized village. On the morning of the demolitions, Raed's uncle, Yakub Abu Al-Qian, was shot and killed by police fire while driving his car, which subsequently hit and killed an Israeli police officer. Government officials were quoted in the media identifying Al-Qian as a terrorist prior to investigations. Later, police officers were found to have not acted according to protocol in Umm al-Hiran, and no links were found between Yakub Abu Al-Qian and terrorist organizations. Raed shared his hope that “the tragedy and calamity in Umm al-Hiran would change the behavior of the state and the media” but that comments continued to be made in the media, including from PM Netanyahu and President Rivlin, suggesting ties between Al-Qian and terrorist organizations.

Other factors addressed were the lack of Arab media professionals and their limited representation as experts and interviewees in mainstream media outlets.  As examples of these phenomena, Yosi Bar Moha, Director of the Association of Israeli Journalists, noted that Haaretz, often viewed as a left of center newspaper, only employs 4 Arabs on its staff and Oren Persico, journalist for the Seventh Eye Magazine, an outlet working in partnership with Sikkuy to track Arab representation in the media, shared that 4.5% of all speakers and interviewees on Channel 2 News, the most watched edition, were Arab.

In recent years, leaders of the Arab Representation Index project from Sikkuy and Seventh Eye have drawn attention to the way how  “the media shapes the way [Jews and Arabs in Israel] perceive each other and becomes a central element that can either create escalation or contribute towards creating a shared society.” The Knesset conference brought these issues to the attention of political leadership.

A video with highlights of the Knesset conference can be watched here. 

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