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January 20, 2019 7:55 am

Anti-Israel Hit Job Conflates Press Freedoms in Israel and Palestinian Territories

avatar by Pesach Benson

Opinion

Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Photo: Alex Proimos.

If you were a writer spotlighting Israeli Arab media issues for a magazine like the Columbia Journalism Review, your reporting would include interviews with veteran Israeli Arab journalists, media personalities, news directors, and other heavyweights who have since retired or moved on to other things.

Your context would also note that the only free Arab media outlets in the Mideast are in Israel.

You would certainly make a crystal clear distinction between Israeli Arab media outlets (under the jurisdiction of Israel) and Palestinian media outlets (in the West Bank, under the jurisdiction of the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority — or in Gaza, under the Hamas regime).

And you absolutely wouldn’t let yourself be played into promoting those government-controlled Palestinian news services.

Unfortunately, Jerusalem-based freelance journalist Miriam Berger managed to do all that and smear Israeli press freedom in a mere 1,426 words:

The struggle to create a sustainable and independent Palestinian press inside Israel reflects many of the pressures facing these communities. Stories about Palestinian citizens of Israel are often not heard, even though the citizens themselves are a crucial component of the stories others tell. And journalists say there are few good options for Arabic-speaking reporters in the country.

There are plenty of successful veteran Israeli Arab journalists who would likely share their warts-and-all insights on maintaining a balance between their professional life and personal identities. A who’s who of Israeli Arab journalists would include personalities such as

  • Lucy Aharish — the first Arab Muslim news presenter on mainstream Hebrew-language Israeli TV.
  • Ali Waked — head of i24 News’ Arabic division.
  • Zouheir Bahloul — longtime sports journalist and recently retired Knesset member.
  • Khaled Abu Toameh — The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian affairs correspondent.
  • Ayman Sikseck — Haaretz columnist whose short stories, poems, and literary criticism have raised his profile.
  • Shibel Karmi Mansour — Druze news anchor on TV and radio.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Instead, Berger’s window into Israeli Arab journalism is provided primarily by Majd Daniel, Ameer Khatib, and Rafaat Abu Aish — a trio of obscure twenty-something freelancers living in Israel. (Unlike regular journalists who are directly employed by a news service and receive a regular salary, freelancers are their own bosses and are paid on an hourly or daily basis.)

These three haven’t been around long enough to have a broader view of the Israeli Arab media landscape. Thus, we’re treated to chestnuts like this:

“I cannot be a Palestinian journalist in a medium that broadcasts the news in this way,” he says, declining to go into specifics. “When I left i24News I was looking for a medium that’s talking like me, that has the same point of view, an agenda that I agree with basically.”

Blurring the differences between Israeli Arabs and Palestinians doesn’t serve anyone’s interests, especially when writing for foreign audiences. People seeing the Columbia headline declaring that “Palestinian citizens of Israel struggle to tell their stories” will assume that this is another story about “occupation.”

Berger repeatedly refers to “Palestinian citizens of Israel,” “the Palestinian press inside Israel,” and “Palestinians inside Israel” in the reporters’ voice. One freelancer refers to himself as a “Palestinian Arab.”

The result simply conflates Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. And that’s a shame, because the Israeli press — whether in Hebrew, Arabic, or any other language — enjoys press freedom, while the Palestinian press operating in the West Bank and Gaza does not. So the conversation that the Columbia Journalism Review wants to have about Israeli Arab journalism is skewed from the get-go.

If Berger is opening the door on press freedom in the West Bank and Gaza, then she needs to elaborate on the Palestinian Authority’s most recent restrictions on online expression, and Hamas detaining (and assaulting?) the director of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate.

But that would spoil the mood that Berger and her freelancers want to create.

From the article, you get the impression that there’s no truly independent journalism for Israeli Arabs. The most popular site for Israeli Arab news, Panet, is brushed off with an anonymous smear (“several journalists dismissed its content as ‘yellow news’”) even though it addresses important local issues such as crime and education. Neither does Berger give the dignity of a mention to respected, professional news sites such as Al Sonara and Kul al-Arab, both Nazareth-based. Another site, Bokra, is mentioned in terms of advertising revenue without getting its due as a professional outlet.

Then there’s Israel’s national broadcaster, Kan, and its Arabic version, Makan, which is dismissed with a bah-humbug:

Makan is quite popular on Facebook and has a large following among Palestinians. But, despite its popularity, young journalists such as Daniel aren’t interested in working there.

“I don’t want to work with an Israeli channel and use their language,” he says. On Makan, terms like “occupation” and “nakba” are not allowed. “The Israeli narrative totally differs,” Daniel says. “As a Palestinian journalist [at Makan] I can’t be free.”

That would be news to Makan talk show host Eman Al-Qassam Suleiman, who provides free-wheeling, open discussion with lawmakers, academics, businessmen, and other notables on the topics of the day.

Yet Berger’s report subtly promotes one problematic TV station. Daniel and Khatib both work for Musawa TV, which is linked to and receives funding from the Palestinian Authority.

Both say that Musawa offers them the best working conditions, in terms of pay, resources, and editorial standards.

The channel also has a complicated status. Musawa started in 2015 as Palestine 48. The channel began as a project of the Palestinian Authority (PA), which Israel bans from operating outside of parts of the West Bank. Soon after its launch, Israel shut down the channel for its relation to the PA. A few weeks later, the channel relaunched as Musawa. It is now produced by Al Arz Production company, an Israeli company in Nazareth, where the office is based. But in its current form it remains connected to the PA, and is broadcast via Ramallah, where the PA is based.

Daniel says he thinks criticism of politicians is important. On Musawa, he says, “you can criticize the members of the Israeli parliament and [Arab] coalition. It’s not a big space, but you can.” For the PA, however, “you can’t criticize,” says Daniel.

Shame on Miriam Berger and the Columbia Journalism Review for this unprofessional and unhelpful piece.

Pesach Benson is HonestReporting’s deputy managing editor. This article was originally published by HonestReporting.

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