Economist unable to view Israel’s minorities as anything other than victims

What are the obligations of citizens in a democracy?

For many, so accustomed to the media’s ‘rights-based’ discourse, the question would likely not even register.

However any social contract within the parameters of democratic self-government surely includes a few basic responsibilities that all are expected to share – such as national loyalty, restraint and respect for the law and the common good.  These basic requirements, it seems, would certainly apply to the country’s minorities, as well as the majority.

Yet, when surveying the media’s coverage of Israel, we’re often struck by the myopic focus on the putative abrogation of the rights of its Arab minority by the Jewish majority, without the slightest suggestion that obligations exist on the part of the former as well as the latter.

An Economist article on proposed Knesset legislation, in response to Arab lawmakers’ visit to the families of Palestinian terrorists who killed Israelis, views the row through the predictable lens of the alleged ‘erosion of Israeli democracy’. It also contorts almost every detail to fit this narrative, beginning with the headline: ‘Israel’s proposed new law hits out at Arab Parliamentarians’.  (Though, interestingly, the headline of the article was changed (without explanation) at some point to ‘An Arab Agenda’)

The proposed law would allow MKs to suspend other members (with a 90 MK majority) if they engage in incitement to violence or racism; support armed conflict against Israel; or negate Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.  

This law would of course apply to all lawmakers, not just those from Arab parties.

In the second paragraph, the Economist explains:

The members of Balad, an Arab-nationalist party, also took part in a moment’s silence in memory of the young Palestinians. By calling them “martyrs”, the MPs enraged many Jews who regards the would-be killers as terrorists;

Of course, it’s not only “many Jews” who regard the killers as terrorists, but the overwhelming majority of all Israelis, including Arabs.

The Economist:

While the meeting was undoubtedly provocative, the move by the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to adopt powers to banish the Arab MPs from parliament is seen by his critics as an assault on Israel’s democracy and an attempt to disenfranchise Israel’s Arab minority, who make up 20% of the population (excluding Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1967).

First, Arabs would not be “disenfranchised” under the proposed legislation.  If an Arab MK was removed, the next person on the Arab party list would then be sworn in as MK.

Note also how the decision of Arab Israeli lawmakers to honor Palestinian terrorists is characterizes as merely “provocative”, while the proposed legislation is seen as “an assault on Israel’s democracy” and Israel’s Arabs.  (This claim ignores polling suggesting that Israel’s Arabs overwhelmingly support MKs who condemn terror attacks against Jews.)

The Economist then acknowledges that the bill will likely never become law, or that, if it does, it will likely never be used.

However, it again pivots to background information which supports their desired narrative.

Yet it is part of a verbal campaign Mr Netanyahu has waged against Israel’s Arab minority since last year’s general election. In a message broadcast on election day, Mr Netanyahu warned right-wing voters that “Arab voters are flowing in droves to the polls”.

He later expressed regret over that message but recently he linked an attack in Tel Aviv, in which an Israeli Arab murdered three Israelis, to “lawlessness” in Arab towns. He also instructed two conservative ministers to draw up a list of tough conditions that Arab local councils must adhere to in order to get money from a $3.8 billion programme designed to improve conditions in the Arab sector.

Note how the Economist weaves in three unrelated events to support their broader claim of racism: the prime minister’s widely criticized comments about Arabs coming out in droves, his claim that there is lawlessness in many Arab towns (debatable but not racist), and alleged requirements for Arab towns to receive a very large sum of money.

The latter point is especially telling, as it manages to turn even evidence that Arab social and economic problems are being substantively addressed by the state into not only a negative, but evidence of an assault on the Arab sector.

To be clear, there are real disparities between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and it is reasonable for journalists to explore their cause and possible remedies.  However, Israeli Arabs should not be infantlized.  Any comprehensive, fair and sober analysis of Jewish-Arab relations can not focus entirely on the responsibilities of the former.

When New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, commenting on the paper’s coverage of the region, suggested that Palestinians need to be portrayed as more than merely victims, she was acknowledging a broader truth: that minorities – even those viewed to be marginalized or oppressed – should be taken seriously as “agents of their own fate”.

We can only hope that Economist’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will eventually be informed by Sullivan’s progressive ideal.

39 replies »

  1. What about those Israeli residents, citizens and, indeed, Knesset members who oppose the proposed suspension legislation as anti-democratic? Why is it anti-Israel of the ‘Economist’ to side with those Israelis rather than with the other Israelis who support your position, Adam? What criteria should journalists use when deciding which Israeli citizens to agree with?

    • Where did I write that it’s “anti-Israel”? My arguement was very clear – echoing the NYT public editor’s concern that the media often treats Palestinians/Arabs merely as victims.

      • OK. So is your blog post just essentially you expressing your opinion that the bill is not anti-democratic, and disagreeing with those Israelis who say it is anti-democratic? That’s fine, if so, I just didn’t realise because it doesn’t seem to fit within the sphere of “combatting antisemitism and promoting accurate reporting about Israel in the UK media” which is this website’s mission statement.

        • Not going to get into a debate here. I’ll just point out that it’s not very difficult to notice how the slanted POV of UK reporters on Arab Israelis doesn’t pass muster in the “accurate reporting about Israel” area, unless one wanted to contort that factual reality away.

            • Yes. Many of those shouting ‘anti-democratic’ are detached from reality. Not all though. The funniest thing is the Arab Israeli MK shouting undemocratic when their internal society is so male based.

            • ‘So the (Jewish) Israeli citizens’.

              Well. Some of our radical extreme self-hating left are so far gone that they want a ‘Muslim democracy’ in all of Palestine. Would you say that that is ‘detached from reality’.

              Israel’s democracy is far from perfect. That doesn’t mean that it has to be dissected by a pack of vultures every time some small insignificant really, bit of legislation comes up for consideration.

              The proposed law would allow MKs to suspend other members (with a 90 MK majority) if they engage in incitement to violence or racism; support armed conflict against Israel; or negate Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

              That is a statement almost impractical for any real purposes. We are talking about a 75% majority needed to execute the exclusion of an offending MK. The Israeli Justice Minister, Ayellet Shaked, admitted as much yesterday on public television news. The new proposition was a reaction to a particularly offensive act done by some Arab Members of Knesset. Not all of the Arab MKs by the way.

              • “Israel’s democracy is far from perfect. That doesn’t mean that it has to be dissected by a pack of vultures every time some small insignificant really, bit of legislation comes up for consideration.”

                Yes it does, actually. That’s kind of how democracy works: citizens and others are entitled to comment (stridently) on pending legislation.

                • Are you a citizen of the State of Israel? Then by all means, comment with other citizens of your State and discuss the issues of the day.

                  Are you not a citizen of the State of Israel and have chosen to rake that State over coals everytime that society does something that might infringe your lofty expectations (but not because we know there’s very little you appreciate about that society based on your own attitudes, actions, words, etc.) of the State?

                  You like to talk in circles. Nothing you say leads to anything. Please realize that as you crucify yourself for our Zionist sins.

                  • Last time I looked at the Israeli Basic Law on Human Rights, it said that everyone had the right to freedom of expression, not just Israeli citizens? Perhaps I misread it though.

                    • See what you did? You avoided the subject which was a comment about you complaining about not having the right to complain about Israeli law, and why some of us respond to you as such. My comment was not about whether the law is good or not, but whether why you criticism carries nothing in weight.

                      At least we can agree that you think very highly of yourself.


        • @Sid Levine –

          It appears to me that MANY contributors here don’t live in Israel – or even in Britain, despite its focus being on the UK media.

          I’m also – 100% – sure that none live in the Gaza Strip or West Bank Palestinian areas – and yet feel qualified to comment on the beliefs, motivations and living conditions of Palestinians.

          Who’s “thinking” UK MediaWatch contributors reflect I guess depends largely on the choices they make from hundreds of websites offering reports and views of journalists/bloggers from all over the world – including Israel, the Palestinian territories and Britain – that supplement their own direct experience (or lack of).

          Which journalists influence YOUR thinking, I wonder …

          • “I’m also – 100% – sure that none live in the Gaza Strip or West Bank Palestinian areas – and yet feel qualified to comment on the beliefs, motivations and living conditions of Palestinians.”

            I, for one, spend most of my time commenting on your batshit insanity and obvious hypocrisies.

            Nice to see that you’re the victim here. Miranda always putting herself in her place.

    • An interesting thought experiment: what would the reaction of the UK Parliament have been if some MPs had visited the mourning parents of the Islamic terrorists responsible for the 7/7 attacks in London and pronounced their offspring to be “martyrs” and, for good measure, repeated it all in the House of Commons?
      It would be interesting to know what the Parliament’s rules of conduct are and how an MP can be sanctioned or removed. After all, every legislature has rules of decorum – except it seems Israel.

      • Actually, as far as I’m aware, MPs in the UK can’t be removed from office at all unless (1) they cheated in their election campaign, or (2) they are convicted by a court of a serious criminal offence.

        • If a UK MP had made a condolence visit to a UK family relation of a German general killed by allied troops during WW11, do you think that The UK Parliament would have enacted legislation to remove the offending MP from the position as MP and have a by election? Apart from possible criminal prosecution.

          • Because Resisting Islamofascism always helps Freedom and damages your tone deaf discourse.

            Happy Eternal Nakba!

          • BTW, Pal-e-SWINE AKA palestine, palestinianism, jihad, nakba are NOT a race – they are fascist ideologies similar to national socialism.