Categorized | Sharkansky_Ira

Placement of Israeli news indicator of media’s news judgment

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By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–There is nothing wrong with the article in the New York Times under the headline, “March in Israel Ends in Clashes In Arab Town.” It correctly describes a march of Israel’s extreme religious-nationalist Jewish right, the organizational descendants of Meir Kahane, in the Arab city of Umm El-Fahm. Umm El-Fahm is the most prominent base of Israel’s extreme religious-nationalist Muslims, whose leadership routinely is on the edge of criminal incitement for high pitched raving against what it describes as Jewish desecrations of Islamic sites.

What is curious about the report is its location. It appeared at the top center of the New York Times’ web site, along with a picture of a boy who seemed to be dodging the security forces who came to the place of the march. They predicted accurately the stone throwing, tire burning, and other features of its reception by local Arabs.

The prominence of the article calls attention to what is trivia in the Israeli experience. To some, it may indicate once again that Israel is a crazy place, deserving to be wiped from the face of the earth. To others, it may indicate that the New York Times is in the hands of anti-Semites, and deserves to be wiped from the face of the earth.

In reality, the article is as dismissible as was the march and the reaction to it in Umm El-Fahm.
No doubt the march was provocative. It may have been unwise of the courts and police to provide it with a conditional authorization, and one can understand the locals’ response to anti-Arab signs and screams.

We can blame Israeli courts for a lot of things. They are responsible for insisting that freedom of expression should assure a right to protest, even for right wing Jewish extremists in hot beds of Muslim extremism, certain to embarrass the well-spoken and moderate among our international friends. The same courts are also responsible for letting Islamic extremists spew their poison in nonsensical claims about Israeli authorities’ intentions to destroy al-Aqsa Mosque and other holy sites. The courts have restricted the liberty of Muslim extremists only when their promotion of  violence is unmistakable.

In the larger picture of things, we should ask, so what? Or what should we expect? Jewish and Arab extremists deserve one another. The most recent march produced a few injuries from the stones and the police responses, and a small number of arrests. The situation is like the Ku Klux Klan and Stokely Carmichael, Jean-Marie Le Pen and North African activists of France.

Extremists feed off of one another, and might not survive without the provocation and responses of their opponents. Like those of the United States, France, and elsewhere, Israeli extremists are part of the social fabric. Neither Jewish nor Muslim extremists would be welcome in my home, but they hardly seem different from what produces background noise in any democracy, especially a democracy with a bit of social heterogeneity.

Why the Times treatment? Its article was short, and taken from the Associated Press rather than from one of its own journalists who routinely cover Israel.

The purveyors of Jewish junk, who are certain that Barack Obama is an anti-Semitic Muslim, that Jews have all the rights and have endured all the suffering, may write this off as conventional New York Times left-wing, anti-Israel behavior.

I have wrestled for years with my own emotions about individual items in prominent media. I can curse any of the Israeli television channels, certainly Ha’aretz that I read every morning but Shabbat with my breakfast, and even more so the BBC, CNN, and the New York Times. But I seldom have trouble finding some indication of balance in the items that upset me. Professional editors are alert to the allegations. What is enough balance? There is no simple answer. I admire the freedom of expression. It has allowed me to earn a decent living as a university professor while often disagreeing with friends and colleagues. I have an obligation to recognize the wide boundaries of what is at least minimally balanced.
 
The article that attracted my attention today is accurate and balanced. Its placement is curious. Or it was curious. Several hours passed between the time I began this note, then walked to the gym and the university,  and returned home to finish it. Now the article is not front and center on the New York Times website. It is two levels of clicks down in the website, one level above “nowhere to be found.” Maybe someone on the paper’s staff has a sense of proportion, and does not wish to exaggerate the importance of trivia.
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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