On Tuesday, July 25, 2017, in cooperation with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and MKs Ksenia Svetlova, Essawi Freij, and Jumaa Zabarqa, the Mossawa Center held a conference on racial incitement and the role of the media. During the event, participants—including journalists, civil society representatives, foreign embassy officials, members of the Knesset, and the Mossawa Center’s youth camp—discussed the ways in which political discourses legitimize physical, economic, and political aggression against disadvantaged populations, including the Arab community.
The conference centered around a critique of the government and the media’s response to the Haifa wildfires in November of 2016 and the events in Umm al-Hiran on January 18, 2017. In both cases, politicians and the media automatically assumed the culpability of the Arab community, despite its innocence in both cases. MK Zouheir Bahloul and others at the conference expressed their discontent that the media often actively participates in this discourse instead of scrutinizing its accuracy.
MK Essawi Freij attributed the media’s racist discourse to its prioritization of ratings over its duty to report accurately and hold the government accountable. Yossi Bar-Moha, the director of the Press Association, noted that the lack of Arab representation in journalism contributes to the community’s misrepresentation, pointing out that Ha’aretz, the leading progressive newspaper, only employs four Arabs.
Although such media portrayals disproportionately affect the Arab community, they also target other groups, including the Russian, Haredi, and Ethiopian communities and human rights NGOs. Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Center, noted that the exclusion of these groups from media discourse precludes them from reaching their political, economic, social, and cultural potential. MK Ksenia Svetlova also emphasized that racist and inciting discourses do not only apply to the Arab community, calling for all marginalized communities to unite in the struggle to gain proper media representation. MK Jumaa Zabarqa called for the creation of a strategy to mitigate public opinion vis-à-vis the Arab community.
Other participants in the conference included Judith Stelmach from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Abigail Kurmas from the New Israel Fund, Rael Abu Al-Qiyanm, an activist from Umm al-Hiran, Yoav Etiel from Radio Haifa, Khouloud Massalha from Elam, Oren Presko from the Seventh Eye (independent magazine/NGO), Nidal Othman, the director of the Coalition Against Racism, Ori Narov from the Reform Center for State and Religion, Yacoub Ibraheem from the Abraham Fund, and Alla Shainska from Morashteno.
The position paper (Hebrew only) distributed by the Mossawa Center at the event also stressed the prevalence of far right, settler groups in political and media discourses and its penchant for exploiting incitement against the Arab community to engender a sense of political isolation amongst Jews in an Arab Middle East. It also noted that the Ministry of Justice which, although responsible for dealing with racist incitement, almost never holds Jewish politicians, journalists, or individuals accountable for racial incitement.
For more information on racial incitement against the Arab community and the racist assumptions made following the Haifa wildfires and the events in Umm al-Hiran, see the following video.