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Media Analyses





Israel's English-Language Media, AFP, Selectively Report on Israeli Poll


A poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute noted that Israelis don't trust the media. In fact, at only 34 percent, the number of Israelis who trust the media is as low as it has been in the past eight years.

That same poll — or more specifically, the way Israel's main English-language news Web sites reported on one aspect of the survey — might also help explain why this is the case.

Along with questions about a number of weighty issues relating to Jewish-Arab relations, the poll asked Israelis whether it would bother them to have members of certain communities as neighbors.

Both Jewish and Arab Israelis were asked, for example, what they would think about living near homosexuals, foreign workers, ultra-orthodox Jews, immigrants from Russia or Ethiopia, mentally handicapped and others.

Perhaps most interesting to observers of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Jews were asked if it would bother them to have Arabs as neighbors, and Arabs were asked if it would bother them to have Jews as neighbors. Indeed, the English-language Web sites of Ha'aretz, Yediot Aharonot and the Jerusalem Post each mentioned this aspect of the poll in their coverage of the overall findings. So did Agence France Presse. But in a striking double standard, each of these news sources presented readers with only half of the picture, relaying that many Jews expressed discomfort about the idea of living next to an Arab but altogether ignoring the fact that even more Arabs expressed discomfort about the idea of living next to a Jew.

For example, Yediot led with the following paragraph:

"Almost half of Israeli Jews – 46% – wouldn't want to have Arabs as neighbors, a survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute indicated Tuesday."

Nowhere did the reporter indicate that, also according to the poll, 50 percent of Arabs would not want to have Jews as neighbors.

Ha'aretz devoted several paragraphs to the "neighbors" question:

The study also revealed that almost half of the Jewish Israelis polled would be bothered to have an Arab neighbor. That topic also found that 39 percent considered patients in mental institutions and foreign workers to be the most disruptive kind of neighbor; 25 percent said living next to a homosexual couple was the most disruptive; 23 percent said ultra-Orthodox neighbors bothered them most; and 17 percent would rather not live next to Ethiopian immigrants. ...

Israeli Arab respondents expressed less tolerance for foreign neighbors; 70 percent of whom said they would rather not live beside a homosexual couple, while 67 percent said they would rather not live next to Haredi families.

The study revealed, however, that 48 percent of Israeli Arab were tolerant of living beside foreign workers.

Here again, Jewish feelings about living next to Arabs was deemed newsworthy, but Arab feelings about living next to Jews was not. The reporter also cited Jewish respondents' views about living next to several other communities while omitted Arab views about these groups.

The Jerusalem Post's coverage was similar:

Nearly half (46%) of Jewish Israelis polled said that they would not want to live near Arabs, and 39% would be opposed to living near foreign workers or people with mental illness. One-fourth would not want to live near a homosexual couple, and 23% opposed having haredi neighbors.

Arabs had different preferences, with 70% opposing living near gays, 67% against haredi neighbors and 65% against former settlers. About half (46%) would not want to be neighbors with foreign workers.

And the same script was followed by Agence France Presse:

Asked who they were opposed to having as neighbours, 46 percent of Jews said they did not want Arab neighbours, 39 percent opposed living next to foreign workers, 25 percent were against homosexuals and 23 percent did not want the ultra-Orthodox.

Among the Arab population, 70 percent objected to homosexual neighbours, 67 percent did not want ultra-Orthodox living next door and 65 percent would reject former settlers.

It is possible that the reporters did not actively pick and choose what aspects of the neighbor question to cover and what to ignore. They may have based their stories on the Report's abstract, which itself fails to mention the poll's finding that half of Arabs would not want a Jewish neighbor.

Even if the culprit is not journalistic bias but rather laziness by reporters who did not bother to investigate the body of the report, the effect is the same. Instead of presenting an accurate picture of mutual Arab and Jewish misgivings, the news media skewed the story to present Jews as being anti-Arab while censoring negative Arab views about Jews.

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