Tag Archives: Arabs

Is NPR Anti-Israel?

by Symi Rom-Rymer

It’s practically impossible for a news organization, especially one like NPR, that is considered left-of-center, to cover the Middle East conflict and not to be accused, by someone, of being anti-Israel. A quick Google search shows that people across the spectrum have taken issue with NPR and its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In 2000, CAMERA (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), a conservative pro-Israel media watchdog group, called the station’s coverage of Israel hostile, adding that it presented Israel as “morally reprehensible.” In May of this year, it criticized the Diane Rehm Show, saying that Rehm “stacked the deck against Israel” in a segment. Of course, it’s not only pro-Israel advocates who take issue with NPR’s Middle East reporting. In 2001, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a liberal media watchdog group, quoted Arab-American media critic Ali Abuminah saying that NPR’s coverage of Israeli attacks on Palestinians was, “cursory, inconsistent and wholly inadequate.”

NPR is no stranger to controversy. In the past year alone, it has been excoriated for firing Juan Williams and for remarks made by the now-former NPR executive Ron Schiller about the Tea Party. Congress, pushed by conservative Republican representatives, recently debated a bill that would eliminate government funding for its programming. All this contention has not escaped the notice of NPR hosts and reporters. In March, on the NPR show “On the Media,” host Brooke Gladstone and Ira Glass, of “This American Life,” looked at the charges of liberal bias leveled against NPR by conservative lawmakers and commentators. They broke down certain segments and discussed, with input from self-defined conservative listeners, instances of suspected liberal favoritism.

In addition, Gladstone interviewed three different media analysts who had conducted studies on bias in the news. According Steve Rendal from FAIR, NPR did in fact have a bias: a conservative one. Tim Groseclose, a professor in the Economics and Political Science Department at UCLA, and Jeff Milyo, an economics professor at the University of Missouri, carried out their own study which showed that NPR did, in fact, have a liberal bias, but so did 18 out of the 20 media outlets it evaluated, including The Wall Street Journal.  Finally, Gladstone interviewed Tom Rosenstiel, of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center. He found that NPR’s coverage was as neutral as or more conservative than other major American news outlets. The results, in other words, were inconclusive.

Although we might think of ideal journalism as a purely objective reporting of the facts, that is simply not the reality. Each individual reporter has his or her own biases, and so does each news organization. It’s impossible not to. These biases come not only from how we see the world as adults but from our experiences growing up. Our ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, our families, our friends, our education–formal and informal–all inform how we see the world.

How each media outlet chooses to handle that subjective reality, however, is a different matter. Seven years ago, NPR, perhaps in response to criticism it received from Jewish and Arab groups, asked John Felton, foreign editor at NPR and former foreign affairs reporter for Congressional Quarterly, to compile annual quarterly reports assessing NPR’s Middle East coverage. Each report breaks down the coverage into various catagories, including Accuracy, Fairness and Balance, and Voices. One of the most interesting findings in his reports is that while the critics on both sides seems to think that NPR’s coverage is too extreme on one side or the other, Felton feels that NPR does not push the envelope enough. In several reports he mentions that the commentators and analysts invited on various shows represent the milder opinions on the conflict and that a lack of radical views offers a limited picture of the mindset of many in the region.

In the “On the Media” piece, one of Gladstone’s conservative listeners commented that he didn’t so much oppose certain stories themselves, but rather took issue with the tone that was used, especially by some of the journalists. It wasn’t something concrete that he could point to, but rather a general feeling. As Felton points out in his reports, NPR, like many news outlets, occasionally makes mistakes in its coverage. Sometimes it misquotes a casualty figure or poorly translates an interviewee or misrepresents a situation. But on the whole, these actual errors are few. CAMERA, Abuminah, and others are, like Gladstone’s listener, likely reacting to an emotional feeling they get when comparing the broadcasts to their very particular point of view rather than to an objective shortcoming. For them, NPR may never get it right. But at least they’re trying.

 

Learning the Right Lessons?

By Symi Rom-Rymer

In a recent poll, 30% of Israeli Arabs, out of 700 questioned, don’t believe the Holocaust happened.  As the Associated Press reported earlier this week, Yad Vashem is trying to change that.  The poll’s creator, Sammy Smooha, insists that the high rate of denial has more to do with a repudiation of Israel’s policies than with true Holocaust negation.  But as the article points out, for many Israeli Arabs, accepting the Holocaust is equivalent to acknowledging Jewish claims to Israel.  In an effort to place the issue of the Holocaust within its proper historical framework, rather than within the flashpoint of Middle East politics, the museum is launching a new initiative aimed at Israeli Arabs educators.

This is not the first time that the museum has tried to engage the Israeli Arab community over the Holocaust, but previous efforts suffered from bad timing.  Just as Yad Vashem opened an exhibit on the Muslim rescue of Jews in Bosnia, Israel began its three-week offensive in Gaza.  Anger over the conflict led most potential visitors to boycott the museum and its exhibit.  They are hoping this attempt will be more successful.

There are several aspects about this initiative, however, that are troubling.  First of all, by emphasizing the Holocaust, Yad Vashem’s project plays into the erroneous belief held by many Arabs that Israel exists only because of the Holocaust; that the ties Jews feel to the land of Israel does not go back thousands of years, but rather only 60 years: to the destruction of European Jewry.  Instead, the museum should seek to create a more comprehensive curriculum that places the Holocaust in a larger context that addresses not only the role it played in the establishment of Israel but that also discusses the deeper historical bonds between Jews and Israel.   Moreover, it is not enough to teach the history of the Holocaust and with it, hope that through those lessons Arabs will see their fellow citizens in a different light.   It is unclear how stories of Jewish discrimination and persecution in Europe will engender feelings of sympathy towards Israeli Jews when many Arabs feel discriminated against by the very people with whom they are meant to sympathize.

There is certainly an argument to be made for why Arab students should know about the Holocaust.  To teach them about that era is not only important to understand a crucial era that continues to deeply influence Jews in Israel and around the world but also to allow Arabs to get insight into the Jewish Israeli mindset; to help contextualize their outlook.   It is not enough, however, to insist that Arabs learn about the Holocaust.  In order to foster better relations between Jewish and Arab Israelis, it is similarly critical that Jews learn about the history of their Arab neighbors and gain better insight into their mindset.  One way to do this would be to teach the Nakba, the so-called disaster Arabs associate with the foundation of Israel, which the majority of Jewish schools do not cover.  This should not be presented as an equivalent to the Holocaust, but rather as an acknowledgment of the traumatic Arab experience from the Jewish population and a genuine desire to understand that history and its impact on the current situation.

A few efforts already exist to try and bridge the gap through education but they are small and isolated.  At Kibbutz Lohamei HaGhetaot, a settlement founded by Holocaust survivors and home to the Ghetto Fighter’s Museum, for instance, they’ve launched a course for Jewish and Arab students, a rarity in a country where most education is segregated at an early age (see Moment‘s in-depth feature on Arab Israeli education).  The course involves a year-long study of the Holocaust as well as an additional second year that focuses on the Israeli-Arab experience.  A tandem curriculum such as this would allow students to explore and better understand the other point of view, within the safety of the classroom environment.

Despite the problems outlined above, Yad Vashem’s effort to reach out to Israeli Arabs is a step in the right direction.  The issues it seeks to address are pressing, especially in the wake of reports this week of a swell of support by Israeli Municipal Rabbis for the proposal to ban Jews from renting apartments to gentiles (seen by many as directed specifically at Arabs).   The ban and its supporters only further highlight the obstacles the museum faces as it seeks to overcome the distrust that often seems insurmountable.   While Yad Vashem’s latest undertaking is not perfect, at least it is seeking to build a bridge between two communities that live side-by-side, yet in vastly different worlds. Perhaps with the right approach and care, this project can begin to make those vastly different worlds feel ever so slightly closer together.