Absentee Journalism

Hebrew Jewish society (as opposed to the state) is almost completely missing from the Arab press. It only exists as the establishment, usually that which dictates to Arabs how to act.

An item in the important Arab-Israeli newspaper Kul al-Arab reports that the mayor of Rahat met with Ariel Sharon, who offered him a sure seat in the Knesset.

The mayor, Talal al-Krinawi, told the newspaper that he would consider the offer if Sharon committed to recognize Bedouin ownership of about a million dunams in the Negev, help establish an Arab city and improve the situation of the Arabs in the Negev and the Galilee.

The main point is not the offer Sharon made to an Israeli Arab, or the conditions that Krinawi set. Promises and counter-promises are part of every election campaign, and even more so vis-a-vis a population that is only taken into consideration as a reservoir of votes.

The interesting thing is that this was only one of two election items published in this particular edition of the newspaper. The second item dealt with some grievance MK Talab al-Sana holds against the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, Shawki Khatib. There were five election items the previous week, all dealing with the Arab MKs and their status.

Perhaps the Arab media in Israel will become more deeply interested in the elections during the coming weeks, but in the meantime this reflects a lack of interest in the elections among Arabs in Israel.

This lack of interest does not only pertain to the elections. Thus, for example, the mouthpiece of the Balad party has a column called "Israeli affairs," as if it were a column devoted to foreign news. This column quotes prominent items published in the Hebrew media pertaining to Arabs. The affairs of the State of Israel hardly appear at all in the mouthpiece of the Islamic movement, Sawt al-Haq wal-Hurriya.

Hebrew Jewish society (as opposed to the state) is almost completely missing from the Arab press. It only exists as the establishment, usually that which dictates to Arabs how to act. Arab newspaper editors say they did not even bother sending reporters to cover the disengagement, because "it's an issue for Jews that doesn't pertain to us."

Even worse, the leaders of Arab society take no interest in the way Israeli society is covered - or not covered - in the Arab press. Arab civil rights organizations demand, justly, greater quality and quantity of coverage of the Arab society in Israel, while at the same time adopting the Jewish attitude toward them when it comes to covering Jewish society. It seems the underlying assumption of the newspaper editors and of a large portion of the Arab public is that an effort to recognize the other must come only from one side: from the Jews to the Arabs, and not vice versa. Thus, Arab cultural isolation - and not the social or political-economic isolation imposed by Jewish society - is perceived as an edict of fate, which the Arabs can do nothing to oppose except to continue to cover their eyes and hopelessly pound on the locked doors of the Jewish media.

This is the whiny and dangerous attitude of a hitchhiker who curses the driver who does not stop for him. It perpetuates the image of Jewish society in the Arab society to the same extent that the Israeli media perpetuates the image of the Arab society among the Jews: on one hand, terrorists and ill-wishers of the state, and on the other hand, land thieves and proponents of transfer, so that it seems that any attempt to cover Jewish society in a different way is liable to be considered treason.

This does not mean that Arab society needs to translate the Jewish experience into Arabic, or to allot a "coverage quota" for Jewish-Israeli affairs, as the Arabs are demanding of the Hebrew media. There is no free media, Hebrew or Arab, capable of meeting such a condition. And it sometimes seems that the Arab demand for a "coverage quota" derives from their perception of the Hebrew media as part of the establishment.

But this means that Arab media and society cannot wash their hands clean when they demand that Jewish society not only recognize them, but also get to know them.