Israel's Leading Newspapers Found in Violation of Ethics for Jews-only Polls

Citing Israel's Declaration of Independence, a Press Council tribunal ruled that opinion polls of Jews alone are discriminatory, bar a few specific instances

A man rides bicycle in a street in Jerusalem's Old City December 5, 2017.

Media outlets that publish public opinion polls which limit responses only to Jewish Israelis are in violation of journalistic ethics for discrimination against minorities, the Israel Press Council’s judicial tribunal ruled on Sunday.

In a wide-ranging opinion, the tribunal panel, headed by lawyer Yigal Borochovsky, found that the widespread practice of polling only Jewish Israelis runs counter to journalistic norms – with certain exceptions.

The complaint in the case was filed by the Hatzlaha consumer organization, which claimed that the polling practice violated the press council’s own revised rules of ethics.

It named a number of media outlets as defendants, including the daily Yedioth Ahronoth and its sister website, Ynet, as well as Israel Hayom, Maariv, The Jerusalem Post and the B’Sheva weekly. Only Yedioth, Ynet and Israel Hayom responded to the complaint.

The panel first noted that the practice presented a particular problem of fair disclosure if the poll results were not presented as a survey of Jews alone.

The panel found that this fact is generally disclosed, except in the case of B’Sheva, and it found the national religious publication guilty of an ethical violation as a result. The tribunal also said that media outlets would be committing an ethical violation for not mentioning that the poll surveyed only Jews in their headlines; it found Yedioth, Ynet and Israel Hayom in violation of ethics on that basis.

It then addressed the issue of whether polling only Jews was an ethical violation in and of itself for encouraging racism, even though such polling may be limited to Jews to save costs in carrying out the survey. Some journalists also argued that there are circumstances when presenting polling data for solely Jews is in the public interest.

The panel ruled that in matters of public controversy among the country’s Jewish population, such as security and defense, polling of Jews alone is merited.

The panel accepted that argument and did not find Ynet guilty in a poll relating to Jewish Israeli attitudes toward West Bank Jewish settlements and the case of Elor Azaria, the soldier convicted of manslaughter for killing a subdued Palestinian terrorist in Hebron last year.

The panel accepted Yedioth’s position that a rule barring the polling of Jews alone under all circumstances would turn the press into commissars of “correct opinion.”

As to the general rule that such polling be avoided, the panel cited the equality provisions of the Israeli Declaration of Independence as well as statements by right-wing figures such as the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the father of the Revisionist movement, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

The panel did, however, find Yedioth guilty for publishing a poll about the use of computer passwords which excluded Arab respondents.

Yedioth said in response that it rejects the finding of guilt, saying that it is meticulous in polling both Jews and Arabs. In the computer passwords poll, Yedioth said it had published Jewish-only polling data commissioned by others.

It also called it strange that TheMarker, Haaretz's business daily, was not a defendant in the case even though it also published polling data for Jews only.

B’Sheva’s CEO, David Sa’ada, said he was not aware of the press council complaint, which he had not received.

For his part, Hatzlaha’s lawyer, Elad Man, called his organization’s complaint “a logical extension” of the revision of the press council’s ethical code.

Citing an article addressing the issue on the journalism website Ha’ayin Hashvi’it (The Seventh Eye), Man said that after a period of adjustment to the new rule that lasted several months, it was decided to file the complaint based on that article.