Four Against One: Israeli Journalists Corner Palestinian Official on TV

Channel 2's Friday night news exploits interview to send message that reflects prevailing (ultra)nationalist narrative.

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Two Palestinians hold portraits of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, left, and sacked Preventive Security chief Jibril Rajoub, right, in Hebron July 6, 2002.Credit: Reuters / Haaretz Archive

Channel 2’s Friday evening "Ulpan Shishi" news magazine is the most eloquent and influential mouthpiece of the Israeli Jewish mainstream. The weekly program doesn’t serve one particular politician or party. It bows to one master: the prevailing national narrative. The magazine formulates by means of simple and clear messages what the nation will think and say on Sunday mornings, when the week begins.

Last Friday night, Jibril Rajoub, a leading Palestinian political figure and senior member of Fatah, was interviewed on the show about the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Rajoub sat in Ramallah, trying in broken Hebrew to respond to the questions of four interviewers: Danny Kushmaro, Ehud Yaari, Dana Weiss and Udi Segal. None of them really listened to him or had any interest in what he had to say.

Rajoub was invited to serve as a prop while they delivered their message, according to which the Palestinians are those who have ruined the whole process. Their attitude toward the interviewee was dismissive and arrogant: “Okay, your slogan about ending the occupation is familiar to us, you keep repeating it!” Kushmaro said impatiently.

Is ending the occupation “a slogan”? If so, then the occupation itself is also a slogan, as is the whole conflict. And what about Kushmaro himself? Is he a slogan as well?

Yaari insisted on having his say by posing an urgent question. He wanted to know if Rajoub believed that there was ever a Jewish temple in Jerusalem in the past. Could there be a wackier question than that? Can a journalist, assuming he’s sober, really be interested in Rajoub affirming that in the 10th century B.C.E. there was a great temple in Jerusalem?

At the end of the discussion Yaari managed to throw in a quick reference to a possible soccer match between Iran and the Palestinians. This wasn’t an innocent question directed at Rajoub either: It was a message sent over his head, to be planted in viewers’ minds. When Rajoub struggled to reply, Yaari sneered. At the end Kushmaro, a little thug in a suit, delivered a derisive barb: “Save me some tickets to the match!”

Have Israeli journalists ever attacked an Israeli politician with such ferocity, over the fact that Israel’s government continuously impedes the peace process? What would it look like if four Palestinian journalists interviewed an Israeli cabinet member, deriding him and attacking him with questions about the era of the prophet Mohammed and his mythological steed Al Buraq.

Yaari would be the first to state that such a situation only illustrates how the Palestinians are unwilling to make progress toward peace.

The Jewish masters who invited Rajoub to the studio in order to present him as a benighted enemy of peace only exposed themselves as arrogant ultra-nationalists. But the problem lies not only with the foursome. They are only adopting the attitude which trickles from the Prime Minister’s Bureau to the street, distilling it into clear formulations, so that we know how to reply next time we confront anyone on the left. And, more importantly, that we know how to relate to Arabs.