Opinion

Israel's Cowardly New Broadcaster

The suspension of Samah Watad proves that Israeli society is unable to embrace the complex experience of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens.

Journalist Samah Wattad, who was suspended from her job with Israel's new public broadcasting corporation, Kan.
YouTube of the new Israeli broadcasting authority/Kan

Last week, Samah Wattad was suspended from her job with the new public broadcasting corporation, Kan, after she shared a tweet about Basil al-Araj, a writer and Palestinian activist who opposed the occupation and was killed in an exchange of fire with Israel Defense Force soldiers near Ramallah. (The IDF claimed he headed a terrorist cell.)

The tweet in question included only a picture of al-Araj with a quote from one of his writings, but whether her sharing was an expression of support or not (Wattad said she rejects violence on any side) – the fierce and aggressive response by the broadcasting corporation to the content of the tweet is of much more interest.

The tweet and the sharing of it express something that Israeli society refuses to internalize: Palestinians who are citizens of Israel have a natural and legitimate connection with the Palestinian narrative and with opposition to the occupation because of the personal history of each and every one of us, and not out of some fictitious thirst for blood. The wound of the Nakba and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands that occurred during it in 1947-49 is still bleeding, many of our grandparents who were present during the Nakba are still alive, and a large number of us are direct descendants of refugees, in the simplest and most direct meaning of that term.

But this connection, which is built on our and our parents' emotional and personal experiences, is unbearable in the eyes of the Israeli hegemony, which is trying with all its might to defend itself from the “Arab threat” through a dichotomous attitude toward it: An Arab is either good and loyal, or a “terrorist.” Israeli society – and this apparently also includes the seemingly elitist and left-wing media – cannot contain the ideological and moral complexity in which the Palestinian citizens of Israel live. The automatic suspension of Watad only proves this once again.

The minute Wattad exposed her Palestinian skin and presented her sympathy for opposition to the occupation, the broadcasting corporation panicked and took action. After all, according to its way of thinking, she cannot be both a good Arab who works for a large media outlet in Israel, and be connected to her roots and identify with the Palestinian narrative. Israel wants “Israeli Arabs,” loyal citizens without roots.

The sanctions against Watad are even more outrageous considering the repeated calls for diversified representation in the media, and the praise the public broadcasting corporation received for hiring employees from all parts of the population: Arabs, ultra-Orthodox, national religious, Mizrahim etc.

It seems that all those who praised the new broadcaster, as well as the corporation itself which is so proud of its diversity, have forgotten that the essence of diversity is the expression of the broad range of opinions that comes with it. It is impossible to make media hiring conditional on adopting Israel’s hegemonic views and renouncing personal values and attachments that “threaten” its very existence.

If the new public broadcasting corporation is truly as pluralistic as it purports to be, then it must prove that it accepts its employees with their range of opinions, and must not use its Arab employees as just a fig leaf.