‘NYT’ biased on alternative IDF service for Arabs (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ROBERT CHERRY 07/31/12)
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Universal national service for Israeli Arabs has become a major
political issue. Unfortunately, widely circulated stories have been
very one-sided, emphasizing fierce opposition from community leaders.
A Reuters story suggested that alternative-service requirements will
be actively opposed by the vast majority of Israeli Arabs. An
Associated Press story interviewed only a member of the High Follow-
Up Committee for Arab Citizens, an unelected body that rejects any
integration into Israeli society. Most troubling was the biased way
New York Times reporter Jodi Rudoren shaped her story: “Service to
Israel Tugs at Identity of Arab Citizens.”
To demonstrate this, I will compare her story to one published by
Rosenberg begins his article with a summary of recent polling done by
Haifa University sociologist, Sammy Smooha.
The poll of Israeli Arabs released this week found that only 39.7
percent of the country’s 18-22-year-old Arabs – the target
demographic for the program – are willing to sign up for the national
service program, down 53% in 2009. Among all Israeli Arabs, support
for national service has also become more tepid, with 62.2% backing
the idea, down from as much as 78% in 2007.
Rosenberg added, “Based on his survey, Smooha said that most Israeli
Arabs look positively on national service as a voluntary contribution
to their communities and the state.”
Rudoren also reported these results, but never included Smooha’s
overall assessment, instead quoting him on the attitude of the
Israeli-Arab leaders: “You have to compare it with blacks in the US
during World War II,” Smooha said.
“Why did they want to serve? Because they identified themselves with
the state and they saw this as a vehicle to change their status. The
Arab leaders do not see it this way. They see it as a means of
repression of Arabs in Israel.”
RUDOREN USED this statement as a lead-in to Hanin Zoabi, who called
the proposal to expand service “a trap.” Zoabi continued, “They are
talking about dividing the burden.
All the country’s burdens are on my back. Six million Jews are living
on my land. We ask Israel to withdraw the definition of a Jewish
state, and maybe then it will turn into a democratic country.”
Rudoren chose not to mention Zoabi’s participation in the Gaza
Flotilla, or her rejection of any form of national service, whereas
she neglects to mention that the Council of Arab Mayors had just
conditionally embraced alternative service.
Even more telling, Rosenberg reported, Smooha stressed the level of
support is “still high,” especially given the controversy within the
Israeli-Arab community on participating in the program. Organizations
like the Haifa-based youth organization Baladna run campaigns in high
schools and community centers discouraging national services.
“Anyone who volunteers for national service will be treated like a
leper and will be vomited out of Arab society,” Jamal Zahalka, a
lawmaker with Balad, an Israeli-Arab political party, told a rally as
the program was getting underway in 2008.
Nevertheless, Smooha said the hostility many Israeli-Arab leaders
express toward national service isn’t shared by ordinary people,
which explains why the recruitment drive has been largely successful.
By contrast, Rudoren never mentioned this intimidation by the very
political party that Zoabi belongs to. Instead, after presenting
Zoabi’s views, Rudoren immediately gave voice to the Baladna groups
that Rosenberg highlighted.
She wrote that in Wadi Nisnas, a Haifa neighborhood, four teenagers
training a makeshift summer camp marching band on Wednesday
pronounced themselves “against, against, against and against”
national service for Arabs.
“It’s against our people,” said Rozeen Kanboura, 18, who works at a
McDonald’s. “We are betraying our homeland, our origins, our history.”
Ayan Abunasra, articulate beyond her 13 years, said, “I don’t feel
part of this country.”
“Put yourself in our place,” she continued. “You’re going to serve a
country that occupied your land and your great-grandparents died
because of it?” By not presenting Smooha’s overall evaluation, by
highlighting the Balad leadership opposition without noting its
intimidation efforts, and by presenting the Baladna student group as
a representative youth voice, Rudoren incorrectly presented these
extremist views as the dominant position in the Israeli-Arab
A more balanced story might have provided examples of the very
significant economic gains Israeli Arabs have experienced in the last
few years: employment gains from new industrial parks, entrance into
the hi-tech sector, expanded teaching positions in Jewish schools,
and increased government employment.
Rudoren might have interviewed the Arab mayors who together with
leading Arab academicians and businessmen have formed a committee
under the direction of Aiman Saif, housed in the Prime Minister’s
Office. This committee will meet with representatives of all the
government ministries so that Arab economic development initiatives
will be fully coordinated among the many government agencies.
This information might have led Rudoren to conclude that there is now
a critical mass of young Israeli-Arab professionals, academicians and
business leaders who want to move away from oppositional politics to
one of constructive engagement.
It seems, however, that an uncontrolled hostility to the Netanyahu
government continues to shape New York Times’ reporting.
The writer is the Broeklundian Professor at Brooklyn College. (© 1995-
2011, The Jerusalem Post 07/31/12)
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