Double Exposure: Israel's Arab Citizens Consume Both Arabic and Hebrew Newspapers, Radio and Television. but When It Comes to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, There Can Be a Stark Difference in News Coverage. Are Two Media Good for One Country?

Article excerpt


Night is closing in on the building that houses Radio Shams on the outskirts of Nazareth. Usually at this hour on Friday--right before Shabbat and the country's weekly day off--Israel's only privately owned Arabic station broadcasts music. But this Friday in mid-September is different. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, known to his people as Abu Mazen, is about to deliver a speech before the UN General Assembly in New Ydrk, calling for recognition of a Palestinian state.

In the studio, Jack Khoury leans into the microphone to welcome his listeners. Khoury, 38, is one of the best-known reporters and news anchors in the Arab media in Israel, and like his fellow 1.5 million or so Arab citizens in Israel, he is eagerly waiting to hear how the Palestinian leader will refer to them. As a lead-up, Khoury plays a 30-second-long recording of Yasser Arafat's historic 1974 speech to the UN, in which he offered the world, and Israel, a choice between peace and war, saying, "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

Then Abbas is on the air. He recounts a litany of the sufferings of the Palestinian people including those in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and the Palestinian refugees in the diaspora. Only once does he mention the Palestinians who are also citizens of Israel: When referring to the demand of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas says: "We now face the imposition of new conditions not previously raised, conditions that will transform the raging conflict in our inflamed region into a religious conflict and a threat to the future of a million and a half Christian and Muslim Palestinians, citizens of Israel, a matter which we reject ..."

This brief mention brings tears to the eyes of Radio Shams staff members. For Khoury, the speech stirs so many emotions that he cannot mist himself to speak. After Abbas finishes, he cuts to a song by the Lebanese singer, Marcel Khalife, "I am Joseph, 0 Father," written by the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Then he switches to a rally in Ramallah so his audience can hear "real Palestinians" celebrating this moment of recognition.

"Every Palestinian could find a little corner for himself in his speech," says Khoury, a father of three from the Galilean Catholic village of Fassouta. "It is true that our corner is quite small. But we are used to Netanyahu getting applause for everything he says in the Congress, and here you have the Palestinian leader getting the applause of all the countries in the world. They applauded us, those who are usually screwed over."

Across Israel, other Arabic-language media covered the Abbas speech in much the same manner. Headlines of popular Arabic newspapers such as As-Sennara Weekly, based in Nazareth, and Panorama, based in Taybe in the Triangle, lauded Abbas. The headline of the popular weekly Kid Al-Arab, based in Nazareth, blared: "Abu Mazen to Obama: I Shall Not Recognize a Jewish State Because This Will Harm the Palestinians in Israel and the Refugees."

There was little or no mention of another head of state, Benjamin Netanyahu, who also addressed the UN General Assembly that day. But if the Arab media passed over this detail, the Hebrew media made much of it. Left-leaning Haaretz exclaimed: "The Battle of Speeches Today in the UN Assembly." Right-wing Yisrael Hayom, one of the most popular Hebrew dailies, based in Tel Aviv, wrote: "Netanyahu: I Extend My Hand in the Name of the People of Israel." Across the board, the Hebrew media had a very different take on the same event, including concerns about possible violence that could threaten Israel's security. The centrist Yedioth Ahronoth's headline read: "Top Alert," referring to warnings that clashes might occur in Arab towns and villages. …