This is a cross-post from Just Journalism‘s blog The Wire.
Umm al-Fahm riots trigger lopsided characterisation of extremist movements in Israel.
The respective depictions of Israel’s Jewish and Arab extremist movements in today’s reporting of yesterday’s riots in Umm al-Fahm reveals a striking double standard. While Jewish protesters were ‘far-right,’ ‘racist’ and ‘ultranationalists’ the northern branch of the Islamic movement was at worst ‘fairly hardline’.
The Independent described ‘far-right Israeli extremists’ ‘led by two of the country’s most extreme right-wing activists’ marching in Israel’s largest Arab town ‘chanting “death to terrorists”’
As a prelude to the potted history entitled, ‘Rabbi Meir Kahane: The Ultranationalist’ which appeared at the end of the article, Donald Macintyre provided the following cultural context for the protest: ‘The leaders of the march are the admirers of Meir Kahane, an overtly racist US-born rabbi who demanded that Palestinians should be expelled from Israel and the West Bank.’
The sole reference to the Islamic Movement, against which the right-wingers were marching was this:
‘[march leader] Mr Marzel said that the activists had come to demand that Israel’s government should ban the Islamic Movement, which dominates the local council here, as it had Kahane’s Kach Party. “If the Kach Party was outlawed, then the Islamic Movement deserves to be outlawed 1,000 times over,” he said.’
Pejorative epithets did not abound. This in spite of the fact that northern branch leader Ra’ad Salah is no stranger to bigotry himself. In 2007 he told a crowd of Palestinian supporters in east Jerusalem that Jews used children’s blood to bake bread:
‘We have never allowed ourselves to knead [the dough for] the bread that breaks the fast in the holy month of Ramadan with children’s blood,” he said. “Whoever wants a more thorough explanation, let him ask what used to happen to some children in Europe, whose blood was mixed in with the dough of the [Jewish] holy bread.’
During the Camp David peace talks, Salah claimed the Western Wall as Muslim, saying it ‘is part of Al-Aqsa’s western tower, which the Israeli establishment fallaciously and sneakily calls the ‘Wailing Wall’. He added that ‘he among Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims who accepts [a Jewish link to the Western Wall], is a traitor to Allah and his prophet.’
He also served two years in an Israeli jail in 2003 for raising funds for Hamas, which has been known to have extremist tendencies.
The BBC made no mention of Salah’s racism, and opted to depict the Islamic Movement as ‘fairly hardline’ (in stark contrast with the ‘Israeli right-wing activists’), although the article did acknowledge that ‘northern supporters are generally more hardline than those in the south’.
Salah’s 2003 conviction for funnelling money to Hamas was diluted to:
‘But the right-wing Israeli activists accuse the group of having links to Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.’
The FT followed suit in the tendency to attribute the characterisation of the Islamic Movement as extremist to Israeli right-wingers:
‘Baruch Marzel, one of Israel’s most outspoken far-right activists and the co-organiser of the march, called the Islamist group a “cancer” that could destroy the state of Israel. Mr Marzel also told Israeli radio that Sheikh Raed Salah, the movement’s leader, was planning to ally with Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist organisation, and Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia group. “And we give him the democratic tools to do this,” added Mr Marzel.’
The Times failed even to mention the Islamic Movement, noting only that:
‘The demonstrators organised their march on the anniversary of the assassination of their icon, Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose racist anti-Arab organisation Kach was outlawed in Israel.’
The Guardian described the Jewish protesters as ‘far-right’ twice but did not go further than saying that the northern branch of the Islamic movement ‘shares the same ideological roots as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group’.
Just Journalism contacted the BBC regarding their relatively benign characterisation of Israel’s Islamic Movement as ‘fairly hardline’, citing, in particular, northern branch leader Raed Salah’s racist claim that Jews use children’s blood to make bread.
We received the following response from correspondent Yolande Knell:
‘This was a direct quote of what our correspondent on the ground, Rupert Wingfield Hayes, said in a television 2-way and was presented as such. This is why it sounds more conversational than the usual Online language. The Islamic Movement in the north of the country is known to be more hardline than that in the south which is probably why Rupert used that exact phrase to describe it generally.
‘The Kach has been described as a “far-right movement” as it has been banned as a political party under Israel’s own anti-terrorism laws. Please note that this phrase was not applied generally to the activists who were generally described simply as “right-wing.”’
We appreciate the prompt response but would like to point out the following:
1. Just Journalism did not object to the Islamic Movement’s labelling by the BBC as ‘fairly hardline’ on account of the fact that the language was conversational. The objection was on account of the fact the language misrepresents the true nature of the organisation.
2. The BBC justifies the more robust language it applied to the Jewish ‘far-right movement’ Kach group by citing the fact that the party has been banned in Israel. But only three days ago, the BBC described the BNP as a ‘far-right movement’ and that party isn’t banned in Britain.
Surely the BBC can describe both Kach and the Islamic Movement as the right-wing extremist groups that they both are?