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Israeli election coverage: 'Our Ahmad is named Ayman'

In its coverage of the elections, the Israeli media generally portrays political parties with pictures of their chairpersons — that is, except for the joint Arab list.

By Elad Harlev / ‘The 7th Eye

Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh. Odeh was elected to first place in the united Arab slate. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Why is the Israeli media representing the Arab ‘Joint List’ with images of Amhad Tibi instead of the head of the list, Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh? Pictured, Ayman Odeh. (Photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Earlier this week, Oren Persico called out the Israeli media for its representations, or lack thereof, of non-Jewish Israelis. The story, in case you missed it, is that the Israel Hayom newspaper decided only very late in the game to include head of the Arab Joint List Ayman Odeh in its portraits of Knesset candidates. The change, as late as it came, is praiseworthy, and we should hope that Israel Hayom won’t stop there.

The problem with the Israeli media’s representation of the Arab public, however, is more widespread than that. In their election graphics, a number of Israeli media outlets, from Yedioth Ahronoth to news websites “Mako,” “Reshet” and “NRG,” all display images of MK Ahmad Tibi and not Ayman Odeh, the head of the election slate both men are running on, the Joint List. For the other parties, those headed by Jews, the party chairpersons are the people whose likenesses the news editors chose to display.

The harm of symbolically eradicating Arabs from the media’s coverage of elections — as was the case in Israel Hayom until yesterday — is clear. But replacing Odeh with Tibi is surprising: why does the media refuse to accept that Odeh is the head of the Joint List?

There is one explanation, which is fairly technical. Tibi is well known and Odeh is not; the newspaper editors don’t want to make their readers think too hard. Similar behavior is often seen on interview programs, which give preference to better-known personalities. When choosing children’s books, educators recommend flipping through the first few pages and counting the words your child doesn’t know. The higher the number of unfamiliar words, the harder and more challenging the book will be for your child. Out of fear of losing readers, media outlets don’t want to burden people with names and personalities whom they don’t know.

A technical explanation, however, is not enough. Ten, sometimes 11, Jews — and it’s too hard to highlight even one unknown non-Jewish candidate? It’s not only paternalistic to decide who the Arab representative is, and it’s more than the fear of bringing home an unfamiliar Arab. It’s the racist idea that all Arabs are the same.

There is diversity among the Jews: right wing, left wing, religious, secular, etc. Among Arabs there is none; if you’ve met one Arab, you’ve met them all. Why bother learning about Odeh or his political positions? By forming a joint list, the Arab parties saved newspaper editors from having to decide whether to represent the Arabs as one bloc or in four different political parties. The Arabs are all the same.

A long time ago there was an Israeli comedy show called “Nikui Rosh” (“Clearing your head”). One of its episodes was a satire of the 1970s American sitcom “All in the Family.” In it, Archie Bunker tells his wife that Ahmad didn’t coming to work that day. “But Archie, our Ahmad is named Abdullah,” his wife says. “Abdullah, Muhammad, Mustafa, what’s the difference? They’re all Ahmad,” Archie responds.

Elad Harlev is a Master’s student of communications at Tel Aviv University. This article was first published in Hebrew by The 7th Eye media watchdog website. It is reproduced here with permission.

Special Coverage: 2015 Elections

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    1. Pedro X

      Should anyone care what his picture looks like? The Majority Arab party has already said they will not join in any coalition government. They have made themselves irrelevant.

      As Khaled Abu Toameh has said many times, Arab Israelis deserve better leaders>


      Reply to Comment
      • John P

        Thank you Ahmad for making that clear.

        Who are the “better leaders” they need, in your opinion? More of the Israeli “status quo” leaders?

        Yes, that has work very well so far… there is no reason they should reject that and try for SOMETHING… ANYTHING… different.

        But your lack of hope for a better world (as this in many ways affects the whole world) has been noted. 😉

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Listen to what Arab Israelis wanted in leaders. Prof. Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa who has been polling Arabs since 1976, found in his 2013 poll that 75% of Israeli Arabs want their leaders to deal with daily issues affecting them and not the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. They want their politicians to work within the system to make their lives better.

          Israeli Arabs have made it clear that they do not want to be part of any Palestinian state. They know that they have better and more rights as citizens of Israel than they would have in any other Arab state.

          Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab on one side of his family and a Palestinian on the other states:

          “Some of the Arab parliamentarians have over the past two decades acted and spoken in a way that has caused damage to the interests of the 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel.

          They are first and foremost responsible for radicalizing a large number of Israeli Arabs and turning them against the state.

          These parliamentarians have, in fact, spent more time defending the interests of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip than those of their voters.

          A Knesset member who openly identifies with Fatah or Hamas or Hezbollah is responsible for the situation that many Israeli Jews today see Israeli Arabs as a “fifth column” and an “enemy from within.”


          “If the Arab Knesset members are so worried about becoming citizens of a Palestinian state, they should be working toward integration into, and not separation from, Israel. The Arab parliamentarians need to listen more to what their constituents are telling them and not to the voices of Fatah and Hamas.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            I think you will find not only Palestinian Israelis but the entire population want a greater focus on financial and cost of living matters and social justice. Eliminating excessive military spending and the subsidies afforded to settlers and the economic privileges afforded to the oligarchs (the 100 families who own the economy) would provide an enormous windfall that could be devoted to education, healthcare, housing, infrastructure and things that would benefit ordinary citizens as a whole.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Viktor Arajs

      I support whoever is opposed to normalization with the Zionist entity

      Reply to Comment
      • C.C. DeVille

        Really? Then why do you dialog on a Zionist website?

        And going forward, you should just say that you oppose normalization with Israel. Assuming you enderstand what that means.

        Reply to Comment