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What Jewish-Arab 'progress' looks like, and why it's not enough

A new political show on Israel’s largest news channel has a 1:37 ratio of non-Jewish to Jewish guests. It should be no surprise that the normally soft-ball interviewers suddenly became hostile toward MK Ahmad Tibi.

By Oren Persico / ‘The 7th Eye

Israel’s Channel 2 has a relatively new show titled “Kidon and Ben-Simon,” named after its two hosts. The show, which airs twice a week, is classified as a “political interview-based show.” In each episode Sharon Kidon and Daniel Ben-Simon interview a different political figure.

Since the show launched in October 2014, dozens of members of Knesset, ministers and potential MKs have been interviewed. In the fifth show, Kidon and Ben-Simon interviewed Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who decided not to run in the upcoming elections. Show number 12 was dedicated to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who at this time is still interested in municipal politics. Dalia Itzik, who was the first female speaker of the Knesset, was a guest on the tenth episode. Some episodes include two politicians, although typically the show is based on a 20-minute interview with one politician. Until this week, the common feature of every single guest on the show, whether they were men or women, secular or religious, rightists or leftists, was their Judaism.

Only this week, after 36 shows with Jewish-only guests, did Kidon and Ben-Simon bring in their first non-Jewish guest. One non-Jew per 37 episodes, 2.7 percent, despite the fact non-Jewish MKs will likely control 10 percent of the seats in the upcoming Knesset, and despite the fact that over 20 percent of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish.

The first non-Jew to be included among the guests of “Kidon and Ben-Simon” was MK Ahmad Tibi, the most well-known Arab politician among Israel’s Jewish population (so much so that he has inadvertently became the representative of all the non-Jewish MKs).

Beyond the rare appearance of a non-Jew on “Kidon and Ben-Simon,” there was something in the interview with Tibi that separated him from the rest of the rest of the guests on the show. “Kidon and Ben-Simon” is seen as a very pleasant show for its guests. After its premiere, the show was criticized being toothless, and since then the situation has only grown worse. However, when a non-Jew arrived at Kidon and Ben-Simon, the hosts revealed their less-than-pleasant sides.

Tibi began the interview, at the request of the hosts, by describing the funeral of one of the eight Bedouin women who were killed in a terrible accident between a bus and a truck that was carrying a tractor. Even as he began speaking, when Tibi said that the same tractor that struck the bus and killed the women was used — just two hours earlier — to destroy Bedouin crops, Kidon remarked that those same Bedouin took over those lands illegally. When Tibi attempted to explain exactly why building in Arab towns and villages is considered “illegal,” Kidon cut him off and asked him to talk about discrimination.

For the remainder of the program, Tibi criticized the Israeli media for not covering the accident the same way it would have had the eight women been Jews. “Imagine that eight women from north Tel Aviv, Ra’anana or even Hadera were killed in the same circumstances. It would have been a national day of mourning. You, the media, would have sent reporters to eight homes for a live broadcast.”

“The media covered the incident,” said Kidon. But Tibi insisted: “You would have interviewed the son, the grandson, as he is coming home from school. You would have sent a crew there for opening segment of the morning, afternoon and evening broadcast…”

“I think the incident was covered,” said Kidon, as she cut Tibi off once again.

Yes, the incident in the south was covered by the news. The Arab politicians in Israel also watch news coverage. The question is what kind of coverage and how much of it.

“Ahmad,” Ben-Simon interrupted, joining the conversation, “relative to previous incidents, there is progress being made in the coverage, the identification and the grief that I felt in the Israeli media. It is improving.”

So in the grand scheme of things, the coverage of non-Jewish politicians is improving. Until this week not a single Arab was interviewed on “Kidon and Ben-Simon.” Now no one can claim otherwise.

This article was first published in Hebrew by The 7th Eye media watchdog website. It is reproduced here with permission.

Related:
Israeli media coverage: An election with no Arabs?
How the joint Arab slate challenges Israel’s discriminatory politics
The Arab parties united? Great, now it’s time to get to work

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