Palestinian-Arab Media Frames and Stereotypes of Israeli-Jews

By Katy Steele
Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications
2014, Vol. 5 No. 1 | pg. 2/4 |

Stereotypes & Media Framing

The role of news media in the Arab-Israeli conflict is a recurring topic of research in the field of communications studies.32 However, the prevailing focus has been the portrayal of Arabs in Israeli newspapers. Avraham’s research on the coverage of Israeli-Arabs is perhaps the most noteworthy research done in this arena. He found that coverage of Arab-Israeli settlements is greatly influenced by a number of characteristics based on the settlement type, including size, and economic status, but most prominently, by socio-political proximity to centers of Jewish power.33 Another study found Israeli papers tended to frame Palestinian militants as “terrorists,” and Israeli occupation soldiers as “fighters.” The same study found that Israeli media used passive voice to describe the killing of Palestinians who were often left nameless.

This type of analysis, studying how media present news stories, focuses on the theory of media framing and is another important approach to studying the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Entman defines framing as “the process of culling a few elements of perceived reality and assembling a narrative that highlights connections among them to promote a particular interpretation.”34 In other words, framing is a selective telling of partial truths, or evidences, to support a desired “reality” or cultural narrative.

Media frames rely on priming, which Entman defines as a process that influences a target audience to act, think and feel a particular way by raising the importance of certain ideas and lowering the importance of others, promoting conformity in public thought. Entman says that in noncoercive political systems, framing, or telling the public what to think about, is the most common way to push agenda. The Israeli government uses this tactic to push its agenda against Palestine: “The Israeli media did not function as a national, egalitarian voice of all the citizens of the country, but as a representational tool for the Jewish majority.”35

Some researchers argue that media framing is essential to help the audience contextualize and make sense of a substantial issue.36 However, media frames can become dangerous when used to advance a cultural narrative or promote groupthink that marginalizes a minority. After examining the news Hebrewspeaking audiences received regarding the Arab Awakening, one study found that Israeli media used frames that perpetuated Israeli superiority. The media frames used cast Israel as an island of civilization surrounded by Arab barbarians.37 Gordon found that in daily analyses of the uprisings the conflicts were not presented as popular pro-democracy struggles against authoritarian regimes, but as mere ethnic and religious disputes. Research by Herzog and Shamir analyzed how the Hebrew press presented Arab-Jewish relations between the years 1949 and 1986.38 Other research sought to investigate specifically how Israeli media frame Arabs as either friends or foes.39

Matt Evans analyzed the way that media framing influences the public’s perception of a foreign conflict and the creation of public policy. Different media frames, for example, caused the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to be seen as a “genocidal war of imperialism … and as a centuries old ethnic and religious dispute.”40 The former frame, “genocide,” incites international intervention, while the latter, “a lingering dispute,” condones inaction as it implies nothing can be done. Evans argues that the public often views news content as objective truth, which leads the public to understand events from a particular perspective, or frame, that the media chooses to advance.”41

Another study dealt with the way that the one’s ethnicity and identity influences perception of mass media.42 The research involved conducting interviews with Jewish and Arab American high school students to determine if their perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was viewed through the lens of their own ethnicities, with a tendency to hold negative stereotypes about the opposing ethnic group. The study confirmed its hypothesis that individuals interpret events differently based on their corresponding social identity.43

The goal of this study is to assess the modern Palestinian perceptions of Israeli-Jews as they are portrayed through print newspaper editorials and analysis stories. The following research questions were asked:

  1. How do Palestinian-Arabs stereotype Israeli Jews?
  2. How do Palestinian media portray those stereotypes and use them to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Methods

Because the purpose of this study was to take the pulse on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the researcher chose to analyze editorials, opinion pieces and analysis articles from three online Palestinian newspapers. The selected thirty articles were all written in English, as is common in research on transcultural news coverage. While the viewpoints are still telling of an overarching Palestinian/Arab perspective, these sources may have been written primarily for a non-Arab, or more cosmopolitan Arab audience. The study sought to first identify how modern Palestinian media portray the conflict, and specifically, with Israeli-Jews. The study tried to find whether three modern Palestinian media stereotypes Israeli-Jews in the same way as existing literature on these stereotypes suggests.

Sample

A sample of thirty articles were selected from three Palestinian news website: The Electronic Intifada, Ma’an News Agency, and The Palestinian News Chronicle. The following describes their backgrounds:

  • The Electronic Intifada, an independent online news publication that was founded in 2001, is dedicated to “focusing on Palestine, its people, politics, culture and place in the world.”44 The site is funded by private organizations and readers, not by governments or political parties. The site is a cooperating news source, which partnered with the Palestine Media Watch, a website coalition founded in 2009 by Ahmed Bouzin, a Philadelphia software developer, with aims of addressing what Bouzin considered anti-Palestinian bias in mainstream journalism. The group is a significant player in the “competition to depict Israeli-Palestinian relations.”45 PM Watch monitors language use in news coverage, for example, encouraging news sources to refer to Israelis as “occupiers,” the “Israel Defense Forces,” as “Israeli Occupation Forces,” and the Israeli “security fence,” as an “Apartheid Wall,” to name just a few examples.46 Other cooperating new sources in PM Watch include Yale University’s Avalon Project, and the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Negotiating Affairs Committee. To date, the two major factions of the PLO—Fatah and Hamas—have begun discussions of unifying the two political parties.47 Again, The Electronic Intifada clearly aims to promote the Palestinian national cause, but is private, not funded by political entities.
  • The Ma’an News Agency (MNA), which was launched in 2005, publishes around-the-clock news in both Arabic and English. Based out of Bethlehem, it has more than 3 million visits a month, and is one of the most browsed websites in Palestinian territories. MNA is part of the Ma’an Network, a non-profit media organization founded in 2002 with aims to strengthen independent media in Palestine. It is the largest independent TV, radio, and online media group in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The site’s English counterpart “strives to convey a multi-dimensional picture of life in Palestine to a global audience, and to provide a forum for Palestinians to address the international community.”48 The site was launched with funding from the Danish and the Netherland Representative Offices to the Palestinian Authority. Denmark’s representative office in Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, states that Danish objectives for Palestine include (1) Peace building; (2) State building; and, (3) Improved livelihood for Palestinian people.49
  • The Palestinian Chronicle, a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, is an independent online newspaper founded in 1999. It provides daily news and commentary focusing on Palestine and the Middle East. Like The Electronic Intifada it is a cooperating news source with PM Watch. Its funding comes from readers and contributors. The organization describes itself as “a selfsustained project involving professionals and volunteers from around the world, all striving to highlight issues of relevance to human rights, national struggles, freedom and democracy.”50 The organization claims that its “team consists of professional journalists and respected writers and authors who don’t speak on behalf of any political party or champion any specific political agenda,”51 however, the paper has been criticized for being extremely anti-Semetic. The Palestinian Chronicle is edited by Ramzy Baroud (US), a prolific anti-Israel writer. Its editorial board is represented by some esteemed people, including Noam Chomsky, a professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has called the paper “an invaluable source of information … trustworthy and reliable.”52

All three sources selected have a demonstrated intention to raise awareness of the Palestinian struggle and push the Palestinian national agenda. All of the sources generally seek to give a voice to Palestine in order to overcome what they consider Israeli-bias in mainstream media.

All selected articles were originally published between September 2013 and November 10, 2013.

This time period is of interest not only for its immediate relevancy, but also because of the U.S.- led peace talks between Israel and Palestine that were initiated around this time. Three primary factors were taken into consideration when selecting articles: (1) the article fell into the opinions, editorial, or analysis section on the organization’s website; (2) the article was published between September 1, 2013 and November 10, 2013; (3) the article content was pertinent to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

News Frames

This study analyzed how editorial, opinion and analysis articles from Palestinian media describe Israeli-Jews in relation to common stereotypes. The analysis also dealt with how the articles relate Israeli- Jews to the conflict at large and the on-going peace negotiations. After studying existing literature about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the researcher identified six theme categories or topics, which were further divided into eighteen relevant frames, as shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Topics and Frames Relevant to Discussion on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Land Rights Violence Values Palestinian Unity Finger pointing Miscellaneous
Aliens (immigrants, trespassers) Apartheid Dominance (powerhungry, greedy) Occupiers/Colonizers Zionists Aggression (exaggerated intention, destruction) Human rights abuses Inhumane Military violence Religious undertones Western puppets Rally for Palestinian solidarity Romanticizing Palestine Blame for peace failure Poor Israeli leadership Admiration / Envy Anti-Semitism True victim

 

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