Israel and apartheid: a lesson in the risks of media bias

Posted on October 28, 2012 by


For Israel, a country trapped under the brutally judgmental microscope of global scrutiny, public image is everything. A recent poll published on October 23, 2012 by Haaretz (a leading Israeli news source), and its accompanying piece by Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, is undoubtedly a leap in the wrong direction.

The survey, reportedly conducted by the Dialog Institute, harvested responses from 503 Jewish interviewees and concludes that “most of the Jewish public in Israel supports the establishment of an apartheid regime in Israel if it formally annexes the West Bank,” and that “a majority also explicitly favors discrimination against the state’s Arab citizens.”

Digested at face value, the results of the survey are simply shocking — some highlights include: 74 percent of respondents would like to see separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, 49 percent want the state to treat Jewish citizens more favorably than Arab citizens, and 42 percent do not want to inhabit a building with Arabs or want to see their kids share a class with Arab children. In addition, the survey reports that “a third to half of Jewish Israelis want to live in a state that practices formal, open discrimination against its Arab citizens. An even larger majority wants to live in an apartheid state if Israel annexes the territories.”

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in properly. Now, before we let the world declare that Israel is full of racists and bigots, we should scrutinize the results of the survey and evaluate the circumstances surrounding them.

First of all, the author of the survey’s supplementary opinion piece, Gideon Levy, is well-known for his harsh criticism of Israeli policies and personal mission to reveal what he believes to be Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. An article published in 2010 by The Independent quotes him as saying that the nation’s “brainwashing machinery” teaches Israeli Jews that they “are the ultimate and only victims…[and] that the Palestinians are born to kill, and their hatred is irrational.” Therefore, in light of Levy’s barefaced political agenda, the survey (or, at least, the way in which it is presented) takes on a dramatically more partisan hue.

In addition, the semantics of the survey raise some red flags. Five hundred people comprise 0.008 percent of Israel’s Jewish population — while this is considered to be a (minimally) robust sample according to statistical conventions, there is absolutely no indication that the respondents were chosen randomly. In fact, the article fails to provide any information about the survey’s selection criteria or interview methods: at the very least, the respondents should have been asked whether or not they personally knew someone injured or killed in acts of terror by Palestinians, in order to determine the existence of an active bias. However, the author did not hesitate to extrapolate findings garnered from less than a hundredth of a percent of the total population to declare that “most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel” in the attention-grabbing headline.

Finally, the accuracy of the data presented by the survey is questionable at best. The article confesses that “the survey conductors say perhaps the term ‘apartheid’ was not clear enough to some interviewees.” The ambiguity of this admission is earsplitting; nebulous words such as “perhaps” and “some” go a very long way to undermine the credibility of the conclusions. Also, much of the survey focuses on a “what-if” scenario — specifically, the annexation of the West Bank. It’s important to note that no such plans currently exist.

Despite the myriad ways to discredit the results of the survey, the roar of its central message is simply too deafening to ignore. How is it possible that the people of a nation founded on soundly democratic principals have begun to ignore its most fundamental tenets? The world will be quick to draw comparisons to Nazi Germany and accuse the Israelis of imposing constraints on the Palestinians under which the Jews languished just a generation earlier. The Centre for Global Research on Globalization has already issued its own interpretation of the data, stating that “Israelis support ethnic cleansing.” This is shameless slander — a mass media atrocity that cannot be tolerated.

Historically, oppression of Jews cropped up as a natural response to financial hardship and other social issues — few would dispute that the Jewish people have been the scapegoats in an extraordinary number of cases. Have the Jews ever called for wholesale annihilation of another nation? Have the Jews ever fired rockets into civilian neighborhoods day after day, forcing the peaceful inhabitants to live in a constant state of terror, closing schools, and endangering the lives of thousands of children? Have the Jews ever strapped explosives to their bodies and committed mass murder in the name of an entrenched hatred? Have Israeli schools taught young children to chant death threats to the people of other nations? As far as history is concerned, they have not.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Palestinians. It is very likely that some of the surveyed respondents were family, friends, or acquaintances of those killed by bombs, hit by rockets, or slammed by hate. Israeli Jews are simply sick of the murder and tired of the fear. Are their views still shocking? Unacceptable, maybe. But certainly not beyond the realm of human understanding, and certainly not indicative of malicious racism.

A portion of Palestinians do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, yet they enjoy full rights of citizenship under the Israeli government — and that’s how it should be. Granted, some Palestinians feel that they are still discriminated against despite their rights, but officially-sanctioned discrimination is not something the Israeli government supports. Nevertheless, nothing can excuse a call to strip the Arab-Israeli citizens of their rights. Despite the results of the survey, the Israeli government has always remained in full support of democratic principles, and there is absolutely no indication that the sentiments projected by the article have any legislative footholds whatsoever.

So, what should we take away from all of this? Most importantly, we cannot let this survey destroy Israel’s reputation as a democratic stronghold. The views of a few hundred Israelis (the objectivity of which is uncertain) cannot be blown out of proportion — while the views they expressed may be intolerable, they are not produced with evil intent, and they do not reflect the direction in which Israel is moving today.

The patience of some Israelis may by breaking, but not the resolve of the government to maintain an equitable and democratic life for its citizens. It is a tragedy that some Israelis have been pushed too far by the incessant violence, but it would be an equal tragedy to allow the media to tarnish Israel’s reputation based on a dubious survey. The vast majority of the mass media is quick to draw conclusions but may not recognize a blatant lack of objectivity within a survey. Let’s make sure that we do.

Please note: the opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Ha’Am Newsmagazine.