Analysis: The Elections and the Pan-Arab Media

Jerusalem Post- 11/02/2009

Reactions in the pan-Arab media to the election results in Israel follow predictable patterns. There is a particular interest in the growth of Avigdor Lieberman’s party. At the same time, there is a tendency to stress that Israeli parties generally seen in the world as moderate are no less extremist in reality than those more usually characterized in these terms. There are some differences in emphasis and terminology between papers and channels associated with more Western-leading governments and those associated with the pro-Iranian axis. But since sympathy with Israel is a charge of which pro-Western Arab governments and media are keen to prove themselves innocent, the differences are less marked than might be expected.

Regarding news coverage, the Hizbullah-controlled Al-Manar Web site ran an analysis of the elections as its main story throughout most of Wednesday. Hizbullah takes great pride in what it regards as its serious and detailed coverage of Israeli issues. The Al-Manar Web site had a whole section on the elections under the title “The enemy entity – elections.” The headline story notes the “growth of the forces of the Right and the decline of the Left.” The accompanying article includes quotes from Ma’ariv, Yediot Aharonot and Haaretz and notes the discrepancy between the number of seats won by the Likud and Kadima, and the size of the left- and right-wing blocs. Al-Manar awards 66 seats to the right-wing bloc and 44 to that of the Left – interestingly subtracting the Arab lists and Hadash from the left bloc. The article notes that “Zionist President” Shimon Peres now has to decide which of the party leaders to ask to form a government. Should he ask Netanyahu to do so, Al-Manar helpfully points out to its readers, this will be the “first time in the history of the Zionist entity” that the party with the largest number of parliamentary seats has not been asked to form the government.

Al-Jazeera, meanwhile, runs as its main story on the elections an article alleging that “Violence, fraud mar Israel’s elections.” The article consists of a series of accusations of minor irregularities in election procedure in various parts of the country, involving a number of different parties. It appears to be taken from the Iranian government’s Press TV service.

In the London-published, Arab nationalist daily Al-Hayat, columnist Mostafa Zein dismisses all differences between parties in Israel, saying that “it is not a matter of Left or Right, but rather a matter of a racist Israeli society that organized itself in parties.” Zein runs through a litany of massacres to which he apportions more or less equal blame to the Israeli Left and Right – both of which, he concludes, serve “the colonialist racist thinking.” It is worth bearing in mind that while Al-Manar, and to a considerable extent Al-Jazeera are aligned with the Iranian bloc in the Middle East, this is not true of Al-Hayat, which takes a staunchly Arab nationalist, broadly pro-Saudi line on regional matters. In pro-Saudi outlets, Al-Arabiya has as its main analysis piece on the elections an article titled ‘The end of the two-state solution,’ by Jordanian commentator Osama al-Sharif. The article predicts the rise of a narrow, right wing coalition in Israel. Sharif considers that Israel is “veering dangerously to the right,” – “bad news for the rest of the world.” the author contends. However, in keeping with the pro-Saudi line, the article laments the fact that the rightward shift in Israel deals a blow “to the efforts of moderate Arabs to stem Iran’s influence.” The article also acknowledges that Israel’s fears of Iran are genuine. Another article arguing along broadly similar lines appeared in the English-language Beirut Daily Star newspaper.

The article, authored by Rami Khouri, argues that the “shift to the right” in Israel is progressively reducing chances for the two-state solution. Khouri identifies an emerging “militant, even racist” Right in Israel which he considers to constitute in effect a “separate state,” analogous to the separate Hamas entity in Gaza. According to Khouri, this “right-wing, militant, super Jewish-nationalist Israeli settler-colonial state” exists in the West Bank settlements, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, whereas its more moderate opponent holds sway in “greater Tel Aviv and adjacent regions.” Khouri apparently wants to draw a parallel between political divides in Israel, and the schism which has led to the emergence of two separate Palestinian entities.

The strained nature of this comparison notwithstanding, it conforms to the general parameters of coverage of the Israeli elections and Israeli political developments in the pan-Arab media. Pro-Iranian outlets such as Al-Manar adopt an across-the-board hostility to Israel, reflected in the terminology used. Among outlets and commentators associated with Arab states aligned with the West, meanwhile, one may find professions of allegiance to peace and the two-state solution, accompanied by laments that Israeli actions and preferences are making peace impossible. This is reflected in coverage of the elections – with one side regarding the entire electoral procedure as the activity of a criminal entity, while the other sees only one side in the elections (a side which unfortunately tends to take in all the major parties) as warmongering and criminal.

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