The BBC News website’s Middle East page included two items on the same subject on May 17th. A written article entitled “Ultra-Orthodox Jews in mass protest against Israel army draft” was accompanied by a filmed television news report titled “Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest at forced military service plan“.
Why the BBC considers this internal Israeli issue worthy of so much coverage is not clear, but the two articles are interesting in that they show something of the BBC’s monochrome grasp of the subject of the many varied religious streams in Israel.
The narration accompanying the filmed report states:
“Ultra-Orthodox Jews are currently exempt from military service on religious grounds. They say it would harm their way of life. But it’s an issue which causes tension between them and Israel’s secular majority.”
The majority of viewers watching that report would remain unaware of the fact that many religiously observant Israelis of various streams do serve in the Israeli army, including some ‘Ultra-Orthodox’ – or as they are better termed Haredi – Jews. Viewers – as well as readers of the written article – were not informed that the protest was organized by the anti-Zionist ‘Eda Haredit’ stream or that a counter protest by another Orthodox group – ‘Haredim L’Achdut Israel‘ (Haredim for Israeli Unity) – also took place at the same time.
Rather oddly – given both that the BBC does not usually bother to report on details of the attire of protesters in other countries and that it would in fact be newsworthy only if the people present were not wearing their everyday dress – the written article states:
“At least 15,000 men, all dressed in the black coats and hats traditionally worn by Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, crowded into the streets around the military’s recruitment office, in the Haredi neighbourhood of Mekor Barukh on Thursday night.”
But the article’s outstanding feature is its use of one very interesting word.
“Violence erupted as some threw missiles at police and set rubbish bins on fire.”
Of course there is nothing grammatically incorrect about the use of the word ‘missiles’ to mean “an object thrown or projected usually so as to strike something at a distance” – in this case stones. However, as those who regularly watch or read BBC output will be aware, that word is not the BBC’s usual term of choice when describing the actions of Palestinian stone-throwers, or even the firing of military-grade rockets at Israeli civilians.