BBC’s Bateman sketches a simplistic portrait of the Arab Israeli vote

On March 1st – the evening before Israel’s election – the BBC put out a report by its Jerusalem-based correspondent Tom Bateman which focused on the Joint Arab List.

Visitors to the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page found a filmed report titled “Israel elections: Will the Arab Israeli vote swing the third election in a year?”.

“Parties representing Arab citizens of Israel believe they could see a high turnout among their voters in the country’s third election in less than a year, on 2 March.

The success of the ‘Joint List’ alliance – a bloc of Arab parties, could help shape the overall result by boosting support for Benny Gantz, the main rival to long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But many Arab Israelis feel their rights have been eroded by Israel’s right wing government, and some are refusing outright to take part in the election.”

Bateman travelled to Haifa to interview four Arab Israelis – one boycotting the election and three intending to vote.

Bateman: “Israel has been in political deadlock for a year. They are now onto their third election. And this time round one of the groups claiming to have momentum are the Arab Israeli parties. There are getting on for 2 million Arab citizens of Israel, that’s about a fifth of the population.”

Bateman: “If more Arab Israelis turn out to vote [than last time] and vote for their parties and get more MPs in parliament it could on the one hand, create more of a block to Benjamin Netanyahu being able to put together a right-wing coalition and potentially more support for his main rival, Benny Gantz.”

By the time that latter statement was aired, the head of the Joint Arab List had made it clear that scenario was unlikely.

Viewers were told that:

“The Joint List of Arab parties became the third biggest group at the last election.”

The Joint Arab List was also the third biggest group in the 2015 election but in the April 2019 election the four parties it comprises did not run as a combined list.

“Their leader Ayman Odeh thinks that their turnout will grow this time because his voters say they are fed up with Mr Netanyahu’s policies. During this election, his party has also been reaching out to left-wing and minority Jewish voters. Last time, a fifth of Arab citizens voted for majority Jewish parties.”

Interestingly, BBC audiences did not get to hear from any of those Arab Israelis who do not vote for the Joint List and so with the exception of that one sentence, the Arab Israeli vote was misleadingly portrayed as a uniform block – as reflected in the film’s opening caption: “Arab Israelis and the third election”.

“Mr Netanyahu often cites democratic participation by all groups as a source of pride for Israel. Historically, participation by Arab citizens has been high. In a close race, Arab Israeli turnout could help shape the overall result.”

Obviously the level of turnout of 20% of any nation’s citizens would “help shape the overall result”, regardless of ethnicity.

Also remarkable is the fact that at no point in this report were BBC audiences informed which parties make up the Joint List and what kind of political views they represent. Ayman Odeh did indeed court certain sectors outside his list’s usual base during this year’s campaign but, as the Times of Israel pointed out:

“A more significant obstacle between the Joint List alliance and its coveted Jewish votes is its inclusion of the Islamist Ra’am party and the Balad party, which contests Israel’s Jewish character.

Odeh is the secular leader of Hadash, a political offshoot of the Israeli Communist Party and other leftist groups. […]

But it’s not just Hadash that’s on the ballot. It’s the entire Joint List alliance — and many potential Jewish voters recoil at the words of Balad’s terrorist-supporting female MK Heba Yazbak, feel threatened when they see Palestinian flags at protests, and can’t vote for a party of which some members oppose LGBTQ rights.”

So while BBC audiences heard the opinions of a philosophy student who would not vote and three women who would – along with claims such as “a lot of racism against us” and “second class citizens” – they were told nothing of the policies of “their parties” which make up the Joint Arab List or how those policies have affected efforts to form past governments.

This of course is not the first time that BBC audiences have seen simplistic reporting on the topic of Arab Israeli voters: Kevin Connolly likewise portrayed that sector in monochrome terms in 2013 and 2015

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