Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Gagging" Human Rights Groups


Yesterday, the English edition of Ha'aretz ran a story that began with the lead:
More than half of Jewish Israelis think human rights organizations that expose immoral behavior by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, and think there is too much freedom of expression here, a recent survey found.
Its headline claimed that the "Majority of Israel's Jews back gag on rights groups." The article in the Hebrew edition had the same lead but a different headline putting the emphasis on the poll's finding that "74% of the public [believes]: punish those who reveal security matters." I could find no reference to it elsewhere in the Hebrew press yesterday.

The poll in question was commissioned by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the majority of those quoted in the article are affiliated with that institute. Unfortunately, the article gives no indication as to the original wording of the poll. I fear that Ha'aretz editors are once again playing fast and loose with an opinion survey for the purposes of editorial comment (the linked Jerusalem Post article describes Ha'aretz reporting of an opinion survey about Israeli views of President Obama). The Steinmetz center only has a link to an announcement of a conference about "academic freedom of expression in society during conflict" (PDF program in Hebrew), where the research will apparently be presented on Thursday, April 29.

The pollsters were puzzled that an overwhelming majority of Israelis nevertheless expressed support for freedom of expression. I think there is a lot of mistrust of human rights groups among Israelis. Many of those surveyed probably don't believe that the NGOs are "exposing immoral behavior" but that their findings are selective and highly politicized.


Noah K said...

Good work. And sure, it does seem to be a pattern, the politicization of these polls. I noticed Ha'aretz bashers throwing that earlier case out there on their comments section. But in that case, on Israelis' view of Obama, what exactly would Ha'aretz's editorial comment have been? That doesn't seem like an "opposition" position, as the poll as they translated it minimized the rift between Obama and Israel. Wouldn't you expect their position to be the opposite, to want and expose or exaggerate the rift? Isn't that the rhetoric of the current government's opponents, to say they are messing up the special relationship with US?

Amos said...

Not sure who is responsible and what their aims are. I think for the Obama poll some people accused Ha'aretz of trying to create the impression (domestically) that Netanyahu was weak and did not have public opinion behind him. As for this current poll, I think the headline and Ha'aretz reporting were framed to be as sensational as possible.

BTW, I think the design of the Ha'aretz web site is horrible, especially the English edition. It looks like something from 5 years ago. Plus, they really need to crack down on the Talkback.

Noah K said...

Amos, did you see what I was asking about the earlier poll? The way that Ha'aretz mistranslated it meant that what should have been a poll showing the Israeli public's dislike/distrust of Obama came out looking like, "Half of Israelis think Obama's policy toward Israel is just and fair." I just don't get how Ha'aretz would be editorializing there. It supports the government's position that there is no rift. For those who haven't read about this, the Hebrew apparently should have been translated, "Is Obama's treatment of Israel straightforward/businesslike" or some such thing.

Amos said...


Yah, that's what I was responding to. The critique of Ha'aretz from the right was that the newspaper had tried to influence the government by portraying public opinion as pro-Obama. Remember, this poll was taken right after the East Jerusalem building announcement during Biden's visit. So, I think the charge against Ha'aretz was that it had tried to show the Israeli public as pro-Obama and anti-Netanyahu, in order to put pressure on the government.

The affair revolved around the word עניני ('inyani), which can mean business-like, matter-of-factly, or to-the-point. The Ha'aretz headline was

סקר "הארץ": רוב גורף בציבור סבור שאובמה ידידותי וענייני כלפי ישראל

It claimed that "An overwhelming majority of the public thinks that Obama is friendly and business-like/matter-of-factly/to-the point toward Israel."

In fact, that "and" should have been an "or." The results of the poll show 51% "business-like" and 18% friendly, with 21% answering that they believed Obama's attitude to Israel was hostile. By using the conjunction "and," the headline gave the impression that the word "business-like" ('inyani) meant "fair, professional." However, the word's connotation is slightly on the negative side of neutral, just like "matter-of-factly."

Here is a graphic showing the original poll questions and the results in bar graphs.

Noah K said...

Thanks again. I just think that the suspicion that the newspaper was editorializing on that is kind of far-fetched. It seems counter-intuitive to me, but I don't know. I just don't think it's the best evidence of a pattern of biased reporting.

Amos said...

I certainly wouldn't argue that Ha'aretz covered these two polls in such a manner as to a) obscure them and b) deliver some coherent ideological line. I am, however, concerned about the reporting here. The coverage of this freedom of expression/the press poll seemed to confirm the critique by some right-win bashers of Ha'aretz that the paper sensationalizes negative news about Israel in its English edition.

Amos said...

Following up on my complaint about the Ha'aretz web site, several comments above: new is online. Definitely an improvement over the old one though it still looks kind of old.

Noah K said...

Yeah, it's not bad. Noticed that "J Call" is getting a lot of press. The obvious thing to do is to compare this development to emergence of "J Street," but the contexts are so different, the competitors, the talking points and so on. I think that J Call has a pretty well honed message: Zionist, against delegitimation, also against settlement construction. This interview asks some tough questions.