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The lazy reporting around Detroit’s anti-Israel billboard
Amer Zahr
by Amer Zahr
October 28th, 2015 (1 Comment)
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Late last week, WXYZ Detroit, the local ABC news affiliate here, told us about an eye-catching billboard in the city.  The "controversial" advertisement reads "America First," and underneath that, in much larger letters, "NOT ISRAEL."  The bottom of the billboard notes who footed the bill for it: "Paid for by Deir Yassin Remembered."

Of course, while the billboard is a simple exercise of free speech, albeit on a hot topic, the real story was WXYZ's terrible, irresponsible, and amateur reporting on the whole episode.  First, the news station reported (and continues to report) that the billboard reads, “America first over Israel,” something it clearly does not, as one could observe from the photo above, which was also in WXYZ's story.  Now, you might say, what's the substantive difference between "America first over Israel" and "America first not Israel"?  Perhaps there is none at all.  But it does show how little thought was put into WXYZ's work on the story.

And it didn't stop there.  The news team immediately defined the story in a quite nonsensical way:

Is it meant to be anti-Semitic or something else entirely?

This type of framing forwards a nonsensical (and quite unintellectual) discourse that criticism of Israel somehow equates to anti-Semitism.  And while we can easily dispel that sort of blabber through simple analogy (Does criticism of Saudi Arabia equate to Islamophobia?), jumping to that conclusion right away not only displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Palestine/Israel question, it also displays a stark misconception of the billboard saga itself.

The text in the billboard is not pointing to Israeli actions at all.  If one understood even the basics about the American-Palestinian-Israeli axis, he would immediately recognize that this billboard was primarily condemning the huge amounts of foreign aid Israel receives from the American congress annually.  Israel gets almost $4 billion every year from US taxpayers, or just over $10 million a day.  Couldn't that money be used to better fund education, healthcare, and transportation?  Don't we Americans have enough pressing problems that need that money?

The text on the billboard also points to how American politicians, especially members of Congress, seem to always sheepishly fall in line with Israeli policies, even when those policies are quite extreme.  This could be exhibited by the incessant and quite abominable cheerleading that went on went Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Congress back in March, as well the utter silence from those same representatives when the prime minister of Israel blamed the Holocaust on Palestinians last week, a statement that was almost universally denounced around the world.  Don't Americans deserve more honest and evenhanded representation? That inquiry and those above were the questions the billboard was getting at, not some drivel about anti-Semitism.

WXYZ displayed its utter misunderstanding of this by referencing the billboard's sponsor:

The billboard is referencing an incident that occurred in 1948 in the Arab village of Deir Yassin on the west side of Jerusalem. The village was attacked and more than 100 men, women and children were killed by Zionist paramilitary groups.

Without getting too much into the massacre at Deir Yassin, which was well-documented and even condemned by the chief rabbis and the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary force that fought in 1948, reporting that the billboard was "referencing" the massacre is careless journalism. And it is especially careless here in Detroit, the Arab American center, where there is no shortage of academics, activists, and specialists who could have easily commented on the story and expounded on the context.

Instead of taking the time to find a local Palestinian-American academic/activist/writer who could have provided some useful analysis (I know of one in particular), WXYZ only interviewed a local representative of the Anti-Defamation League, a markedly pro-Israel organization, who promptly told the viewing audience that the billboard was about nothing other than Jew hatred.

Some might say, "Well, they're just a local news station. We shouldn't expect too much."  That's not good enough.  Any news agency has the responsibility, especially with an issue as deep and thorny as this, to report fully, accurately, and contextually.  In this episode, WXYZ Detroit quite plainly failed.

 

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* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."

Comments (1)
  1. That local station might have some excuse – or not – but in Australia the ABC, our equivalent of the BBC in the UK, had no hesitation labelling a single knife attack at a bus stop in Tel Aviv as “another terrorist attack in Israel.” The offender allegedly attacked someone with a knife then apparently noticed that a nearby Israeli soldier wasn’t looking after his rifle properly so he grabbed it and started shooting. He was killed by other soldiers. Our taxpayer funded, supposedly unbiased broadcaster reported this through its hundreds of radio stations as a “terrorist attack.” I can’t recall any time it has referred to attacks on civilians by illegal settlers in the West Bank as “terrorist attacks.”


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