The Independent Claims Survey Reveals Israelis Support “Ethnic Cleansing”

UPDATE

Following correspondence, we have agreed to publish a response from a spokesperson at The Independent concerning the HonestReporting critique below:

Our article reported accurately on the findings of a recent Pew survey, which found a significant proportion of respondents favored the expulsion or transfer of Arabs from Israel. It is clear that the Pew Research Centre itself was in no doubt that the answers it received on this subject reflected people’s views as to whether Arabs should be allowed to live in Israel.

 

It is quite so that ‘ethnic cleansing’ is a highly charged phrase. But we explain its definitions in our piece and refer to it precisely because it serves to demonstrate the startling results of the poll. We don’t suggest that respondents were advocating violence and a full reading of the piece would leave readers in no doubt as to what the survey had found. Naturally we linked back to the Pew website so people could find out more if they wanted to. In sum, I reject the contention that our use of the phrase was inappropriate. And the idea that it was a manifestation of ‘editorializing’ by an individual reporter is simply wrong.

 

On the point about Tel Aviv, I accept we erred.  The article has now been amended accordingly.

 

* * *

A major Pew survey has generated much discussion and debate. It covered numerous questions surrounding Israelis’ political and religious views. One question in particular has caused legitimate concern after it revealed that nearly half of Jewish Israelis agree that Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.

Cue The Independent, which has come up with its own analysis and a headline to boot:

 

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How has The Independent come up with the term “ethnic cleansing?” Some analysis from an Israeli academic? A nasty comment from a Palestinian?

No. By consulting an encyclopedia.

A study carried out by the Pew Research Centre found that around one in five adults questioned “strongly agreed” with the controversial statement, which amounts to ethnic cleansing under some definitions.

 

The Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the act as “attempting to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the deportation or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic group”, while a United Nations report in 1993 additionally specified the use of “force or intimidation”.

The Independent is clearly editorializing, giving opinion disguised as news. By doing so, it has, on its own initiative, reached the most extreme and damaging conclusion that it could take from its own interpretation of the survey results, while failing to find any other relevant analysis or alternative explanations.

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Haaretz also focused on this one question of transfer. The Israeli media outlet is hardly known for sugar-coating its criticism of Israel’s flaws. Yet, Haaretz went to the trouble of interviewing someone with the skills to properly examine the issue and offer some more sophisticated analysis:

For his part, Israel Prize laureate Sammy Smooha, a professor of sociology at the University of Haifa, has criticized the wording of the transfer query in the Pew survey.

 

“Although it’s clear that support for expulsion and transfer should be condemned, the wording of the question is vague,” he told Haaretz, adding, “the way the question is presented, the statement ‘to expel Arabs from Israel’ is noncommittal and even easy to agree with.”

 

Smooha explained that the question as phrased did not specify the identity of candidates for expulsion, so that it’s possible that respondents thought it referred to the transfer of West Bank residents who reside in Israel proper but are not Israeli citizens per se. Moreover, the sociologist said it does not state whether the expulsion would affect all Arab citizens in Israel, or only those who support the country’s enemies or are deemed to be subversive. “In other words, this question can be understood in various ways,” he said.

 

He also believes that the poll “reflects alienation and disgust with the Arabs more than it attests to agreement to grant legitimacy to the government to expel them, [because] the statement presented in the survey is unrealistic and unfeasible.”

 

Since 2003, Smooha himself has been researching the relations between the country’s Jewish and Arab citizens.

 

“It’s absolutely clear to me that about a quarter of the Jews oppose coexistence with the Arab citizens, but the vast majority of Jews accepts coexistence,” he noted. “Among the Arab public, too, between a quarter and a third oppose coexistence. On both sides there is a population that rules out coexistence, but they won’t set the rules. That will be done by the mainstream, which is prepared to make concessions to the other side.”

 

Added Smooha: “The Jews have complex positions. While they wouldn’t object if Arabs left the country, they don’t want the government to initiate such a move. The Jews have come to understand that the Arabs are here to stay and that they have to get along, and they don’t want to upset everything or sabotage coexistence.”

To be clear, of course there is prejudice in Israeli society and it is not the intention of this HonestReporting post to somehow excuse or justify the opinions of those Israelis surveyed. Israel is a very self-critical society and the debate over the survey findings are just beginning.

As the above shows, however, it is simplistic to claim that the survey results express clear support for “ethnic cleansing,” a charge more suited to an anti-Israel opinion piece rather than a hard news item. Given that the story isn’t an opinion piece, it would have been correct and professional journalism to quote not from an encyclopedia but from some external sources qualified to give comment.

FACTUAL ERROR

There is also a glaring error in the article:

Israeli Arab is the Tel Aviv government’s definition of non-Jewish citizens and many members of the minority, who are predominantly Muslim, identify as Palestinian.

Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and its seat of government, not Tel Aviv. Even if The Independent refuses to recognize Jerusalem’s capital status, it is factually inaccurate and misleading to unilaterally designate Tel Aviv as Israel’s city of government.

 

A complaint concerning the article and a request for a correction to the “Tel Aviv government” has been sent to The Independent. You can add your voice by bringing your concerns to the attention of The Independent’s online complaints form – http://www.independent.co.uk/service/complaint-form-a6184246.html

 

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