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Ben-Gurion University
BGU Neve Gordon's "Villa in The Jungle": To reinforce the Zionist trope that Israel is an island of civilization in the Middle East

 

BGU Professor Neve Gordon, Politics & Government

Email: ngordon@bgu.ac.il

Editorial Note

Neve Gordon (BGU) has been one of the harshest critics of Israeli democracy; in fact he accused Israel of being a racist, apartheid state that tramples on the civil rights of Jews and Arabs alike.  Understandably, Gordon was very unhappy with Ehud Barak's reference to Israel as a "villa  in the jungle," a shorthand for stating that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.  He was even more upset with observers who insisted that Islam and democracy do not go together. 
When the Arab Spring toppled a number of autocratic regimes in the region Gordon rushed to prove Barak wrong.  His article on the subject demonstrates that he has real excitement about the emerging democracies. He also upbraids the Israeli media for being skeptical about the developments. 
However, it is Gordon who may need to curb his enthusiasm.

 Parliamentary elections in Tunisia and Egypt brought to power Islamist parties, including the hard-line Salafists who want to  impose Shaaria law.  In  a development reminiscent of Iran in 1979,  Salafist in Tunisia are engaged in a violent culture war with the secularists, with the ruling Islamist Ennhada party either unwilling or unable to stop the violence.  Women are assaulted for wearing Western attire, clashes in universities are common and a TV producer was sued for allegedly offending Mohammed. Analysts have worried that, with arms flowing from Libya and Algeria, Salafists may launch an armed conflict.

Civil society has not fared any better in Egypt where the authorities arrested employees of Western-funded NGO's set up to teach about democracy.  Although Westerners in the group were let go, the Egyptians are still under a cloud.  There is little doubt that the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party wants to send a signal that Western-style democracy was not acceptable.  Indeed, a leading MB leader declared that Egypt is a de facto Islamist country.  In both countries Salafists have discouraged Western tourism on the grounds that it corrupts morals, heightening the economic plight.   

Of course, the future of  Egypt is more than an academic issue.  The Islamists have already threatened to either revise or abrogate the 1979 peace treaty. The speaker of the Egyptian parliament, the veteran Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam al- Arian, has repeatedly vowed to destroy Israel.   Meanwhile, the authorities have a hard time controlling the Sinai Peninsula which has become a haven for lawless tribesmen and al Qaeda operatives and a traffic route for missiles used to shell Israeli territory. 

It is too early to predict what type of regimes will emerge in the new Middle East but it is not entirely clear that Neve Gordon's optimism will be born out.



© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI 10.1163/187633711X591468
Middle East Law and Governance 3 (2011) 105–117 brill.nl/melg
  
    
   A Villa in the Jungle: The Arab Awakening through the Lens of the Israeli Media  
    Neve Gordon    
 Department of Politics and Government 
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev 
  Abstract 
 In the Israeli media, the message conveyed to Hebrew-speaking audiences has been that the 
uprisings in the Arab world are clashes between ethnic, religious or tribal groups. This depiction 
fi ts well within the representational framework of Israel as an island of civilization surrounded by 
savages. This conceptual framework serves to determine Israel’s regional policies, both with many 
of its neighboring countries and with the Palestinians. The Israeli media, in other words, has 
perpetuated an isolationist jungle metaphor, while trying to convince the viewers that the uprisings 
will have only minor impact on the villa that is Israel. 
  
    Immediately following the outbreak of mass protests in Tahrir Square,
commentators in Israel assured the public that “Egypt is not Tunis.”
The consensus was that the Egyptian security apparatus was loyal to the regime and,
consequently, there was little if any chance that President Hosni
Mubarak’s government would fall. “The demonstrations do not threaten Mubarak,” one of 
Israel’s “experts on Arab Affairs” averred a few days after the protests
began, but rather “provide a glimpse of what might happen once his tenure ends.”  1
 After it became clear that this line of analysis was erroneous, however, most 
commentators followed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s lead and began 
criticizing President Barack Obama’s administration for failing to support 
Mubarak. “The fact that the White House is permitting the protests is reason 

1)   Channel Ten, 25 January 2011.

 
for worry,” 2    complained the Foreign News editor of one television channel, 
while the prominent political analyst Ben Kaspit expressed his longing for 
President George W. Bush in an op-ed: “We remember 2003 when George 
Bush invaded and took over Iraq with a sense of nostalgia. Libya immediately 
changed course and allied itself with the West. Iran suspended its military 
nuclear program. Arafat was harnessed. Syria shook with fear. Not that the 
invasion of Iraq was a wise move (not at all, Iran is the real problem, not Iraq), 
but in the Middle East whoever does not walk around with a big bat in his 
hand receives the bat on his head.”  3
 Kaspit was merely echoing a widespread sentiment in Israel. Indeed, most 
media commentators seem to have internalized Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s 
now domestically famous depiction of Israel as a “villa in the jungle”—namely, 
a civilized Western island surrounded by semi-barbaric Arabs and Muslims—
and have accordingly related to the Arab Awakening almost solely through the 
lens of this image. The prevalent and increasingly vocalized view that the 
Arabs are uncivilized helps explain why Israeli commentators reporting about 
the awakening have been equivocal on potential democratization in the 
Middle East. One columnist explained that it takes years for democratic 
institutions to be established, and for people to internalize the practices necessary 
for democracy. Amir Hazroni from the popular news website  NRG  went so far 
as to write an ode to colonialism:
  When we try to think how and why the United States and the West lost Egypt, Tunis, 
Yemen and perhaps other countries in the Middle East, people forget that the original sin 
began right after WWII, when a wonderful form of government that protected security and 
peace in the Middle East (and in other parts of the Third Word) departed from this world 
following pressure from the United States and Soviet Union … More than sixty years have 
passed since the Arab states and the countries of Africa were liberated from the “colonial 
yoke,” but there still isn’t an Arab university, an African scientist or a Middle Eastern 
consumer product that has made a mark on our world. 4
 Hazroni is undoubtedly expressing an extremist position, but this kind of 
orientalist perspective has permeated much of the discussion about the Arab 
awakening within Israel. As a rule, the uprisings have not been presented as 
an outcome of real grievances arising from exploitation and repression, but 
rather as clashes of civilizations: between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Bahrain; 

2)  Channel Ten, 2 February 2011.  
3)   NRG , 30 January 2011.  
4)  7 February 2011.   

Sunni versus Alawi in Syria; as tribal feuds in Libya and Yemen; and as being 
led by Islamist forces, which want to take over the modern secular state 
in Tunis and Egypt. As a result, an analysis of the socio-economic processes 
leading to the awakening has been almost totally missing from the coverage, 
and many of the key actors in the protest movements—such as labor organizations, 
students, university graduates, women and youth—have been rendered 
invisible. This approach has helped bolster an already existing fear of political 
Islam among the Jewish citizenry, which is constantly being presented as 
an ominous force that is both antithetical to democracy and an existential 
threat to Israel.5
   Indeed, it has helped to reinforce the Zionist trope that Israel 
is an island of civilization in the Middle East, and serves as a wall against 
barbarism. 6

  Extent of Israeli Coverage 

 The Arab Awakening has been covered extensively in the Israeli media, but the 
time dedicated to each country has varied significantly. News agencies have 
mostly concentrated on uprisings that have direct implications for Israel. 
Hence, there has been relatively little coverage of Tunis, Yemen, and Bahrain; 
a fair amount of reporting on Libya (primarily due to NATO’s intervention); 
and a great deal of attention on Egypt and Syria, both of which share borders 
with Israel. During the climatic days of massive protests calling for regime 
change in Egypt, the television news programs and current aff airs talk shows 
spent most of their airtime covering the unfolding events, while some channels 
provided extended live coverage alongside commentary. The daily papers, 
in turn, dedicated half the news pages to Egypt, while many of the comments 
on the opinion pages dealt with the uprising. The dominant attitude, especially 
after it became clear that Mubarak’s days were numbered and particularly 
on television, was one of anxiety and a sense that the developments in 
Egypt were inimical to Israel’s interests. 
 However, the intense emotional investment and anxiety pervading the 
media’s coverage of the Egyptian revolution has generally been absent from its 
coverage of the uprisings in other Arab countries. Israel does not have a peace 
agreement with Syria, and therefore the overall perception has been that Israel 

5)  For more about this fear see Haggai Ram,  Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession
(Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2009).  
6)  Avi Shlaim,  The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World  (New York: Norton Books 2001).   

has little to lose or gain from the unfolding events there. The other countries 
neither share a border nor have a peace agreement with Israel, and the end 
results therein are not perceived as having any profound bearing on Israel. 
Consequently, most of the commentary has been dedicated to factual reportage 
about daily developments, such as the number of people killed and the 
protests’ escalation or lack thereof, alongside assessments regarding the likelihood 
of a given uprising’s success in propelling regime change.  
  
The Awakening as an Ethnic-Religious Struggle 

 What emerges most forcefully when examining the Israeli coverage of 
the Arab Awakening is that the revolts have been depicted as ethnic and religious uprisings, 
not as popular pro-democracy struggles against authoritarian 
regimes, which bulldozed the basic rights of their own citizenry.  7
   Moreover, the economic exploitation, corruption and repression characterizing these 
regimes were, for the most part, ignored.  8    This can be seen both in the daily analyses
of the uprisings, as well as in the Israeli construction of the political 
subjects propelling them. To the extent that the descriptions of the protestors 
are framed within ideological perspectives, the way the Israeli media portrays 
them provides insight into how the uprisings have been depicted to, and 
understood by, Hebrew-speaking audiences.  9
 As a whole, Israeli commentators described the Egyptian protesters as being 
led by a coterie of intellectuals and the “Facebook and Twitter generation.” 
The coverage provided by Israeli reporters stationed in Cairo was accompanied 
by sympathetic interviews with Egyptian citizens, who generally underscored 
the importance of Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel, while simultaneously 
expressing opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood. “We are not the Muslim 

7)  For an analysis of the causes leading to the uprisings see Michael Sakbani, “The Revolutions 
of the Arab Spring: are democracy, development and modernity at the gates?”  Journal of 
Contemporary Arab Affairs , Vol. 4, Issue 2, April-July 2011: 127-148.  
8)  For an analysis of some of the economic forces driving the uprising in Egypt consult Amal A. 
Kandeel, “Egypt at a Crossroads,”  Middle East Policy , Vol. 18, Issue 2, 2011: 37-45. For a similar 
analysis of the Syria case see Bassam Haddad, “The Political Economy of Syria: Realities and 
Challenges,”  Middle East Policy , Vol. 18, Issue 2, 2011: 46-61.  
9)  On the constitution of the political subject see Jacques Rancière, “Ten theses on Politics,” 
Theory and Event , Volume 5, Issue 3, 2001. On framing in the Israeli press see Neve Gordon, 
“Rationalizing Extra-Judicial Executions: The Israeli Press and the Legitimization of Abuse,” 
International Journal of Human Rights,  8(4) 2004: 305-324.   

Brotherhood, we are Egypt …” one protester insisted, “We want a fair leader. 
We do not want war with Israel, we want democracy.”  10 
The coverage from the ground did not, however, sway the “experts on 
Arab Aff airs” nor lead them to alter their ideological analysis of the situation. 
Sitting in the studios in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, these commentators described 
the protestors who were interviewed as naïve, and consequently expressed a 
concern that their fate would follow that of the Iranian intellectuals who led 
the protests against the Shah. Ehud Ya’ari, Channel Two’s “expert on Arab 
Aff airs,” noted that “The fact that you do not see the Muslim Brotherhood 
does not mean they are not there,” while Arad Nir, Channel Two’s Foreign 
News editor, added “Today is indeed joyful, but as Scarlet O’Hara said, 
‘tomorrow is a new day’.”  11
 Although the Israeli media reported that the Muslim Brotherhood did not 
take an active part in mobilizing the protests, and that the Muslim organization 
refrained from distributing Islamists banners in Tahrir Square, this was 
interpreted as a tactical decision on behalf of the Brotherhood in order to 
avoid undermining the opposition’s objective of regime change. Zvi Yehzkeli, 
Channel Ten’s “expert on Arab aff airs,” warned his viewers: “Do not be mistaken 
by El Baradei’s Viennese spirit, behind him is the Muslim Brotherhood.”  12
Most commentators described the Muslim Brotherhood as the authentic (and 
only) opposition in Egypt, while referring to Mohammad El Baradei and the 
other opposition parties as irrelevant. In a news program on Channel Ten, the 
anchorman asked: “Is there an opposition that can take over the government?” 
To which one expert commentator responded: “There is no other body other 
than the Muslim Brotherhood which can take the leadership in Egypt … 
Surely not a good message for Israel.”  13
 Along similar lines, the Syrian uprising has been presented as a Sunni 
rebellion against the Alawi minority, symbolized by the ruling Assad family. Zvi 
Yehzkeli from Channel Ten claimed that the uprising began in the southern 
city of Dara, since the central government has less of a hold on the periphery, 
and the Sunni population there is more devout, hates the Alawi, and “considers 
Assad a kind of heretic.”  14   In an op-ed published in  Globes , Yehzkeli went 
on to claim that one of the fallacies of “western analysis” is that it strives to 

10)  Channel Ten, 30 January 2011.  
11)  11 February 2011.  
12)  30 January 2011.  
13)  28 January 2011.  
14)  21 March 2011.   

make sense of the Middle East through the lens of democratic values, while 
the Syrian uprising is driven by religious motivations and has nothing to 
do with democracy.  15
   Channel Two’s “expert on Arab aff airs” seemed to agree: 
“It began due to social problems, but it is now assuming a new dimension, an 
additional dimension, of Sunni against Alawi.”  16
   Shlomi Eldar and a series of other experts concurred: “Syria is Alawi and Sunni, 
there is no real opposition; there is no opposition in Syria.”  17
   Accordingly, the protestors in Syria have been depicted as masses united due 
to their desire to topple Assad. Occasionally, 
they have been presented as heroic actors, like Yehezkeli who informed his 
viewers that this “story is about courageous citizens and the military [they 
confront],”  18   and on a couple of occasions it has been noted that among them 
are young people, students, women and moderates.  19   Nonetheless, secular Syrian 
opposition groups have not been mentioned, and the only oppositional 
organization that has been discussed is the Muslim Brotherhood. Channel 
Two’s “Arab expert” explained that the Muslim Brotherhood has offi  cially 
taken the lead, 20   while Channel One’s “Arab expert” averred that although the 
Brotherhood is not leading the protests, its members are “standing in the 
background … the situation is similar to Egypt.”  21    The implication of this 
analysis is that “if Bashar falls, hundreds of thousands of Alawi might die”;  22
“Syria is on the threshold of a bloodbath, a big catastrophe like 1982, Hama”;  23
and “there will be a butchering of monstrous proportions.”  24
   Interestingly, the only way for the Hebrew-speaking audience to find out what the protestors’ 
demands actually are is through a marginal news blog called Kav Hutz, meaning “Outside Line”.  25
 The coverage of the uprising in Bahrain has been portrayed as a struggle led 
by the majority Shia population rebelling against Sunni rule due to blatant 
discrimination. Practically all of the commentators have emphasized Iran’s 

15)  2 April 2011.  
16)  25 March 2011.  
17)  Channel Ten, 25 March 2011. For similar remarks see  Ynet, 27 March 2011 and News1, 25 
March 2011.
18)  Channel Ten, 26 April 2011. See also Channel One, 1 May 2011.  
19)  Channel Two, 20 April 2011.  
20)  30 April 2011.  
21)  22 April 2011.  
22)   Ynet , 27 March 2011.  
23)  Channel Two, 19 April 2011.  
24)   Ma’ariv , 29 April 2011.  
25)  Kav Hutz, 23 April 2011.   

support for the demonstrators. One commentator explained that this tiny 
island is the last hurdle preventing the spread of Shia to Saudi Arabia, and 
another one added that we “also need to remember that Kuwait is 40 percent 
Shia … the region just east of Saudi Arabia, the most important oil region in 
the world.”  26   Yemen, not unlike Bahrain, has also been perceived as a site 
where local power struggles between Shia and Sunni are being played out, 
with Iran supporting the Shia and Saudi Arabia supporting the Sunni. Unlike 
the other countries, though, Yemen has been presented as a failed state, while 
separatist groups and tribal leaders—whose goal is to secure independence for 
south Yemen—have been portrayed as leading the rebellion.  27

   Commentators 

have tended to agree that once the existing regime collapses, Yemen will 
become a haven for radical Islam. Yehzkeli from Channel Two has characterized 
the power struggle as a war between Shia and Al Qaida, and has predicted 
that Yemen will become the largest Al Qaida center.  28
 Other than Egypt and Syria, which share borders with Israel, Libya has 
received the most media attention. Yet, the coverage has been quite vague in 
many respects, with hardly any analysis of the causes leading to the rebellion, 
and no discussion of the rebels’ demands. Time and again, commentators have 
focused on Gaddafi ’s character, while the uprising has been depicted as a tribal 
war over power and resources. Israeli viewers have repeatedly been told that 
some of the tribes that traditionally supported Gaddafi  have now turned 
against him. 
 All in all, there has hardly been any mention of the impact that social factors 
have had on the uprisings, or the real and acute grievances caused by failed 
economic policies and years of corruption.  29   Rather, the Arab Awakening has 
been presented in Israel as being propelled by atavistic forces, or spurred by 
clashes among diff erent ethnic and religious groups. h us, on the surface, 
there are diff erences among the characterizations of the political subjects 
leading the uprisings in each Arab country; however, in fact, these descriptions 
usually boil down to one tribe against another, or one form of Islam trying to 
gain precedence over the other. One exception is Zvi Barel from the Israeli 
daily newspaper  Ha’aretz , who has described the Arab Awakening as being 
motivated by economic disparity and poverty. Other dissenting voices have 

26)  Channel Two, 17 February 2011.  
27)   Yisrael Hayom , 20 February 2011.  
28)  21 March 2011.  
29)  Clemens Breisinger, Olivier Ecker, and Perrihan Al-Riffai, “Economics of 
the Arab Awakening: From Revolution to Transformation 
and Food Security,” IFPRI Policy Brief 18, May 2011.   

included Fruma Zaks, who has claimed that the impetus for the Syrian uprising 
was economic and class-based, and has described the protestors as “trying 
to guard [Syria’s] national rather than ethnic character; there is a strong effort 
on behalf of the protesters to say that ‘we are all together’.”  30
  
No Democracy for Arabs 

 The majority of commentators seem to believe that the Arab countries in the 
region are not ready for democracy, and that elections will only lead to the rise 
of Islamic forces. The coverage has two dimensions that are at times clearly 
articulated, while on other occasions merely implied: on the one hand, political Islam 
(which will, according to the analysis, win the day) and democracy 
are perceived to be contradictory, while on the other hand, Arabs are not ready 
for democracy. 
 Before it was clear what would happen to Mubarak, Zvi Yehezkeli from 
Channel Two stated: “Behind all the beautiful pictures there are Muslim 
brothers. If everything does indeed collapse and they go for a kind of democracy like 
Tunis, that’s it! The Muslim Brotherhood will take it walking.”  31
   An Israeli diplomat, cited in  Yisrael Hayom , declared: “Elections are the end of the 
process, not its beginning.”  32
   Similarly, on Channel Ten, an anchorman asked 
a former government Minister (someone who is considered to be an expert on 
Egypt): “[Is] the person who says to himself, how wonderful, at last the state 
of Egypt is a democracy, is naïve?” To which the Minister responded: “Permit 
me to laugh. We wanted a democracy in Iran and in Gaza. The person who 
talks like this is ignoring the fact that for over a decade there has been a struggle 
of giants with tons of blood between the Sunni and Shia … The person 
who speaks about democracy does not live in reality.”  33
 Likewise, democracy is not considered to be on the Syrian horizon. To stress 
this point, commentators have often compared Syria with Israel. The general 
thrust is that Israel is an enlightened democracy, and Syria a violent tyranny 
that cannot or will not become a democracy. “I don’t see how someone reaches 
democracy at this pace, whether it is the Egyptian actor … or the Syrian actor 
who is still massacring and being massacred,” noted Channel Ten’s “expert on 

30)  Channel One, 1 May 2011.  
31)  27 January 2011.  
32)  30 January 2011.  
33)  10 February 2011.   

Arab Affairs”.  34
   A few days after this comment, Ben Kaspit from  Ma’ariv  made 
a cynical remark: “If Assad falls, who do you think will replace him? The Dalai 
Lama? Amnesty? It is obvious that this will not happen. A new murderer will 
come.”  35
 Talking about protests in Libya, Yehezkeli says “we need to stop and ask 
ourselves whether it is for democracy or settling internal disputes,”  36   while Zvi 
Barel from  Ha’aretz  explains that the tribes in Yemen are “not yearning for 
democracy – they want a larger budget [i.e., more money from the government].”  37
   It is not only that Israeli commentators do not believe the Arab 
countries are ready to transform into democracies, and therefore will not 
become democracies; many analysts think that such a transformation—despite 
its very unlikely occurrence—would be inimical to Israel’s interests. Former 
Defense Minister, Moshe Arens, effectively captured this sentiment while writing for  
Ha’aretz  when he claimed that Israel had, until now, signed peace agreements with tyrants, 
and it would be much more difficult to sign such agreements 
with democracies because they would not be able to meet Israel’s demands.  38

  Anxiety about the Future 

 Aside from Egypt and Syria, the diff erent awakenings have not really led the 
Israeli media to express anxiety about the future. There are several reasons for 
this—one key factor being the firm Zionist conception of Israel as a wall 
against barbarism. Thus, the portrayal of the Arab Awakening has been 
packaged within a conceptual framework that is already firmly rooted in Jewish 
Israeli self-definition and mythology, while underscoring Israel’s difference 
from its neighboring countries. 
 One outlier, as mentioned, was Egypt. The protests in Egypt were depicted 
as destabilizing and as having the potential to ignite the region, and the  anxiety 
clearly stemmed from the uprising’s possible negative impact on Egypt’s peace 
agreement with Israel. Although the pervasive view held that it was in Egypt’s 
interest to uphold the peace agreement with Israel, many commentators 
declared that the permanence of the peace agreement could no longer be taken 

34)  26 April 2011.  
35)  29 April 2011.  
36)  Channel Two, 16 February 2011.  
37)  20 February 2011.  
38)  1 February 2011.  
 
for granted. As Israel’s Chief of Staff  put it, “The quiet Israel is experiencing is 
breakable.”  39   The general opinion was that Israel would have to invest more 
resources in surveillance in the Sinai and Gaza Strip. Channel One’s political 
correspondent noted that, “We are moving from an era of stability, where the 
border was quiet and there were strategic understandings between Israel and 
Mubarak’s Egypt, into a new era which lacks clarity. And this increases 
concern.”  40
   The diplomatic correspondent for Channel Two summed up the 
widespread feeling when he asserted, “Hosni Mubarak is a dictator, but he 
zealously protected the peace agreement. The real fear is that the ‘democracy
instant’ in Egypt may be grabbed by extremist forces.”  41
 Discussions about Syria reveal a diff erent kind of anxiety. A number of 
commentators have claimed that Syria might, as a last resort, attack Israel.  
42   Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored this kind of anxiety when he 
noted that Israel supports a democratic Syria, but fears that the country will 
transform into a fanatic religious regime.  43
   Ben Kaspit from the daily newspaper  Ma’ariv  declared that if 
Assad survives he will likely be “more comfortable, 
weaker and more attentive to the west,” while his colleague Ofer Shelah 
claimed that a weak and disintegrating Syria will be good for Israel. 44
 Most of the debate about the Syrian uprising’s implications for Israel has 
revolved around speculation regarding how the uprising would have aff ected 
Israel had a peace agreement been signed with Syria. The commentators are 
divided into two camps: those who have asserted that the events in the Levant 
prove that peace with Syria constitutes a real danger; and those who have 
claimed that if a peace agreement had been signed, it would have survived the 
uprising and would have been benefi cial for Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu 
is a member of the former camp. He has supported Israel’s past decisions 
against signing an agreement with Syria, because Israel cannot know who its 
future partners will be.  45   Speaking on Channel One,  Ha’aretz  commentator 
Ari Shavit concurred. One of the uprising’s implications, he announced, is 
that “there is no chance for peace.” 46   Along similar lines, Mordechai Keidar 

39)  Channel Ten, 8 February 2011.  
40)  10 February 2011.  
41)  10 February 2011.  
42)  See  Ha’aretz , 29 April 2011; and  Yisrael Hayom , 29 April 2011.  
43)  Channel Two, 30 March 2011. See also  Ynet , 30 March 2011; and  Ynet , 22 April 2011.  
44)  29 April 2011.  
45)  Channel Two, 30 March 2011.  
46)  29 April 2011.   

criticized the “Syrian experts” who have supported Israel’s withdrawal from 
the Golan Heights,  47   and Danni Kushmero maintained that due to the 
instability in Syria, the Golan would stay in Israeli hands for many years to come.  48
By contrast, Ben Kaspit said that if Israel had signed an agreement with Syria 
it would have endured due to common economic interests,  49   and Yoel Marcus 
from  Ha’aretz  asserted that it is crucial to encourage an agreement with any 
regime, because agreements tend to last even in periods of instability (he gives 
Egypt as an example).  50
  Criticism of the “International Community” and Israel’s Imperial Logic 
 The Israeli media has been critical of the way the international community has 
handled the Arab revolts, with the exception of the West’s decision to attack 
Libya—which was conceived in favorable terms. With respect to Egypt, the 
major target of criticism was Obama’s Administration. The statements made 
by President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and the White House 
Spokesperson—which called upon Mubarak to resign, and later insisted that 
a gradual process of handing over power should take place—were deemed 
both inconsistent and myopic. Channel Ten’s anchorman stated that “President 
Obama abandons Mubarak during live broadcast,” while one of the experts 
noted that “We cannot count on the United States.”  51   A few days later, a 
Foreign News editor in Channel Ten stated: “The fact that the White House is 
permitting the protests is reason for worry.”  52
 In its coverage of the Syrian uprising, Israeli criticism has mostly been 
directed against “the world’s” duplicity. Both in Egypt and Syria, the West and 
the UN executive bodies have not been seen to be doing their job. With 
respect to Egypt, the Prime Minister and the media wanted the West to  protect 
Mubarak’s regime, while in Syria’s case, the West has been considered 
hypocritical because it decided against an attack (as opposed Libya). At least up 
until the end of May, US policy was described as hesitant, irresolute and too 
friendly towards Syria. In an article called “Assad’s Back,” two  commentators 

47)   News1 , 25 March 2011.  
48)  Channel Two, 9 April 2011.  
49)   Ma’ariv , 29 April 2011.  
50)  29 April 2011.  
51)  29 January 2011.  
52)  3 February 2011.   

for  Ma’ariv  noted that “the reporting about massacres throughout Syria did 
not impress the United Nation’s Security Council.”  53   Moreover, Arad Nir 
claimed that, according to Hilary Clinton, Assad is a reformer, and then asked 
his viewers to judge her assessment of the Syrian leader while the camera 
showed a sniper shooting at citizens during a demonstration.  54
 An imperial logic connecting Israel’s criticism of the “international 
community” becomes apparent in light of the above-noted commentary. First, the 
international community is consistently identified with the West—namely, 
the United States, Western Europe and NATO. Second, according to these 
commentators, the decision to intervene should not be based on the degree of 
social wrongs within a country, or on government eff orts to obstruct processes 
of democratization. Rather, it should be based on the relation of the governing 
dictator with Western powers.  

  Self-Criticism 

 On the margins of the coverage is some internal criticism of Israel. Aluf Ben 
noted that Syria has cancelled its emergency laws  before  Israel,  55   and Moria 
Shlomot claimed that the Israeli media loves the Syrian soldiers who refuse to 
take part in the oppression of their people, but hates the Israeli refusniks from 
the left. 56
   In a prime time satirical program, Assad’s character appeared before 
a committee responsible for choosing the winner of the prestigious “Israel 
prize.” Here, Assad declares that he is a worthy candidate because he is “the 
only one who enables [Israel] to look good in the world.” He then remarks: 
“After they see what I do to my citizens, what Israel is doing in Gaza will 
appear like family entertainment.”  57
  
Conclusion 

 None of the uprisings have been portrayed as pro-democracy struggles against 
social wrongs. Rather, the message conveyed to Hebrew-speaking audiences 

53)  29 April 2011.  
54)  Channel Two, 1 April 2011. See also Channel One, 26 April 2011.  
55)   Ha’aretz , 20 April 2011.  
56)   Yisrael Hayom , 29 April 2011.  
57)   Eretz Nehedert , Channel 2, 29 April 2011.   

has been that these protests are clashes between ethnic, religious or tribal 
groups. This depiction fits well within the representational framework of Israel 
as an island of civilization surrounded by savages. This conceptual framework, 
as Akiva Eldar from  Ha’aretz  asserted in a different context, serves to determine 
Israel’s regional policies, both with many of its neighboring countries 
and with the Palestinians: “the animals of the jungle understand only strength. 
Negotiations are not conducted with savages. The only way to survive in a 
hostile environment is to erect barriers, shut yourself up in your house – and 
to hell with the neighbors. For our part, let them kill each other, let them die 
of starvation, some sooner and some later.”  58
 The Israeli media, in other words, has perpetuated the isolationist jungle 
metaphor, while trying to convince the viewers that the uprisings will have 
only minor impact on the villa. There has been, to be sure, recognition of the 
monumental changes taking place, but these have not been interpreted as 
having an effect on Israel. Not a single commentary that I came across interpreted 
the Arab Awakening as an opportunity for Israel to normalize its relations with 
Arab countries in the region, and only a few considered it to be detrimental 
(and here, only in relation to Egypt). The Arab Awakening is not consequential 
to Hebrew-speaking viewers because Israel conceives of itself as an island, 
cut off  from the region’s populations and social problems.  
  
Acknowledgement 

 I would like to thank my research assistants Shai Gortler and Ran Tzoref for 
their excellent work.
         
58)  30 January 2006.  
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