© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI 10.1163/187633711X591468
A Villa in the Jungle: The Arab Awakening through the Lens of the Israeli Media
Department of Politics and Government
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
I would like to thank my research assistants Shai Gortler and Ran Tzoref for
their excellent work.
58) 30 January 2006.