Quite coincidentally, I write for both Israel Hayom in Israel and Al-Ittihad in the United Arab Emirates. There was a lot of controversy surrounding my joining Israel Hayom because I was the first female Gulf Arab journalist to work for a conservative Israeli media outlet. My appointment was described by the publication’s former editor-in-chief, Boaz Bismuth, as “groundbreaking,” but by anti-peace advocates as a shameful betrayal.
As a result of the Abraham Accords, many bilateral agreements have been established in key areas, such as business, clean energy, tourism, education and cultural exchange. As these historic levels of cooperation shine a spotlight on the region, more focus is needed on media cooperation.
“Two years after the signing of the Abrahamic agreements, economic cooperation between the UAE and Israel continues and expands in various fields, and this is an opportunity to bring views closer, bring hearts closer and cooperate in the field of media and journalism,” said Omer Lahmanovich, editor-in-chief of Israel Hayom.
Hamad Al Kaabi, editor-in-chief of Al-Ittihad, echoed these sentiments, saying, “Winning the Google initiative is an opportunity to enhance the newspaper’s role in spreading a culture of coexistence and positive communication between people. Our editors believe in the role of the media to push and promote pioneering initiatives that rely on the activities of the United Arab Emirates to strengthen and encourage peace, dialogue and growth in the region and the world.”
Such collaboration is not only important during periods of peace and stability, but also during times of difficulty and crisis. Such cooperation would help put a stop to outdated negative rhetoric and biased discourse, in which one point of view dominates at the expense of all others.
This long-standing problem in both the Arab media and the Western—mainly English-language—mainstream media has inflamed tensions on both the Israeli and Arab sides. Unquestionably, it helped entrench division and engender conflict. It has also been exploited by radical and terrorist organizations to promote their ideologies and political agendas.
Fortunately, things are definitely beginning to change.
For example, on April 7, 2021, the UAE’s Emirates News Agency and Israel’s Tazpit Press Service signed a professional news exchange and cooperation agreement. The Emirates News Agency has also launched a Hebrew-language website.
While this is an extremely significant agreement, the two agencies have not developed a clear policy on how to cooperate during times of conflict and turmoil, such as the two-week battle between Hamas and Israel over the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, which finally ceased on May 10, 2021, but resulted in evictions.
Scenes of conflicts such as these have a significant impact on the Arab public, including the countries that signed the Abraham Accords.
For instance, some members of the public in the UAE and Bahrain were deeply affected by the scenes they saw in Gaza, which made them less friendly towards Israel. This makes it clear that, during periods of conflict, it is important to exchange political analysts and journalists between Abraham Accords countries, including Israel, so that they appear in each other’s media, which helps make coverage more balanced and inclusive.
Also, scenes from both sides of the conflict need to be shown. Israeli strikes caused death, injury and the destruction of buildings in Gaza, but preceding these strikes Hamas and other Gaza terror groups launched missiles at Israel. It is also important to show how Hamas hides its weapons and ammunition in schools and mosques, so when Israel strikes back civilians inevitably become human shields—a common strategy employed by terror groups to gain public sympathy.
Due to these scenes of violence and hostility in the media, the Arab public broadly continues to view Israel in a negative light, with the exception of Morocco—because of the unique history shared between Moroccans and Jews. This negative perspective undoubtedly makes decision-makers in Arab countries that did not sign the peace agreement with Israel reluctant to move forward on normalization.
Bias and inaccuracies in the media during periods of conflict generally benefit the most extreme voices, hampering progress towards Israeli-Palestinian peace. It also could also lead to the Abraham Accords being perceived as yet another “cold peace.”
A clear policy on how media partnerships should cooperate during times of conflict must be put in place.
Dr. Najat Al-Saied is a lecturer at Emory University and adjunct professor at the American University in the Emirates, specializing in political media and communication. She can be reached at [email protected]
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