This past Saturday night (March 31, 2012), there was a brawl in an Israeli soccer match between Hapoel Haifa and Maccabi Petah Tikva. An Arab player for Haifa’s team, Ali Khatib, is seen attacking (punching) another player in the video of the brawl (in the center of the screen). Immediately after this attack by Khatib against the Petah Tikva player, an assistant coach and another person from the Petah Tikva team retaliated brutally against Khatib.  

Of course all violence at sporting events is unjustified, but it is interesting to see how parts of the Israeli media covered this event. The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Ynet in Hebrew, and Haaretz reported on the story in an inaccurate fashion. All of them made at least one of the two following errors: 

1. Described the event only partially, omitting the fact that Khatib attacked a Petah Tikva player first. 

2. Tried to portray the violence in the context of continuing anti-Arab and racial tensions in Israeli society and particularly in Israeli soccer without bringing any evidence. 

All of the stories from these publications on the incident made the first error, failing to accurately describe the event – they all failed to mention that it was Khatib who first attacked the opposing player before being attacked himself. 

For example, Allon Sinai, writing in the Jerusalem Post, states, 

“Khatib was allegedly headbutted by Petah Tikva’s goalkeeping coach before being kicked while on the ground by a man supposedly connected to the Petah Tikva management.” All of this because of a “brawl”. But no mention of the specifics of the event.

Haaretz does no better, but worse. In an article entitled, “New Round of Israeli soccer-related violence leaves Haifa star in hospital,” the paper does not accurately describe the incident but states, 

“Other eyewitnesses, along with footage taken by a television crew, revealed that the attackers were Maccabi Petah Tikva’s goalie trainer Ami Ganish and team official Yigal Meman.

The clash erupted after Petah Tikva scored a dramatic goal in the 94th minute. Players confronted each other while scores of fans and team officials from both sides of the aisle ran onto the field to join the brawl.”

Not only does the article not explain what actually happened according to the video it cites, but it speculates, and puts the incident in the context of ongoing “soccer-related violence,” referring to an incident less than two weeks ago in which it is alleged that Beitar Jerusalem fans assaulted Arabs in a shopping mall. Thus, we see the insinuation of a continuing racial motive.

Aaron Kalman, who wrote an article for this paper, also fails to mention that Khatib attacked first and like Haaretz, tries to compare it to the incident in Jerusalem. He even starts by stating, “In a video posted on Youtube [...],” but then fails to accurately describe what transpired in the video posted.

And finally, the worst coverage was by Amir Peleg at Ynet, who wrote about a “Pogrom atmosphere”. He also tries to connect the incident to continuing anti-Arab violence and the incident in Jerusalem. 

Much of the media emphasized the racial nature of the attack on Khatib, thus trying to attribute it to racial motives.

However, how did the authors deduce that the attack was of a racial nature and not a simple instance of retaliation for an attack in the midst of a brawl? Did the retaliating Petah Tikva team members recognize the attacker, Khatib, as an Arab and then because of his race decide to respond more violently? Would they have responded similarly if a Jewish player attacked their teammate? 

Perhaps there was a racial or nationalist element involved, but to get inside the heads of the attackers at this point seems to be premature, though, the media is trying to sensationalize this story and label it as an anti-Arab attack.

This kind of bias is all too familiar and not limited to the media, but also has infected the Israeli Police as well. Remember the story about the two army youths who were almost beaten to death by a group of Arabs in Haifa, but were saved by security guards who overheard their screams? Remember the media, police, and judicial rulings that followed, trying to play down the anti-Semitic element and push other motivations for the attack? While the victims claimed that the attacking Arabs asked, “Are you Jewish?” before attacking, the police “declared that the attack was not motivated by Arab nationalism, but instead resulted from a case of mistaken identity.” 

In the article just cited on Arutz Sheva’s website, it discusses how the police have rushed to describe attacks on Jews by Arabs as “criminal,” and “not nationalistic”. The article cites the police who rushed to proclaim the shooting death of Rabbi Moshe Talbi of Hispin in his car as a suicide. Later evidence pointed to terrorism. And “the death of Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan to careless driving, admitting only after an Arutz Sheva expose that the young father and son were murdered by terrorists.”

Reporting on the case of the Arab attack on the two Jewish Israeli soldiers in Haifa, the breaking news story at Haaretz failed to speculate on any potential link between the attack and other previous Arab attacks on Jews. Thus, no political or anti-Semitic motivations were raised. Contrast this to the immediate impulse to draw anti-Arab and political motivations to incidents when the Jew is the perpetrator and the Arab the victim.

In another incident, CAMERA corrected a story on Ynet’s Hebrew and English websites. The report posted on Ynet’s page was false and in the words of the Ethics Court of the Israel Press Council, which ruled in CAMERA’s favor against Ynet, “there is a complete contradiction between what is written in the article and the pictures seen in the video clip. It is a substantive contradiction.”

Also in this instance, we see a continuation of bias.