Sonya Shapirovska

From Uber Ride to Global Insight on Media Bias

I once got a “0” star review on Uber. While taking a short ride in Manhattan, the driver asked me where I’m from, without thinking too much I answered “Israel”. We proceeded to have a few moments of conversation about the Middle East and then the ride ended. Without thinking too much about it, I checked my phone later that day to order another ride and found out I had my first “0” star review on the app. I promised myself I remembered to have behaved well during the ride and quickly realized the root cause.

The Uber incident was a wake-up call. Returning from another visit to the US, I felt a very unsettling fear of sharing where I’m from. Without knowing me, people judged me based solely on the name of my country and what the media portrayed it to be. As someone who identifies as both Israeli and Ukrainian, I embody a blend of histories, cultures, and experiences that defy simple categorization. Yet, the driver’s reaction was a reminder of how quickly people can judge based on nationality alone, influenced by media portrayals and prevailing narratives. This dichotomy of being perceived simultaneously as a victim and an aggressor is not just a personal dilemma but a reflection of broader societal attitudes. 

For instance, the global support for Ukraine is rooted in the principles of international law and the defense of sovereignty. Ukraine’s struggle against Russian aggression is viewed through the lens of democratic values versus authoritarianism. The annexation of Crimea and subsequent conflict in Eastern Ukraine are seen as clear violations of international norms, prompting a unified response from Western countries.

In contrast, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is frequently framed through a binary narrative that positions Israel as the aggressor and Palestinians as the oppressed. This oversimplification ignores the legitimate security concerns of Israel, such as the threat of rocket attacks from Gaza and the complex historical and political context of the region. The international community’s response is often divided, influenced by geopolitical interests and varying degrees of support for either side.

This disparity in international reactions is not merely a reflection of geopolitical interests but also of the narratives constructed around these conflicts. The media plays a crucial role in shaping perceptions, often reducing complex situations into binary oppositions of right and wrong, victim and aggressor. For many, including my Uber driver, these narratives become the lens through which they view individuals from the conflict zones.

As someone straddling the identities of Israeli and Ukrainian, I find myself navigating these narratives daily. In Israel, I am part of a society that constantly grapples with existential threats and strives for security amidst regional hostility. In Ukraine, my identity is intertwined with a nation fighting for its sovereignty and territorial integrity against a powerful adversary. Both identities are integral to who I am, yet they come with burdens of preconceived notions and external judgments.

The role of international organizations and alliances further complicates the situation. NATO’s support for Ukraine is part of a broader strategy to counter Russian expansionism and protect European stability. Meanwhile, Israel’s strategic alliance with the United States often draws criticism from other international actors, affecting the consistency of the global response to the conflict.

Moreover, media portrayal plays a significant role in shaping public perception. The conflict in Ukraine is widely covered as a clear-cut case of aggression and defense, while coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more polarized. Media outlets often highlight the humanitarian aspects of the Palestinian side while underreporting the security challenges faced by Israel. This selective reporting reinforces biased narratives and influences public opinion. As someone navigating these narratives, I experience firsthand the impact of these biases.

In conclusion, my experience with the Uber driver and the contrasting international reactions to the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel highlights the importance of challenging simplistic narratives. Recognizing and addressing the biases that shape our perceptions is crucial. By challenging stereotypes and engaging in open dialogue, we can foster a society that values empathy and inclusivity. Only through such efforts can we bridge divides, resolve conflicts, and build a more peaceful and understanding world.

About the Author
Sonya, 23, made Aliyah from Kyiv, Ukraine around 9 years ago. Currently, she is a third-year student at Reichman University pursuing the Argov Fellows Program in Leadership and Diplomacy. In the future, she hopes to work in the field of Israeli Security.
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