Media Microscope: Views from the Mount
Jan 30, 2023 | Allon Lee
Even though far-right Israeli minister Itamar Ben-Gvir complied with decades-old provisions permitting non-Muslims to visit but not pray at the Temple Mount when he visited on Jan. 3, too many reports failed to accurately cover some of the basics.
Ahead of Ben-Gvir’s visit, AIJAC’s Tzvi Fleischer presciently wrote in the Australian (Dec. 24) that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu’s new coalition partners, such as Ben-Gvir, could “test his political skills to the fullest.”
Sky News Australia’s Jan.4 coverage included an onscreen graphic incorrectly stating “Ultranationalist visits mosque.” The newsreader’s introduction only noted that the site is “sacred to Muslims” without noting its holiness to Jews. However, footage was shown of Ben-Gvir describing the Mount as “the most important place for the people of Israel,” and adding “it is open to everybody – Muslims come up here, Christians and yes, also Jews. In the Government I’m a member of, there won’t be racist discrimination… We make it clear to Hamas. We don’t give in to terror.”
On SBS TV “News in Arabic” (Jan. 4) the newsreader incorrectly claimed Ben-Gvir visited the “mosque” but correctly noted Netanyahu’s promise of no change to the status quo.
SBS TV “World News” (Jan. 4) included Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh saying Ben-Gvir “stormed” the mosque which “constituted a serious challenge to the feelings of the Palestinian people,” and calling for Palestinians to “confront” such “incursions” which “aim to make Al-Aqsa Mosque a Jewish temple.”
A report on SBS’s website (Jan. 4) accurately noted that “mainstream rabbinical authorities” oppose Jews visiting the site and that Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi had written to Ben-Gvir to protest his actions.
A one-sided report in the West Australian (Jan. 4) said Ben-Gvir “visited one of Islam’s holiest sites” but failed to note it is actually Judaism’s holiest site.
The article quoted Palestinian officials calling the visit an “unprecedented provocation”, which is ridiculous given Ben-Gvir complied with the status quo arrangements and many Israeli ministers have visited the Mount before. The report also quoted the Palestinian Foreign Ministry claiming Ben-Gvir “storm[ed]… Al-Aqsa mosque” – which never happened.
A balanced report of the visit which included Netanyahu’s commitment to preserve the status quo ran as a lead item in Nine Newspapers’ world section on Jan. 5 – yet it carried the extremely misleading headline “Anger over minister’s mosque visit.”
ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner also felt no need to point out in his report on ABC TV “News at Noon” (Jan. 6) that the Temple Mount is the holiest site for Jews. Instead, Joyner said that “[Ben-Gvir’s] visit to a Jerusalem holy site for Muslims this week has drawn intense condemnation.”
The ABC editorial department defended Joyner’s decision to omit this basic fact in the report by saying its holiness to Jews “has been reported many times by the ABC” and the “information was not material to an understanding of this story.”
An earlier ABC website report (Jan. 4) included most of the pertinent information, including Netanyahu’s commitment to preserve the status quo. The story said Jordan had “summoned the Israeli ambassador and said the visit had violated international law,” but didn’t explain how this could be so.
Noting that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had both said Ben-Gvir had “stormed” the site, the story appropriately qualified these wild claims by pointing out that “there is no indication that [he] approached the mosque.” It also said that since Ben-Gvir took office he has “spoken in a more non-committal way” about ending the ban on Jewish prayer at the site.
The Australian’s report on Jan. 5 noted that, after the visit, Hamas had fired a rocket at Israel which fell within Gaza, and quoted Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon calling the visit an “attack” which could “blow up the entire region.”
On Dec. 31, the West Australian ran an extract from the Jerusalem Post explaining Jordan’s relationship to the Temple Mount, noting that “Amman sees itself as a guarantor of the Holy Sites of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa.” The report noted that Jordan is home to “a big number of Palestinians and it is concerned that any conflict in the West Bank has the potential to spill over into its own borders. This means the warning is not just about Israel, it is also about Jordan.”