Salah incitement shows how Al Jazeera Arabic is different from English on Israel

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Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah was involuntarily pushed into yet another controversy, where several news outlets reported that Liverpool are said to be tracking Israeli star Moanes Dabour -and that the move could create problems for their Egyptian superstar.

The reports went as far as claiming that Salah “will leave” Liverpool if Dabour is signed.

One of the news outlets, Al Jazeera Mubasher Arabic, posed the provocative question: “What is Egyptian player Mohammed Salah’s official stance after reports of an Israeli player joining Liverpool?”

Social media users rushed to the defense of Salah on Twitter, where one user said: “What is the official stance of Al Jazeera whose senior political analyst Marwan Bishara is an Israeli national, and is also the brother of Azmi Bishara who controls the regime of Qatar? And what is the official stance of the Qatari government and people?”

“Al Jazeera should be embarrassed, Qatar has deep ties with Israel on all levels, and Doha’s real ruler is the so-called Azmi Bishara,” another user said.

Several sources close to Salah said that “he is a professional, and should be left alone to focus on football.”

The Egyptian player has garnered a lot of media attention after his exceptional performance this year in many championships, more notably the Premier League, where he lead the Reds to thrash Southampton 3-0 on Saturday to leap-frog Chelsea at the top of the Premier League table and confirm their best start to a season.

marwan bechara
marwan bechara

Although a road separates the buildings of Al Jazeera English from their organization’s main Arabic network, the two channels could not have been further apart editorially. This becomes even more evident during both the channel’s coverage of Israel affairs.

On Al Jazeera Arabic, anti-Israel sentiment tends to bleed indistinguishably into anti-Semitism. Erik Nisbet, a scholar of Arabic media at Ohio State University, said the channel’s treatment of extremists would be roughly akin to a US network giving airtime to the Ku Klux Klan.

American channels, he said, “would report on them, but they are not going to do in-depth interviews or invite them to be on mainstream talk shows, and let them say anything they want, but Al Jazeera does.”

According to Nisbet, there is “no doubt” that anti-Semitism is woven into the very fabric of AJA's reporting. After 9/11, AJA presenters repeated, unchallenged, a report that Jews had been tipped off not to report to work at the World Trade Center that morning.

Contributors running the extremist gamut blamed Jews for the attacks and urged the United States to “get rid” of its own. The summer before, an episode of The Opposite Direction was dedicated to the question, Is Zionism Worse than Nazism?

Of the 12,000 viewers who called in, 85 percent answered in the affirmative, 11 percent saw both as equally bad, and 2.7 percent ventured that Nazism was worse.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi addresses Muslims at Al-Azhar mosque during the weekly Friday prayer in Cairo on December 28, 2012. (AFP)
Yusuf al-Qaradawi addresses Muslims at Al-Azhar mosque during the weekly Friday prayer in Cairo on December 28, 2012. (AFP)

Host Qardawi

Yusuf al-Qardawi, host of Al Jazeera’s most popular program, Shari’a and Life, regularly froths about the insidious character of Shiites, Americans, and especially Jews.

“Oh Allah, take this oppressive, Jewish, Zionist band of people. Oh Allah, do not spare a single one of them. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one,” he said on air in 2009.

Elsewhere, Qardawi praised Hitler's treatment of the Jews (“even though they exaggerated the issue”) but stressed the Führer’s regret at not finishing the job. (More here).

Diverging editorial lines between AJA and AJE is nothing new. Former journalists who once worked on AJE have publicly spoken out on the unspoken rule among themselves and their efforts to distance themselves from their colleagues at AJA. (More here).

Abderrahim Foukara, the Arabic channel’s Washington bureau chief, has told the Council on Foreign Relations, the way the truth may be defined in the Arab world, and associate it with Al Jazeera, is not the way Americans, for example, would define the truth and associate it with, say, CNN or MSNBC or Fox. … Al Jazeera Arabic, because it is so connected to a turbulent part of the world, the tone is different … it's much feistier … The broad majority of Arabs identify with the channel, not only in terms of political coverage, but the nuances, the reading between the lines.

However Oren Kessler, researcher working with the Mideast Forum, replied: “In truth, the bulk of AJA’s content has all the nuance of a right hook to the jaw. The non-Arabic speaker is immediately struck by the station’s frenetic tone and imagery, and a viewer with even a moderate command of the language is likely to be all the more taken aback”.

Ruben Banerjee, who is a former senior editor at AJE online and now national editor at the Hindustan Times, wrote that his former network walked a thin line between journalism and activism.

Different purposes

The Al-Jazeera Arabic news website was launched on January 1, 2001, to meet Arab-speaking countries’ demand for online news from the Al-Jazeera brand, whereas the Al-Jazeera English website was launched on the eve of the war in Iraq, on February 16, 2003, to provide English speakers with war-related news from a non-Western perspective.

Accordingly, the majority (81.4 percent) of the English-language website’s users originate from the United States and other Western countries, whereas the great majority of users of the Arabic-language website (98 percent) are from the Arab.

Most scholars who have compared the English and Arabic websites widely concur that their outputs and broadcasting norms differ substantially. Studies found that Al-Jazeera Arabic is much more aggressive in its reporting of US affairs than the sanitized English version.

Others found that the Al-Jazeera Arabic website disseminated propagandist messages, whereas Al-Jazeera English presented a more balanced version of the same events.

Experts warned that Al Jazeera Arabic’s “encyclopedia” section on their website glorified Islamist personalities who encouraged attacks against civilians all over the world, while the English version simply called them terrorists.

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