Sikkuy
Social & Economic Justice

Meet four incredible individuals driving some of the New Israel Fund of Canada’s projects this year and blazing trails for inclusion, for equality, and for social change: Batya Kahana Dror, Edan Ring, Ghebrehiwot Tekle, and Nisreen Alyan. Click here to read about all four of their stories.

What does his work entail?

Edan Ring spends more time than most on his phone. He’s constantly monitoring Israeli news sites to gauge the effects of Sikkuy’s Equal Media Project, an initiative to increase the number of Palestinian citizens of Israel interviewed in Israeli media. It’s a way that Sikkuy – which fosters equality between Arab and Jewish citizens – is trying to get Jewish Israelis to view Palestinian citizens of Israel as people, and as equals.

“I’m on the media’s schedule,” Edan says. “I get up in the morning, read the papers, listen to radio, follow Twitter, and watch the news at night. I constantly have my finger on the pulse of the media.”

Because the vast majority of Jewish Israelis have little contact with Arab citizens, most of their knowledge  comes from media. So, Edan strives to create “greater knowledge of…the other on a large, systemic scale.”

The Equal Media Project began three years ago, at which time Sikkuy published a weekly ranking of 19 leading Israeli television and radio news shows based on their level of coverage of Palestinian citizens of Israel. They also evaluated whether the programs showed positive coverage of Palestinian society and culture. Taking a lesson from the women’s movement, Sikkuy publicized its findings on Palestinian inclusion widely, thus shaming the programs with poor rankings.

“We discovered,” Edan explained, “that being racist still gives you a bad reputation. Making comparisons creates competition, which increases motivation [to do better].”

The project created serious media buzz, and several shows doubled their numbers for inclusion of interviewees who are Palestinian citizens of Israel. One popular show went from 2.6% to 12.8% Arab interviewees in a matter of months.

But, as interest fades with time, Edan and his staff are always working on new strategies for expanding Palestinian media coverage.

“We discovered that being racist still gives you a bad reputation”

In addition to monitoring the news, Edan meets with news editors, reporters and media executives, and researches the efforts of other countries to increase media representation of minority groups.

Whose lives does he impact?

After the controversial nation state bill passed, the major Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth headlined its front page coverage of a Tel Aviv protest against the bill with the phrase “Palestinian flags in Rabin Square.” This was despite the fact that only a small minority of protesters waved those flags. Edan went to work. “This was a classic example of unfair coverage,” he says. “It turns all the Arabs into enemies.”

Over social media, he posted the email address of the paper’s editor-in-chief and encouraged his contacts to write a complaint. Many did, and the editor ran one of the complaints in the newspaper. The editor also asked Amjad Shbita, co-director of the Equal Media Project, to write an op-ed. And, the next day, the paper’s most prominent commentator wrote a column criticizing the newspaper’s coverage of the protest. “This would not have happened without us,” says Edan.

“We don’t want to speak for Palestinian citizens of Israel; we want them to speak for themselves”

Edan is working on an endeavour to bring Arab voices into the growing Israeli Twitter community, which he says has a lot of influence. He organized a workshop for Arab journalists, students and activists to learn to use the medium effectively.

“We don’t want to speak for Palestinian citizens of Israel; we want them to speak for themselves…we want to bring them tools so they can do this in a way that will be more and more authentic.”

The Equal Media Project serves as a model for other marginalized groups in Israel, like Russian-speaking Israelis, Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) and Ethiopian-Israelis.

“We want people’s first associations when they hear the word ‘Arab’ to be positive. That will create more openness to the language, to hiring more Arabs, to being willing to be their neighbours.”

What adversaries does he come up against?

The anti-democratic political climate in Israel makes Edan’s work particularly challenging. As the right moves rightward, Arab leaders also become more radical. This makes the media more suspicious of Arabs, he says. “The harder the political climate, the harder to get good representation of Arabs.”

Edan sees his main adversaries as longstanding media figures who are used to the status quo, and don’t want to change. Perhaps more than racism, he says, “our adversaries are rigidity, habit, conservatism and taking the easy way out.”

Who are his allies?

Edan consults with a group of Palestinian citizens of Israel that offers ideas and suggestions. He also works with an independent media watchdog that collaborates on Sikkuy’s database, and his organization gets support from the New Israel Fund.

Written and reported by Ruth Mason.

Meet three other trailblazers who are working to make Israel a better, fairer, more equal place. Click here to read about all four of their stories.

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