Reportage on Israel’s Ethiopian, Russian immigrants focused on their differences from Israeli norms
HAIFA (Press Release)–Exposure of the cultural aspects of Ethiopian Jewish immigration to Israel in the Israeli media has focused on immigrants’ cultural ignorance and ‘astonishment’ at their proving basic technological skills.
This has been shown in a new study carried out at the University of Haifa. Immigrants from the former U.S.S.R., on the other hand, were tagged as ‘belonging’ to Israeli culture and therefore labeled as ‘ours’.
“An immigrant group that is culturally remote from the hosting society receives less immigration support; its cultural foreignness is more marked and unsuccessful absorption is blamed on the cultural gap. An immigrant group sharing similar cultural characteristics, on the other hand, receives immigration support and is also expected to become absorbed and integrated in the socioeconomic, cultural and political system. When such a group culturally segregates itself, it is interpreted by the media as a threat,” explains researcher Germaw Mengistu, who carried out the study with the supervision of Dr. Eli Avraham of the Department of Communication at the University of Haifa.
The study set out to examine the differences in media coverage of the two immigration groups and to identify the factors behind these differences. In order to do so, the researcher surveyed 7,200 popular quality newspaper issues published between 1970 and 2004.
The results show that the main difference in the coverage of the two immigrations is in relation to the immigrants’ cultural distance from Israeli culture. While the percentage of articles on cultural integration and segregation is similar for both groups, the main difference is found in the articles relating to cultural disparity: 7.2% of the articles on Ethiopian immigrants and culture related to the differences between their culture and Israeli culture, while 2.6% of such articles were on Soviet immigrants.
A qualitative analysis of the articles shows that the main narrative relating to immigrant Ethiopian Jews was on their cultural ignorance – primarily their inability to cope in a city environment and lack of technological comprehension and skills. When a published article did relate to how the Ethiopian immigrant demonstrates technological capabilities, it was accompanied by wonderment at such skills.
In addition, members of the hosting society who were cited in such articles – whether the reporter or absorption agent – generally noted how the new immigrant from Ethiopia demonstrated astounding skills in using a technology but also made a point of suggesting that the immigrant was still oblivious to the dangers of that device.
Another significant difference between the two immigrant groups was found in a survey of their religious-historic status. The question of Jewish identity did not arise with regard to the massive U.S.S.R. immigration of the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, the Judaism of sections of this group came into question, but the media criticized the claims. This criticism was interpreted as emanating from a fear of harming the immigrant population that brings great benefits to Israel. The coverage of the religious-historic roots of Ethiopian immigrants related to a “common Jewish father”, but their Jewish affinity was probed and much attention was given to issues of assimilation and lack of religious knowledge amongst members of this group.
That said, once the U.S.S.R. immigrants began to form a cultural identity of their own, they began to be considered a threat and most of the reporting began to criticize this trend. According to the researcher, this reinforces the main conclusion of his study: that the main factor influencing the reporting approach is the cultural position of an immigrant group in comparison with the majority.
Alongside the differences is a common denominator: Most of the media reports relating to members of both groups were negative. The majority of the reports on the two groups – 61% – were negative, 21% were positive and 18% were neutral. In the 1990s, many of the articles on immigrants from the U.S.S.R. related to crime (17%) and in the 2000s, this percentage rose to 34%. Articles on socioeconomic integration of this group dropped from 7.8% in the 1990s to 3% in the 2000s. Reports on disturbances and socioeconomic decline were the most common articles on Ethiopian immigrants in the 1990s (8.2% and 7.7% respectively). Social antagonism (14.5%) and socioeconomic deterioration (14.5%) were the most common types of reports in the 2000s. Articles on crime shot up drastically from 3.2% in the 1990s to 12% in the 2000s.
Preceding provided by the University of Haifa