Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tel Aviv: a false alarm

This morning, I saw a news report that Arab-Israelis would be protesting in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv. They were to protest, the story said, an Israeli government policy of demolishing illegally constructed homes (see the post below, "Does Tel Aviv face a day of change?").

The story referred to the potential presence of PLO flags which for me, at least, raised the possibility that ‘illegal construction’ wasn’t the real purpose of the protest. PLO flags are generally considered—by many Israelis—as anti-Israel. If one is protesting the destruction of illegal housing in Israel, one could just as well be Arab or Jewish: the Israeli government is an ‘equal opportunity demolisher’: it demolishes homes of both Arabs and Jews.

Therefore, this demolition-of-your-home isn’t an issue that should automatically bring anti-Israel PLO flags to the protest. Consequently, I speculated as to why those flags might appear.

It turns out that the story wasn’t about something that would happen today. Yes, the protest story reported that the protest was to be held ‘today’. The date/time of the story was April 29, 2015, at 1026. Since today is April 29th, I assumed that the protest would be held this afternoon. I was wrong.

Well, the protest was indeed held in the afternoon. But it was held yesterday afternoon. The story got the time and place wrong.

That’s Israel. Sometimes, a thing isn’t what it appears to be.

Indeed, the reader who had called me yesterday to describe the presence of the PLO flags was actually describing the protest itself, not some gathering the day before it. The crowd he saw seemed too small to be a ‘protest’. He said he thought the crowd to be about 500-600 people. News reports I found today all said there were 2,000 present.

My reader has worked with crowds. He’s good at numbers.

Israel’s press, on the other hand, has a problem with crowd numbers. Leftist crowds tend to get inflated numbers reported. Rightist crowds numbers are reduced. Sometimes, journalists will increase/decrease numbers geometrically, not arithmetically. So if my reader told me he saw 500-600, I tend to trust his number more than Israel’s journalists.

There were PLO flags at the protest. But, at least according to news reports I found, those flags didn’t bring out an anti-Israel agenda for the protest. Apparently, the protest really was about Arab homes being demolished. Haaretz described the protest as Arabs coming to a large Jewish city to call their plight to the attention of all Israelis.

Certainly, this Arab complaint is familiar to Jews in Israel. Jews often have the same problem.

So Israel did learn something from Tel Aviv today, after all. Israelis learned that, if news reports are to be believed, some Arabs in Israel are as troubled by government home demolition as Jews, for the same reasons.

We also learned something else: news reports aren’t always what they appear to be.

Of course, there's also this: when you read the news and try to understand what you're looking at, sometimes you get it wrong.

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