Wayne State University's Spencer M. Patrich Auditorium was the site of a long-awaited discussion titled "Israel and the Arab media: A discussion of the portrayal of Israel in domestic and international Arab media" between publisher of The Arab American News Osama Siblani and Dr. Mordechai Kedar from the Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv.
Siblani and Kedar at Wayne State University
The Al Jazeera TV network, based in Qatar, was a key topic of discussion, especially in light of its recent explosion in popularity due to unfiltered broadcasts of events in Egypt and Tunisia.
Kedar said that the network focuses far too much on Israel as a factor in causing problems in the Arab world, but Siblani had a different take.
"Yes, Al Jazeera focuses on Israel, it is true, but what Dr. Kedar said that is not true is that Al Jazeera has many programs that focuses on poverty, freedom of speech, democracy, and history, in fact it has several programs and has been accused recently by the Israeli, Egyptian, and Tunisian governments that it has been inciting Arab uprisings...I think they are leading public opinion in the Arab world in this uprising and they should be commended on this issue."
Kedar agreed that Al Jazeera had a major role in sparking the Egyptian uprising but questioned why the American media had not given much attention to the poverty-dominated situation before the events unfolded. He had an issue with some interviews aired of citizens in Egypt who criticized Israel.
"Some interviewees have mentioned Mubarak being supported by the U.S. and Israel, this means they group Israel and the United States as if Israel controls Egypt, but Israel is not the (focus) today."
Kedar refused Finley's assertion that the uprising was about democracy, saying that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt does not support human rights and political freedoms, noting their strong presence in the country and their role in the uprisings.
"Al Jazeera of course represents the Muslim Brotherhood, who is there to feed the unfortunate 40 million in Egypt (who are poor)...Osama bin Laden (also) chose the network as his pulpit because of the nature of Al Jazeera and its agenda; this is some kind of Jihadi terrorist channel...this is why Al Jazeera is against Israel all the time and against the Arab regimes and those fat cats who've eaten everything for decades."
Other issues were discussed in detail as well. Siblani was later asked about the "demonization" of Jews in cartoons in the Arab media and whether he believes it is a detriment to the peace process in occupied Palestine.
"It is harmful, of course it is, but this exists on both sides. In the Israeli press, they vilify Arabs, some Israeli leaders have said publicly that Arabs are cockroaches or snakes and need their heads smashed," he said.
"I agree that there are cartoons in the media that shouldn't be there but there are extremists everywhere and we shouldn't turn a blind eye to what's happening in the Israeli media as well."
The discussion also turned to the Israeli press' depiction of Arabs as well in a question asked by Finley. He cited an Israeli study that said Arab Israelis were only mentioned in 1.1% of media reports and that 80-90 percent of the time, the reports are negative.
Kedar responded by saying that Arab Israelis live in the best conditions of anyone in the Arab world in what he called Israel's democracy. Siblani disagreed saying that Israel is not a democracy. He pointed out that the Arabs within its borders are occupied people and second-class citizens.
"I have never, ever heard of someone who would love to be occupied, to say thank you and give flowers to his occupiers."
The discussion finally turned to social media, Wikileaks, and other journalistic revolutions.
Both agreed that major changes have and will come from these developments. Siblani brought up how they exposed the Arab leaders as liars while Kedar talked about revelations on Iran.
"They show that Arabs are more afraid of Iran and don't care about the Palestinians," he said.
Regarding the problems facing the Arab world that have come to the forefront, Siblani called for a more balanced approach by all.
"We need to see with both eyes and hear with both ears, the moral ground in the U.S. is shaking as we see what's happening in the Arab world," he said.
"The leak of 'Palestine Papers' show the Israeli intransigence that has discredited Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and eliminated them as legitimate partners in the peace process."