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III Textual and Visual Representations of Jews and the Jewish State

Representing the Jewish State in the Iranian Press1


Much existing research into the media in Iran tends to focus on media practices, journalistic tendencies, press censorship and the long-standing anti-Western position of the Iranian media since the Islamic Revolution (Semati, 2008; Sweetser and Brown, 2010). Yet, there have been only cursory observations concerning how the Jewish State and its inhabitants are represented in the Iranian media, which are offered to make general points concerning institutionalised antisemitism and antiZionism in Iran (Litvak, 2006; Shahvar, 2009; Takeyh, 2006). As a key source of societal information both for Iranians and potentially for disaffected Muslims in the West, it is important to examine how the Iranian Press discursively constructs Israel and the Jewish people. This is key to understanding how Iran disseminates and exports its anti-Zionist ideology to an international readership in order to broaden its sphere of ideological influence.

After a brief methodological overview of the media study, this chapter provides a fi critical discourse analysis of representations of Israel in two Iranian newspapers, namely The Tehran Times and Press TV. The following three discursive themes are outlined and discussed: (i) Delegitimising the Jewish State; (ii) The Threat of the Zionist Regime; and (iii) Constructing National Agency in Global Anti-Zionism. This chapter examines (i) how the processes of anchoring and objectifi are employed in media discourse in order to generate particular social representations of Israel; (ii) how polemic representations of Israel are consolidated; and (iii) the implications of these representations for intergroup relations.

Methodological overview

The Tehran Times is a daily newspaper published in both print and online formats, which was established by Ayatollah Seyyed Mohammad Beheshti following the

1  This chapter is based upon two previously published articles: Jaspal, R. (2013). Anti-Zionism and the Iranian Press. Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, 5(2), 401–25, and Jaspal, R. (2014). Representing the “Zionist Regime”: Mass Communication of AntiZionism in the English-language Iranian Press. British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 41(3), 287–305. The content of those articles is used here with the permission of the journals in which they were published. Islamic Revolution in 1979. According to Behesti, “[t]he Tehran Times is not the newspaper of the government; it must be a loud voice of the Islamic Revolution and the loudspeaker of the oppressed people of the world”.2 Although the newspaper is not state-owned, it aims to disseminate key tenets of the Islamic Revolution and is therefore generally supportive of the Islamic Republic of Iran's ideology. According to its website, The Tehran Times “makes a special effort to publish reports on cultural and religious issues”, in addition to various other social issues. Although there are no independent data concerning the circulation of the outlet, The Tehran Times claims to be “attracting readers from over 80 different countries” and that its website has “over 10,000 visitors each day”.

Press TV is a state-owned media outlet, which forms part of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Corporation. It was launched in 2007 to “counter” Western news reporting on global issues (in particular, the Middle East). The official vision statement of Press TV is described as follows:

Heeding the often neglected voices and perspectives of a great portion of the world;

Embracing and building bridges of cultural understanding;

Encouraging human beings of different nationalities, races and creeds to identify with one another;

Bringing to light untold and overlooked stories of individuals who have experienced the vitality and versatility of political and cultural divides firsthand.3

Like The Tehran Times, Press TV is similarly conservative in its ideological stance, and has been described as a “mouth-piece” for the Iranian government. Although these outlets attempt to shape public opinion in the West as their target readership, the content of these outlets reflects that of Persian-language newspaper outlets.

Using the keywords “Israel”, “Zionist” and “Palestine”, the author conducted a search of the online databases for articles published between January 2011 and December 2011. This generated a corpus of 375 articles, all of which were subjected to analysis. The aim of the study was to provide a fine-grained analysis of the discursive aspects of media reporting on Israel, rather than to provide a longitudinal overview of media reporting. The aim was theoretical, focusing on how representations are constructed, disseminated and encouraged, rather than purely empirical. A key aim of the study was to examine habitual ways of media reporting on Israel, rather than polarised coverage of particularly contentious events (e.g. Lebanon War; Gaza War). Thus, it was deemed appropriate to target a time-frame in which there were no reports of major social or political events concerning Israel/the Israeli-Arab conflict. Although there are frequent skirmishes between the Israeli army and Palestinian militants as well as rocket attacks from

2  The Tehran Times website,

3  Press TV website Gaza, which often feature in international news coverage, the period covered in the corpus was in fact relatively uneventful.

Critical discourse analysis (van Dijk, 1993) is a language-oriented analytical technique for identifying patterns of meaning within a data set. It aims to integrate discourse, cognition and power, and to bridge the epistemological positions of social constructionism and realism. The technique provides insight into how social reality is constructed in talk and text, acknowledging the possibilities offered by, and potential constraints imposed by, social power relations (van Dijk, 1993). Critical discourse analysis helps reveal the rhetorical strategies for affi and contesting hegemonic and polemic social representations of Israel and indeed how polemic representations can be elevated to hegemonic position (Jaspal and Yampolsky, 2011).

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