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University of Iowa News Release

Dec. 16, 2004

With UI Help, Israeli Aids Arab With Political Violence Dissertation

The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication has helped arrange a unique collaboration: the coming together of an Israeli professor and an Arab scholar to discuss the media coverage of political violence in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Earlier this year, UI journalism associate professor Dan Berkowitz told Hillel Nossek of the School of Media Studies in the College of Management Academic Studies, Tel-Aviv, about a graduate student of his from Egypt who was working on a dissertation on political violence. Interested, Nossek asked if he might serve on her dissertation committee and the student, Amani Ismail, agreed.

Nossek, who is also academic director of his college's Teaching and Research Authority, had planned to participate in Ismail's comprehensive exam -- the first part of the dissertation process -- via the Internet. But just a few days before the scheduled examination, Nossek received an invitation to participate in a conference in Canada, which allowed him to make a detour to Iowa City and participate in the exam process in person.

Nossek, who stayed in Iowa City Nov. 1-3, not only listened to Ismail's oral arguments in the exam, offering a number of suggestions for Ismail's dissertation, but he also visited several journalism classes to discuss his experiences teaching media-related courses in Israel. He also discussed the impact of political violence on journalism, among other topics.

Students in the journalism school's radio news workshop questioned Nossek about the academic lives of their Israeli peers and about differences between Israel and the United States, such as Israel's requirement that all citizens -- including women -- serve time in the military. The UI students also asked about the risks of bombs exploding in the neighborhood surrounding Nossek's school.

"The past has already illustrated that cooperation between Arabs and Israelis is possible, so in this sense my collaboration with Professor Nossek is not an exceptional phenomenon," Ismail said. "But we are both definitely enjoying this experience and cherish the mutual learning involved."

Now that Ismail's comprehensive exams are complete, she is working on a formal proposal for her dissertation topic that her committee members -- including Nossek -- will need to approve before she can begin writing it. When Berkowitz, her adviser, feels Ismail's dissertation is satisfactory the committee will gather once more to hear her defend it. Ismail is hoping to graduate with her Ph.D. in May 2006.

Ismail said she chose her dissertation topic after writing a term paper on "terrorism," a term she later replaced with "political violence." She said that while reading literature on political violence, she became fascinated by the topic and discovered how her personal background and interest in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might contribute to such a research project.

In her dissertation, Ismail set out to examine how the American media cover the struggles that lead to Palestinians' use of political violence, and how those portrayals speak to the treatment of the Palestinian nationalist movement at large.

Nossek and Ismail agreed that the use of a less loaded term than "terrorism" would enable scholars to examine the phenomenon of political violence without pre-attached stigmatization.

"That's part of the beauty of academic work, at least ideally," Ismail said. "You are supposed to look at a phenomenon to examine and to understand the reasons causing it, as opposed to editorializing or proving a point."

Added Nossek, "Democracies tend to de-legitimize any use of force in general for any reason, let alone to kill people."

On the other hand, Nossek cited Noam Chomsky and other critical scholars, saying that some governments use fear as a method for preventing unwanted actions by citizens.

Nossek has previously worked with Elihu Katz at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and taught at The College of Management in Tel-Aviv. His writings include "Our News and Their News" (2004), published in the journal Journalism; "Myths and News Narratives: Toward a Comparative Perspective of News" (2001), published in the journal Ecquid Novi; "Television News and the Intifada: A Comparative Study of Social Conflict" (1993), and "The Narrative Role of the Holocaust and the State of Israel in the Coverage of Salient Terrorist Events in the Israeli Press" (1994), published in the Journal of Narrative and Life History.

Ismail holds a bachelor of arts degree in journalism and mass communication from Iowa State University and a master of science degree in journalism from Ohio University. Her master's thesis was titled "International News Coverage And Conflict During The Clinton Presidency: A Content Analysis Of Six 'Elite' Papers."

After finishing her doctorate, Ismail hopes to teach mass communication at the university level.

A story about Nossek's and Ismail's collaboration, produced by Week's End host Gayane Torosyan for WSUI AM 910, can be heard online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007,; Writers: Stephen Pradarelli and Gayane Torosyan, UI School of Journalism, 319-335-5267,