Depoliticisation of Desalination Discourse
: Media Analysis of HydroPolicies for (Climate) Resilience in Israel (2001-2018)

  • Shai Kassirer

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    As the impacts of climate change accelerate, Israel has experienced three long droughts since the turn of the century: 1999-2001, 2004-2011 and 2014-2017. In response to this recurring water scarcity, seawater desalination (SD) now supplies 80% of the country’s household water consumption. Whilst promising steady water supplies, SD is a specific hydro-policy that has long-term environmental, health, economic and political implications.

    This thesis applies a resilience perspective to investigate the historical development of hydro-policies discourse in Israel. It analyses how, over an eighteen-year period (2001- 2018), Israeli newspapers and governmental public communication campaigns (PCCs) discursively represented the drought risks and the hydro-policies promoted to solve them, particularly the debate on SD as the preferred resilience policy. In doing so, the thesis addresses a research gap in media analyses of environmental discourse in Israel, and in the mediation of water scarcity more generally. Moreover, it innovatively employs the resilience perspective in communication studies to analyse (de)politicisation of policy responses to environmental and climate risks.

    Bringing two longitudinal methods in conversation with literature on resilience and postpolitics, this thesis critically evaluates the role of the media as contributing to the (de)politicisation of the hydro-policy debate and SD. The first method is a critical discourse analysis of newspapers concentrated on pre identified critical discourse periods, one for each drought (2001-2002, n=432; 2008-2010, n=377; 2018, n=127), which coincide with periods of formal governmental inquiry into hydro-policies. Selected newspapers in Hebrew are Haaretz (an elite broadsheet) and Yedioth Aharonoth (a popular daily) and their economic sub-papers TheMarker and Calcalist. The second method is a multimodal discourse analysis of videos from nine PCCs produced by the Israel Water Authority to reduce household water consumption (2008-2018, n=35).

    Findings show that in every period, newspapers framed the drought as a “water crisis” due to “governmental failure-to-act” and a supply and demand imbalance, with the connection to climate change marginalised and questioned. While delegitimising political disagreements between the contesting discourse coalitions (Agro-Zionist, Economic, Environmental and Social-Municipal), the newspapers generated a consensus around the continual expansion of privatised SD. Furthermore, the longitudinal findings reveal the expansion of techno-managerial, expert-based discourses in the newspapers, which became hegemonic over time, mainly in the form of economisation. The multimodal video analysis shows how the PCCs audio-visually reaffirmed the “crisis” frame and strengthened its depoliticisation, but in a different way: by making the issue an ethical-individual one. Finally, in both mediums, the scope of the discourse on resilience was limited to drought risk and not wider anthropogenic climate impacts, neglecting the relationship between SD and climate change.
    Date of AwardApr 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Brighton
    SupervisorFrauke Behrendt (Supervisor), Theodore Koulouris (Supervisor) & Julie Doyle (Supervisor)


    • Environmental Communication
    • Resilience
    • Depoliticisation
    • Hydro-Policies
    • Israel
    • Climate Change
    • Desalination
    • Environmental Risk
    • Drought
    • Water
    • News

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