More than 100 Jewish media professionals from around the world gathered at the first Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem on Monday. The four-day conference brought together writers and editors of leading Jewish media organizations to discuss the leading issues facing Jewish journalists today.
Panels included discussions of the evolving nature of Jewish journalism, global anti-Semitism, and interviews with politicians.
Among Monday’s speakers were Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, both of whom spoke about their experiences as prisoners in the former Soviet Union.
Edelstein, who was arrested on fabricated drug charges in 1984 when he was a Hebrew teacher, told about the determination he needed to survive the gulags.
“By the time I was arrested, I was an observant Jew, and it helps to have these beliefs and ideas,” Edelstein said.
He said belief alone, however, was not the only factor that helped him stay alive.
“It’s daily survival. It’s little things, little pleasures you find every day.”
While Edelstein spent almost three years in prison, Sharansky, the preeminent former Prisoner of Zion, spent nearly nine years, largely in solitary confinement. They continue to fight for Israel because of their sacrifices for the cause.
“You become so enthusiastic that there is a history and a people and a culture that you belong to, it gives you the strength to fight for your freedom,” Edelstein told the audience.
In another panel, journalists discussed how to stay current in what was described as the “constantly evolving world of media.”
The Jewish media, in particular, are hitting a wall in terms of reaching a broad audience, said the panelists.
Israeli newspapers are strong competitors, according to Jewish Week editor and publisher Gary Rosenblatt said. His solution? To focus on smaller- scale issues.
“Maybe our biggest competition is Israeli papers, but there’s strength in covering the local angle – what isn’t covered by other papers,” he said.
Jennifer Frazer, Comments Editor of The Jewish Chronicle, asserted that Israel’s bureaucracy can be damaging to Jewish publications worldwide.
“We need to get Israeli departments to take us more seriously,” she told the audience. “To try and get spokespeople to answer phones, to respond properly – it is impossible!” “There is a lack of sensitivity by Israelis to [the world] outside of Israel,” Henrique Cymerman, an expert in Middle Eastern and international affairs, agreed.
Panelists also addressed concerns in keeping up with an increasingly digitalized media.
“The next generation isn’t getting its news in the same way – we have to be creative in...devis[ing] new methods to bring new readers in,” Frazer said.
“The media are changing,” agreed Cymerman. “Who knows how your newspaper will look in 10 years?” The panel addressed questions from the audience about reporting on the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement, using lingo that is both accessible and politically correct, and bridging the gap between Israeli Jews and Jews of the Diaspora.
A third session featured a conversation between Abe Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, and David Horowitz, Publisher of The Times of Israel, about anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
“One out of every four adults in the world is infected with the disease of anti-Semitism,” Foxman said.
“Anti-Semitism is worse than it’s ever been since World War II.”
The ADL, which recently released a report on global anti-Semitism, has been subject to criticism regarding the methods the report used to determine what constitutes an anti-Semite. Furthermore, some feel the survey has only scratched the surface on the issue of global anti-Semitism.
Foxman admitted that there are a lot of questions left to be answered.
“The poll does not pretend to have [all] the answers,” Foxman said. “The poll focuses on issues that we need to continue to probe.”
With regard to Israel, Foxman told the audience that there is a line between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.
“When the only nationalism you disagree with is Jewish nationalism, then it’s anti-Semitic,” Foxman said, regarding the BDS movement.
As it relates to the media, Foxman said that the Internet is cause for concern in fostering the spread of anti-Semitism.
“The Internet is about to destroy respect and civility,” Foxman said.
“And Jews are No. 1 on the hit parade when civility is gone.”
Still, Foxman said he remains hopeful: “If I did not believe I could change people’s minds and hearts, I wouldn’t go to work.”