AIPAC conference 521.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Given the breathless and often frenzied pace of events in the Middle East, it is
no surprise that Israel’s media is one of the most vibrant and energetic around.
Hardly an hour seems to go by without a crisis somewhere coming to the fore, be
it in the diplomatic, security or political spheres. Social tensions, the
religious-secular divide and even the level of water in the Kinneret provide
journalists with plenty of fodder with which to fill the
airwaves. Indeed, the idea of a “quiet news cycle” in our part of the
world sounds more like a Messianic longing than a candid journalist’s
But for all of their extensive coverage of a wide variety of
topics, there is one key subject matter that the Israeli media systematically
and consistently overlook: Jewish life in the Diaspora.
the daily Hebrew newspapers or watching the evening news, it is easy to forget
that there is a big, wide Jewish world out there.
Virtually nothing is
written about Jewish life abroad, despite the fact that more than half of the
world’s Jews live overseas.
There is no coverage of the challenges that
Jews face, their triumphs and setbacks, nor of the rich Jewish intellectual and
cultural life that exists.
On the rare occasions when the Diaspora does
get a few column inches or a minute or two of airtime, it often revolves around
anti-Semitism or scandal, as though that is the sum total of the contemporary
In other instances, when there is a clash of sorts
regarding Israeli policy, whether toward conversion or the Palestinians, the
Israeli press will suddenly – and all too briefly – rediscover our foreign
brethren before quickly moving along to another subject.
Days or even
weeks can then pass without a single in-depth story appearing about Diaspora
It is tempting to suggest that in this instance the media
are simply reflecting the will of their readers. After all, like any business,
newspapers and television need to cater to what their consumers
demand. So perhaps the Israeli media’s lack of interest in the Diaspora
is merely a sign of a larger trend in Israeli society?
Nothing could be further
from the truth.
DOES ISRAEL care about the Diaspora? The answer is an
The results of a recent survey demonstrate conclusively
that Israelis have a direct and very personal link to the subject.
past summer, the Sixth Annual B’nai B’rith World Center Survey of Contemporary
Israel Opinion Toward Diaspora Jewry found that 65 percent of respondents said
they have relatives living outside of Israel.
The study, which was
conducted by Keevoon Research, also revealed that a large majority of Israelis –
69% – believe it is important to visit Diaspora communities along with Jewish
historical sites when traveling abroad for business or vacation. Only 24% said
that visiting Diaspora communities and historical sites is “not
Clearly, then, the Israeli media are missing the
A large portion of the Israeli public is connected to Diaspora
Jewry both biologically and emotionally and is not averse to “sacrificing” part
of their vacation time to learn more about it.
frequently extend a helping hand to Jewish communities abroad, and both the
government and the Jewish Agency have been increasing their allocations to
strengthen and bolster Diaspora Jewish life and identity.
Israel even has
a Diaspora Affairs Ministry, headed by Zionist hero Yuli Edelstein, which is
charged with responsibility for cultivating closer ties.
Israeli public does care about its fellow Jews overseas, so the media’s lack of
interest is as bewildering as it is unwarranted.
Even more worrisome,
though, is the effect that the media’s disregard is likely to have over time. By
keeping Diaspora Jewry out of sight, the media are also keeping them out of
Since the power of the press lies primarily in its ability to set
the agenda, the fact that the Diaspora is never on its radar screen will
inevitably create further distance between Israel and world Jewry.
media play a critical role in educating the public about current events. Their
failure to cover the Diaspora necessarily results in a dearth of knowledge and
understanding on the part of many Israelis.
As a result, there is next to
nothing in the way of public debate or discourse about Israel’s policies and
attitudes toward the Diaspora.
It is essential that steps be taken to
correct this situation. There is no logical reason why the endlessly fascinating
and fundamentally important goings-on among Jewish communities abroad should be
so thoroughly overlooked.
The Israeli press needs to be encouraged to
devote more attention to the Diaspora. Ultimately it is we, the
consumers, that need to press them for more extensive coverage by demanding that
more attention be paid to the subject.
Similarly, greater efforts must be
made to teach about the contemporary Jewish experience in Israeli high schools
and universities. Young Israelis need to be inculcated with a deeper
appreciation for the unbreakable bond that unites Jews everywhere.
future as a nation is linked to the immutable relationship that exists between
Israel and Jews abroad.
But unless we actively nurture our connection,
learning more about one another, we run the risk of drifting apart. And that
must not be allowed to happen.The writer is chairman of Shavei Israel
(www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to
return to the Jewish people.