I fear I’ve become unbalanced – not in the “all the talk about elections is
driving me crazy” way, which could be considered an occupational hazard for a
newspaper editor and columnist. It’s worse than that. I seem to be taking sides,
which is perceived as one of the greatest sins someone in my line of business
Admittedly, it is “our” side (See what I mean? I actually
wrote “our” and not “Israel’s”) but it’s still pretty serious.
realization fully hit me last week when I met with an academic from Spain. An
intelligent and pleasant young woman, she asked to meet some Israeli journalists
because, while she knows what Spanish papers print about our country (and it
does not make pleasant reading for “us”), she wanted to know how Israeli papers
cover the foreign news.
It’s always illuminating trying to explain to
someone else how you work – and you probably wouldn’t believe how much of what
is perceived as media bias worldwide actually reflects reporters having too
little time to study a story in depth, and too little space to publish what they
would like to put things in a fuller context. But this was a particular
eye-opener. I was forced to admit that I do what most Israeli editors do – first
of all, seek the local connection. And, since we’re a paper which spreads the
word from Jerusalem, that also includes the worldwide Jewish
Colleagues in the Hebrew press do it too. It’s only natural to
seek a local angle. Some call it parochial, I feel it is more “family-oriented.”
Whatever it is, we (there’s that word again) all do it.
It is said that a
major factor in Binyamin Netanyahu’s success when he first ran for prime
minister in 1996 was his campaign slogan: “Bibi – tov layehudim” (Bibi – good
for the Jews).
“Is it good for the Jews?” is more than just a rhetorical
question or the motto on a campaign car sticker. It’s a mindset – not
necessarily a healthy one but built in to our DNA; it’s as much a part of who we
are as asking the Four Questions at the Passover Seder table year after year,
generation after generation, no matter what country we happen to be
Coverage of Hurricane Sandy included stories of Israelis finding
themselves in conditions that resembled the aftermath of a war, which, for once,
they weren’t being blamed for. And there were stories of Jewish communities
pulling together to save Torah scrolls and helping neighbors.
the same “What does it mean for us?” question will be asked as the Jewish
Federations of North America General Assembly starts in Baltimore today. The
answers might vary, but the concerns are shared by the local Jewish communities
as well as the rest of the Jewish People.
The results of the US elections
were widely analyzed here through the narrow prism of what the implications
would be for Israel. Some local journalists and politicians went so far as to
discuss the possible impact on the Israel elections – scheduled for January 22,
two days after President Barack Obama is due to be sworn in – noting, in
particular, Netanyahu’s tense relations with the American president. (Maybe the
thought of two more months of our electioneering is making me slightly crazy.)
Logically, most Israelis understand that the old/new president faces some major
old/new problems that don’t have anything to do with us – the economy, the
aftermath of Sandy, creating a decent working relationship with Congress, and
Afghanistan, to name a few of the more obvious ones.
Only then comes the
Iranian threat, which affects the whole world and requires some creative
thinking. (Does Obama now know that his most serious foreign policy
mistake was missing the first sign of the Arab Spring and ignoring the pleas for
regime change made by the brave Iranians who took to the streets in 2009?) After
that, there is the tricky issue of the Israelis and Palestinians.
one hand, maybe the newly elected leader – free of the hassles of having to
re-run for presidency – can take bolder steps than before, and will want to both
make his international mark (and finally justify his Nobel Peace Prize) and
divert attention away from domestic concerns. On the other, peace is hugely
expensive – the Palestinians won’t be able to set up a state without
international help and resettling even a few thousand Jewish residents within
the Green Line and ensuring some kind of defense system will cost more than
either the US or European donors are likely to want to spare at the
You can’t entirely blame me for constantly wondering what it all
means for us: I remember how four years ago during the broadcast of Obama’s
acceptance speech, Israel Television suddenly switched coverage to report on an
IDF operation in Gaza, uncovering a terrorists’ tunnel. Just like that it had
stopped being a broadcast from and about the US, and it was back to our reality.
Depressingly, four years later, we’re still suffering rocket fire from Gaza and
still under attack in the international media.
MY MEETING with the
Spanish researcher reminded me of similar questions I was asked a couple of
years ago by an Italian journalism student, studying in the UK. The student was
examining how the Mavi Marmara affair had been covered in The Jerusalem Post and
other Israeli papers. “I couldn’t avoid noticing the almost total absence of the
‘opposition’ voice and of the ‘reasons’ of the activists,” he wrote.
was right. I had only briefly mentioned the activists’ claims that they were
“bringing humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza,” which seemed to be their main
point. (The activists, of course, never noted that Israel does deliver aid,
sometimes under fire, and that Gaza has a border, also with Egypt.) Was I a
victim of bias (especially as a large number of friends were and still are
suffering from the Kassams that seem to be Gaza’s main export)? Or was the
journalism student a victim of growing up in an age of political correctness
where there has to be moral equivalency? Probably the answer lies somewhere
between the two.
Israel Radio still refers to IDF soldiers as “our
forces” and I can certainly relate to that – especially last week, when they
came under fire on the Golan Heights and along the border with Gaza and when the
flotilla floated back into national consciousness.
In a show trial with a
rowdy audience, Turkey, in absentia, blamed most of the IDF’s top brass for the
deaths of nine people aboard the Marmara.
Outside the courthouse, members
of IHH, the Islamic group that dominated the ship, held placards with slogans
like “Israel, your end is near” and “The revenge of our martyrs will be
bitter.” These slogans fall in the “bad for the Jews”
They also make Israelis like me wonder about the motives of
many of the “peace activists.” All of them boarded the ship with the full
knowledge that they were trying to break a blockade placed to stop weapons
reaching the terrorists in Gaza, and some of them tried to lynch the first IDF
soldiers sent to stop them.
Actually, like many of the threats Israel has
to deal with, the Islamist backers of the ostensibly non-violent protest should
concern the rest of the world, but as I’ve noted, the US president and most
European leaders have other worries.
It’s not all about us.
writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.