Here and There: Whither the ‘News in English’

The potential for further outreach is enormous, providing crucial background information and details missing from the biased presentations made by others.

October 22, 2015 17:49
BBC headquarters

BBC headquarters . (photo credit: REUTERS)

ESRA (English Speaking Residents Association) has been inundated with emails and calls requesting that we voice our shock at the demise of the English news broadcast on Israel TV.

While it is difficult to find an accurate assessment of the population whose mother tongue is English, a report in Haaretz prior to the last election spoke of 170,000, while Nefesh B’Nefesh speaks of 200,000 olim from the United States alone. Non- disputable is that there is a high proportion of immigrants from English-speaking countries who do not know Hebrew well enough to follow the news in that language. They relied heavily on this short TV broadcast each day to know what is going on in this country with a perspective from within, rather than the perspective from without, which mostly presents a distorted version of the reality.

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We cannot ignore the manner in which events around us are portrayed by the international media. On October 3, for example, a BBC headline read “Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two.” This clearly directs one’s sympathy to the Palestinian, who was shot after “Jerusalem attack kills two.”

What it does not say is that the Palestinian murderer, who had just killed two Israeli civilians and wounded two others, including a baby, was armed, dangerous and still in attack mode. He was shot by security forces only after he opened fire on them. Reading the BBC headline (which many do rather than go on to read the full story) suggests that it was a “Jerusalem attack” that was responsible for the death of the two Israelis. Jerusalem, a city, does not “kill two.” The victim is projected as the aggressor and the aggressor is portrayed as the victim.

This, unfortunately, is not an isolated case, but one that is repeated frequently on the international media. Many do not know better – and why should they if their only source of information is the likes of the BBC or CNN, where truth is often turned on its head? Here lies the root of increasing hostility toward and isolation of Israel.

How do we react to the manner in which Israel is projected? We decide that the moment has come to eliminate Israeli TV news in English. It has been a slow and painful death, part of the process of economic reform of the stateowned Israel Broadcasting Authority.

The erosion commenced in the summer of 2014. At that point there was a 10-minute news bulletin on Channel 1, a 25 minute news program on Channel 33, plus an excellent weekly one-hour Close Up program featuring political debate, anchored by the highly professional Leah Zinder, whose contract, sadly, was terminated in 2011.

The end accelerated this year with the termination of the Chanel 1 broadcast, followed swiftly by the transfer of the Channel 33 broadcast from its popular 5 p.m. time slot to the considerably less-attractive time of 4 p.m.

The final nail in the coffin came on October 1. Viewers were conscious of the decreasing minimal staff serving this news program. Who could blame the workers for accepting the offer of a NIS 105,000 bonus payment for voluntary retirement signed by September 30 when the future looked decidedly uncertain? We are in the middle of what some are calling the third intifada, yet the international media often seems concerned with justifying barbaric terrorist attacks and murder of our citizens. Articulate Palestinian spokespersons are featured who claim that the knifings and shootings are justified because of the “frustration of the Palestinian people” resulting from the “taking over of al-Aksa Mosque” and the “execution of our children.” It matters little to those in front of the cameras that their claims fly in the face of the truth. The status quo remains intact in respect to the mosque. As far as “executing” Palestinian children, the assertion that 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra (who together with his 15-year-old cousin Hassan Manasra stabbed and critically wounded a 13-year-old Jewish boy) was “executed” was proven to be a lie by pictures of Ahmed receiving excellent care at Hadassah University Medical Center, in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem The consistent media bias should be of paramount concern to the Israeli government, as well as to the powers responsible for TV news in this country.

We are witnessing a frightening turning of public opinion away from Israel (it is time that we face the fact that Israel is definitely not the flavor of the month in far too many countries).

We are host to 82 embassies whose ambassadors and diplomats rely heavily on English news. One can but wonder at our Foreign Ministry, whose lackadaisical attitude to hasbara (public diplomacy) is accentuated by their total lack of interest in the loss of the sole TV news program in English. More than 125 TV stations in the US – mostly Jewish and Evangelical Christian – carried the IBA news in English. The potential for further outreach is enormous, providing crucial background information and details missing from the biased presentations made by others.

The turning away from Israel in Western countries is not limited to the general public, but frighteningly, to an ever- increasing number of Jews. The rise of J Street, J Street U and Open Hillel all bear witness to a growing acceptance of the Palestinian narrative. How else can we explain the willingness of these organizations to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel? At a personal level I have found that my UK friends who always used to ask what is happening here now tend to avoid the Israel subject. This in itself speaks volumes.

While we have won many military battles over the years, we are losing the media fight. Years of failing to recognize the significance of the battle of the word has contributed to the detrimental manner in which we are viewed today.

We live in an age of instant news.

What happens here at any moment is instantaneously transmitted worldwide.

We have witnessed the power of the social media in Iran, in Egypt and throughout the world. TV is still a powerful tool. How can we continue to ignore our dismal failure in projecting our story? When will our government learn that we should be investing more time, effort and money in hasbara? As I write this article, there is talk of an English news bulletin returning this week on Channel 33. However, even if this proves to be true (in the last week there has been an on/off situation with reports one day saying that the English news will return and reports the next day saying the opposite), it is a far cry from and a poor apology for what is urgently needed.

What do we need? We should be developing our own Al Jazeera-style approach – yes, a 24/7 channel that reaches out to the world, giving OUR story. We have much of which to be proud. At this time of an international refugee crisis we have shown how we have managed successfully to absorb millions of refugees from a diversity of backgrounds. We are home to research and development that makes a difference in the lives of people everywhere – in the field of medicine, in hi-tech, where we are compared to the US’s Silicon Valley, in the field of space exploration and much more.

(We have just hosted a space conference drawing more than 2,000 international distinguished astronauts, scientists and engineers to Jerusalem to share what we are doing in the field of nano-satellites, where our progress is significant enough to attract the head of NASA to visit.) Is anyone listening? If so then let’s begin to think big about a 24/7 news program available worldwide. We should be investing in the best of TV journalists to host news programs in English.

We can no longer afford to continue to shoot ourselves in the foot – the stakes are too high.

The writer is co-chairperson of ESRA, which promotes integration into Israeli society. She is also active in public affairs.

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