For much of the Jewish Media Summit that took place in Jerusalem this week, Jewish journalists from around the world had Israeli public figures talking at them rather than engaging with them. But on Wednesday, the final day of the summit, the journalists got to talking to each other, sharing concerns and successes and posing questions about their responsibilities as Jewish journalists.
Some of the journalists work for both Jewish and general media and have discovered that it’s not always a good idea to let it be known that they’re Jewish or that they reside in Israel.
Michele Chabin, who holds both American and Israeli citizenship, writes for several American publications, and recently lost a $2,500 assignment when the person she was supposed to interview learned that she lived in Israel. “I was BDSed,” she said.
A Dutch journalist, who also writes and broadcasts for Jewish and general media, said that it had become so dangerous for the Jewish media outlet of which she is the editor, “that we had to move to an anonymous address.”
Session moderator Akiva Tor, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions, said that in the past, the combating of antisemitism dealt primarily with legislation against ritual circumcision and kosher slaughter.
“Now we are dealing with Jewish security and the safety of Jewish communities in Europe,” he said. That particular challenge includes finding ways to overcome cyber hate.
The discussion focused largely on antisemitism and the Jews of Europe and whether Jewish and Israeli media are doing enough to inform and mobilize the Jewish people.
Chicago native Zvika Klein, who has been living in Israel since 1985 and is equally fluent in Hebrew and English, writes about Jews and Judaism for Maariv
and Makor Rishon
. He is the only Hebrew language journalist in Israel who writes full time about Diaspora Jewry.
It’s difficult to convince his editors to run a Jewish Diaspora story unless it’s about antisemitism, he said, “The Israeli media love antisemitism.” He attributed the lack of interest in other Diaspora Jewry stories to the absence of “a sense of peoplehood.”
The other favorite topic of the Israeli media, according to Klein, is BDS. “We love BDS. It’s amazing for the Israeli media. And we love aliya – especially if it’s caused by antisemitism.”
French journalist Steve Nadjar, who works for Actualite Juive, warned of the rise of the old-new antisemitism, noting that a group of right-wing marchers had told Jews that they have no place in France and that they should get out. There is a lot of fear in the Jewish community and people are worried about protection for their children when they go to school, said Nadjar.
For all that, he said that journalists must be careful about publishing accusations of antisemitism and must carefully check their facts.
European Jewry does not get much coverage in the American Jewish media, because Americans aren’t particularly interested in what goes on outside America. “Very few Americans meet someone from another country and are not interested in other countries,” said Sue Fishkoff, the editor of J Weekly of North California.
“The American Jewish press also loves antisemitism when it takes place in Europe, and especially when it takes place in Russia,” said Fishkoff.
In contrast to her colleagues who edit other Jewish publications across the US, Fishkoff thinks it is important to run more stories about Jewish communities around the world and what makes their daily lives tick, “so that we can understand the nuances of antisemitism in different countries.”
Antisemitism is not uniform, Fishkoff pointed out, noting that in some countries it has historical roots, in others it is based on religious intolerance and in others on politics. The inability to understand antisemitism in the world derives from lack of knowledge, she opined.
American Jews are protected from the kind of antisemitic incidents experienced in smaller Jewish communities, she continued, but said in the next breath that there are new perceptions as a result of the Trump presidential campaign. All minorities have been targeted by the vitriol, she said, but she herself has been careful to say that it’s not all Donald Trump.
“Liberal Jews who were so integrated into American society are now being coupled with other minorities. There has been a seismic shift in our self-perceptions, and perception becomes reality,” she said.
Fishkoff could not imagine that Jews would be under the same kind of attack in America as Muslims and Mexicans, but she warned against rushing to label any expression against Israel as antisemitic. “The American Jewish press should be careful,” she said.
A journalist from Spain said that, just as the Israeli press likes to write about antisemitism, Jews in the Diaspora love Israeli problems – both wars and politics.
While Israel takes the view that anti-Zionism is a new form of antisemitism, European and American Jews do not always see it that way. In most European countries, antisemitism is mostly of a political nature and is promoted by either the extreme Right or the extreme Left, but a Belgian journalist claimed that it is even more so in mainstream parties.
A German journalist, acutely conscious of the influence of the new Muslim political parties in Europe, charged them with demonizing and delegitimizing Israel. He contrasted the memory of Jews being forced to wear a yellow Jewish star 75 years ago with Jews today being asked “not to walk in the street with any Jewish symbols. The mainstream hates us.”
Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of The Jewish Week of New York, commented on the bigotry of the Jewish community, saying that his publication had written with empathy about Muslims in the US and what they were experiencing as a minority in much the same manner of Jews elsewhere, but readers were not sympathetic to other minorities.