Steven Weiss 311.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
NEW YORK – In the past month, two stories have come to light that have rocked
the American Jewish community: first, ads inviting Israelis to “come home” in
language deemed insensitive by American Jews, and second, presidential hopeful
Newt Gingrich calling the Palestinians an “invented” people.
these two stories have in common? They were broken not by CNN or the New York
Times, but by the cable channel The Jewish Channel, a veritable Jewish David
among the Goliaths of television.
Called a “Jewish HBO” by the New York
, The Jewish Channel is five years old and has 50,000 subscribers on cable
television across the US. Steven Weiss, director of original programming and new
media for The Jewish Channel, said the channel was launched in order “to provide
something that other people haven’t thought to provide –or that other people
aren’t trying to provide.”
When Weiss and others at The Jewish Channel,
for example, became aware of the aliya ads through billboards in various cities,
they noted that these were billboards that, unlike other ventures by the Israeli
government, were put up with no heralding press release. The Jewish Channel
opted to investigate, with the eventual results being an outcry in the American
Jewish community and the ad campaign being stopped by Israeli Prime Minister
“The more we uncovered, the more interesting it
became,” Weiss recounted.
“How bold the message was, and to what degree
it had been put out without being put at all on the radar of American Jews. We
called it a ‘semicovert national campaign,’ because it was clearly meant to be
kept out of the eyes of those at whom it was not specifically
“Even now, I think it’s an interesting story – the divide
between Israeli and American attitudes,” Weiss said. “It hits on a lot of
central themes about identity – ‘How can you not think we’re special?’ on the
part of the Israelis, versus ‘How can you not think we’re equal to you?’ on the
part of the Americans. It’s obvious how that would strike a chord.”
Gingrich told Weiss in a Jewish Channel interview that the Palestinians were an
“invented people,” the clip was rerun by the major news networks multiple times,
and seen “tens of millions of times” every hour last weekend, Weiss
Gingrich was “really candid,” Weiss said, “and really detailed
about a lot of things that nobody had bothered to ask him.”
surprising that nobody had bothered to get his thoughts on these matters,” Weiss
said. “If you look at all the debates and all the questions asked of him, there
were a lot of horse race questions and almost no questions that got him to
explain his foreign policy attitudes.
“That’s something that Jewish media
can contribute to the equation in covering these races,” Weiss said of the
upcoming 2012 election. “If these feelings and statements of his were not on the
record before, there must be a large gap in coverage of every campaign, if these
are not the kinds of attitudes that we’re getting.”
When speaking to a
Jewish channel specifically, Weiss speculated, Gingrich gave a particularly
targeted interview and sent out his now-noteworthy theory.
“It’s good for
Jewish media because it gives us a real place to step in and say, ‘Here’s
something the mainstream media isn’t getting at,’” Weiss said.
obviously could never hope to achieve that kind of regular viewership,” he said
of the tens of millions of hits to online clips of the interview over the
weekend. “But I think everything we do here is the result of years of hard work
and planning and attention to what’s important, and I think that our successes
in recent weeks reflect that kind of overall ethic and particular hard work by
the individuals here.”
This “missing link” of a cable channel with a
Jewish angle has been well-received by Jewish audiences, Weiss said, although
the political coverage that they provide is a “very small fraction” of the
channel’s much larger Jewish and Israeli culture offerings. The channel provides
Jewish and Israeli movies and television shows, including the popular Srugim,
that often don’t get a wider audience in the US.
“Much of our content are
these amazing movies and documentaries that don’t make it to HBO or Sundance or
your local Cineplex, because they say, ‘We had a Jewish movie last year,’” Weiss
Recent events have given the channel more exposure than it had
“Keep working hard enough and long enough, and then the
planets align and you end up doing something really significant,” Weiss said.
“It’s gratifying to see those kinds of results come from our work.”