Luminaries gather to launch J'lem Press Club

Foreign Press Association head: I hope this club will help reporters get closer to the truth.

June 17, 2013 02:43
4 minute read.
J'lem Foundation President Mark Sofer (L) and Sandor Frankel of the Helmsley Charitable Trust (R)

Jerusalem Press Club370. (photo credit: Courtesy JPC)

A cross-section of luminaries in government, journalism and Israeli society gathered Sunday evening in the capital to inaugurate the Jerusalem Press Club (JPC), created to serve as a central hub for foreign journalists based in Israel.

During a gala ceremony featuring Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Jerusalem Foundation president Mark Sofer and Cripan Balmer, the bureau chief of Reuters News and chairman of the Foreign Press Association, the JPC was described as a “truth machine” for international journalists.

Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court justice and the current president of the Israel Press Council, said she was pleased the press club was established in the picturesque compound of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, adding that she hoped it would help engender greater balance in Israel’s dueling narratives.

“I think it’s a very good idea to have a foreign club here so that journalists from all over the world can gather and socialize,” she said. “This way they will meet more Israelis and see our side and our problems, which will lead to more empathy.”

Dorner emphasized that the JPC’s main mission will be to help accurately inform reporters about a region often misrepresented in the press.

“News must be objective, but it’s rarely perfectly objective when it comes to Israel,” she said. “I want to be objective from this side – not just the [opposing] side.”

Barkat described the press club as being “strategically important” for the city’s future.

“Coverage of Jerusalem is not coverage of just another city, but one that is perceived as the center of the world,” he said.

“We want people to see the real Jerusalem, and that is why we felt this press club – by hosting journalists from around the world – is so strategically important to our city.”

Barkat continued, “This is extremely important for our future and I have no doubt in my mind [the JPC] will enable reporters to show the truth of what is happening in Jerusalem.”

Sharansky juxtaposed the profound restrictions the press faced in the former Soviet Union – defined by government interrogations, torture and imprisonment – with Israel’s flourishing freedom of the press.

“The KGB and interrogations were a large part of the press there,” he said.

Still, Sharansky noted the challenge facing journalists to distill the “ocean of information” generated in every news cycle about Israel into truthful insights to help the world disseminate and understand a largely misunderstood region.

“Your challenge in this ocean of information is, how do you get one drop of valuable information?” he said. “That’s the challenge of Jerusalem – so you have a really interesting challenge and task…. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is important, but there is also much more information that needs to be reported.”

Balmer echoed Sharansky’s sentiments about the challenges of reporting in Jerusalem, but said he hoped the JPC would help reporters “get closer to the truth.”

“Journalism and freedom of the press provides something unique to a nation for it to truly be free,” he said. “Jerusalem more than any other place I worked in puts you under a scrutiny that is quite astonishing. Against this backdrop, it’s great to see a new press club open.”

“I hope [JPC] will help reporters from all over the world to get closer to the truth, which is the Holy Grail of what we do,” he continued.

Sofer also noted the gravity and scrutiny of reporting from one of the most complex regions in the world.

“Israel has perhaps the most complex of all the conflicts in the world, with narratives from all sides,” he said. “It’s not just a perception that Jerusalem is the center of the world – the ramifications of what happens here are felt all over the globe, thousands of kilometers away.”

He added that the challenge for foreign journalists will be to offer “narratives in a simple, non-partisan manner,” fostered by “the free flow of ideas.”

Sandor Frankel, a trustee of the Helmsley Charitable Trust – who oversees a quarter of the Helmsley family’s fortune acquired in real estate – said Leona Helmsley gave him autonomy to spend her money as he saw fit before her 2007 death.

“She gave us complete discretion,” he said. “The trustees had no experience in philanthropic work and had to decide where these vast financial resources would do the most good. For me, the answer was easy: here in Israel.”

Frankel said he wanted to create a “truth machine” to inform the world what “Israel is, and what it’s not,” and emphasized that the press club was not created to “propagandize” on Israel’s behalf.

“The press from around the world will be free to see Israel for what it is – a free and open society with extraordinary challenges, that somehow overcomes them and flourishes,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of press freedom in this part of the world, but the JPC will offer just that.”

Following the procession of speeches celebrating the JPC, a panel discussion including The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief Steve Linde, Inge Guenther of Frankfurter Rundschau, and author and journalist Ilene Prusher, was moderated by JPC executive director Uri Dromi.

Dromi emphasized the importance of nurturing a new generation of journalists and providing a tranquil setting for all members of the JPC to learn from each other, as well as from experts in other fields.

“One of our main interests is the next generation of journalists,” said Dromi. “This will be a hub for journalists to meet other journalists, diplomats, artists and intellectuals in a beautiful environment.”

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