Israel is always in the news. Everyone has an opinion about this geographically
tiny country, so small its name on maps has to be abbreviated, and even the
abbreviation doesn’t fit and has to float in the Mediterranean Sea. It is
sometimes said that Israel could use some good public relations, to improve, or
change, people’s opinions about it.
The new Jerusalem Press Club is not
designed to change anybody’s opinion about anything, or to propagandize on
Israel’s behalf. What this club is designed to do is to allow people to simply
see the facts as they are – the country, the people.
The press from all
countries is welcome here – from countries that are Israel’s friends or foes;
press from the Western bloc, press (such as it is) from the eastern bloc, press
from our neighbors on all sides. Indeed, perhaps when our neighbors to the north
or south or east or west open up their own free press clubs, they will
reciprocate and invite Israeli journalists to come. It is our hope that the
establishment of this club will encourage factual reporting from all
journalists, whether we read their work from right to left, left to right, or
Will the press see a perfect society when they come here? Of
course not. Nor will this club try to paint Israel as a perfect country – or try
to paint it at all. Instead, the press from all over the world will be welcome
to see Israel for what it is – a free, democratic country; one where everyone
can speak his or her mind, vote for his or her government, and worship his or
her own God, without fear of punishment or reprisal. A country of extraordinary
challenges, which is flourishing.
The media that come here, just by being
here, will understand this country better. It’s often said that Israel is only
the size of New Jersey, but that’s just an abstraction.
The reality is
this: When I drive a few hours north from New York City I come to Albany; a few
hours more I come to a friendly Canadian border guard who welcomes me to his
country. But let folks actually see what awaits them two or three hours north of
When I drive four hours south of New York I come to Washington, DC;
let folks actually see what awaits them driving a few hours south to
The press in Israel, using this club as a centerpiece, can see
what they want, write and broadcast what they want, criticize or praise as they
wish. That is one of the glories of Israel. There isn’t a lot of press freedom
in this part of the world. But the Jerusalem Press Club is a place where the
press can come, see, and say whatever they want.
Hopefully, by coming to
Israel and simply observing, the media will learn that Israel is not simply a
tiny piece of land defined by conflict; it is an extraordinary people whose
ancestors have been here for thousands of years, who have accomplished
extraordinary things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Israelis
have made enormous strides in building a strong and vibrant society that is
contributing to global progress through medical, scientific and technological
Israel is a country whose people are very practical – not
just in a financial sense, but in a far more existential sense. Israelis know
their neighbors and they know the dangers of their neighborhood; they know their
history; they understand the linguistic gamesmanship in catchphrases like
“two-state solution” and “proportionate response”; they have all suffered deeply
in some fundamental way, through the loss of a child or parent or sibling or
someone else very close to them.
The press will learn, just by being
here, that every Israeli wants peace, but that they all know, through tragic
experience, that the consequence of a geopolitical or strategic mistake is not
just an abstraction, but that it is their own blood, and that of their children
and parents, that will be spilled. And because the stakes are so high and the
consequences of mistakes so grave, the issues that confront this tiny country
should be resolved by the people who live here.
When the press comes
here, they will see facts, not fancy. It is always helpful when the media
reports what it actually sees, rather than reporting what they are told or
simply using their imagination. But sometimes facts and imagination are a useful
pairing. Let’s take the Helmsley Trust, for example. The facts are that we are
making multi-million dollar grants to every university in Israel.
we’ve made other multi-million dollar grants in Israel – for hospitals, for
schools, and for medical and technological research.
But we have also
made what I think of as sad grants, tragic grants. In the short life-span of the
Trust, we have given many millions of dollars to help fortify underground
hospital facilities in Rambam Medical Center, so that patients – Jewish, Arab,
Christians, Druse, anyone – can be treated when terrorists from the north commit
the unspeakable atrocity of aiming rockets and missiles at hospitals.
have committed very large sums of money for portable shelters for health clinics
and armored vehicles so doctors can visit patients around Sderot, so that
innocent men, women and children can seek medical treatment when terrorists from
the south target health facilities; and we have spent $2 million at Beit
Halochem, to help with the rehabilitation of victims of terrorism and of
Imagine – and let the press imagine – what good we could do for
mankind if instead of spending so many millions of dollars on helping build and
fortify those facilities we could help the brains and innovators of this country
help treat or cure another disease, or invent something that could change the
face of the earth. Imagine.
Our hope is that with the opening of this
club’s doors, the press will flock here and will accurately report on a country
that is, though imperfect, perhaps the most remarkable in the history of the
Although wisdom can’t be taught, knowledge can. All members of the
press, and all people, are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own
facts. If the Jerusalem Press Club fulfills its purpose – and it will – we may
be graced with reading and hearing from people who actually know what they are
There is simply no way to know the sound of music without
hearing it. And there is no way to know Israel, and to report on the country and
its people, without being here and seeing for oneself.The writer is an
attorney in New York City and a trustee of The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley
Charitable Trust. These remarks are excerpted from a speech given at the launch
of the Jerusalem Press Club this week.