The Jerusalem Press Club

With the club, the press from all over the world will be welcome to see Israel for what it is – a free, democratic country.

Jerusalem Press Club opening 370 (photo credit: Courtesy JPC)
Jerusalem Press Club opening 370
(photo credit: Courtesy JPC)
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 vertically.
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 here.
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 Sderot.
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 innovation.
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.
And 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.
We 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 war.
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 world.
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 talking about.
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.