My Word: It’s not about you

Colleagues in the Hebrew press do it too. It’s only natural to seek a local angle. Some call it parochial, I feel it is more “family-oriented.” Whatever it is, we (there’s that word again) all do it.

US election results Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
US election results Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
I fear I’ve become unbalanced – not in the “all the talk about elections is driving me crazy” way, which could be considered an occupational hazard for a newspaper editor and columnist. It’s worse than that. I seem to be taking sides, which is perceived as one of the greatest sins someone in my line of business can commit.
Admittedly, it is “our” side (See what I mean? I actually wrote “our” and not “Israel’s”) but it’s still pretty serious.
The realization fully hit me last week when I met with an academic from Spain. An intelligent and pleasant young woman, she asked to meet some Israeli journalists because, while she knows what Spanish papers print about our country (and it does not make pleasant reading for “us”), she wanted to know how Israeli papers cover the foreign news.
It’s always illuminating trying to explain to someone else how you work – and you probably wouldn’t believe how much of what is perceived as media bias worldwide actually reflects reporters having too little time to study a story in depth, and too little space to publish what they would like to put things in a fuller context. But this was a particular eye-opener. I was forced to admit that I do what most Israeli editors do – first of all, seek the local connection. And, since we’re a paper which spreads the word from Jerusalem, that also includes the worldwide Jewish community.
Colleagues in the Hebrew press do it too. It’s only natural to seek a local angle. Some call it parochial, I feel it is more “family-oriented.” Whatever it is, we (there’s that word again) all do it.
It is said that a major factor in Binyamin Netanyahu’s success when he first ran for prime minister in 1996 was his campaign slogan: “Bibi – tov layehudim” (Bibi – good for the Jews).
“Is it good for the Jews?” is more than just a rhetorical question or the motto on a campaign car sticker. It’s a mindset – not necessarily a healthy one but built in to our DNA; it’s as much a part of who we are as asking the Four Questions at the Passover Seder table year after year, generation after generation, no matter what country we happen to be in.
Coverage of Hurricane Sandy included stories of Israelis finding themselves in conditions that resembled the aftermath of a war, which, for once, they weren’t being blamed for. And there were stories of Jewish communities pulling together to save Torah scrolls and helping neighbors.
I expect the same “What does it mean for us?” question will be asked as the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly starts in Baltimore today. The answers might vary, but the concerns are shared by the local Jewish communities as well as the rest of the Jewish People.
The results of the US elections were widely analyzed here through the narrow prism of what the implications would be for Israel. Some local journalists and politicians went so far as to discuss the possible impact on the Israel elections – scheduled for January 22, two days after President Barack Obama is due to be sworn in – noting, in particular, Netanyahu’s tense relations with the American president. (Maybe the thought of two more months of our electioneering is making me slightly crazy.) Logically, most Israelis understand that the old/new president faces some major old/new problems that don’t have anything to do with us – the economy, the aftermath of Sandy, creating a decent working relationship with Congress, and Afghanistan, to name a few of the more obvious ones.
Only then comes the Iranian threat, which affects the whole world and requires some creative thinking. (Does Obama now know that his most serious foreign policy mistake was missing the first sign of the Arab Spring and ignoring the pleas for regime change made by the brave Iranians who took to the streets in 2009?) After that, there is the tricky issue of the Israelis and Palestinians.
On the one hand, maybe the newly elected leader – free of the hassles of having to re-run for presidency – can take bolder steps than before, and will want to both make his international mark (and finally justify his Nobel Peace Prize) and divert attention away from domestic concerns. On the other, peace is hugely expensive – the Palestinians won’t be able to set up a state without international help and resettling even a few thousand Jewish residents within the Green Line and ensuring some kind of defense system will cost more than either the US or European donors are likely to want to spare at the moment.
You can’t entirely blame me for constantly wondering what it all means for us: I remember how four years ago during the broadcast of Obama’s acceptance speech, Israel Television suddenly switched coverage to report on an IDF operation in Gaza, uncovering a terrorists’ tunnel. Just like that it had stopped being a broadcast from and about the US, and it was back to our reality. Depressingly, four years later, we’re still suffering rocket fire from Gaza and still under attack in the international media.
MY MEETING with the Spanish researcher reminded me of similar questions I was asked a couple of years ago by an Italian journalism student, studying in the UK. The student was examining how the Mavi Marmara affair had been covered in The Jerusalem Post and other Israeli papers. “I couldn’t avoid noticing the almost total absence of the ‘opposition’ voice and of the ‘reasons’ of the activists,” he wrote.
He was right. I had only briefly mentioned the activists’ claims that they were “bringing humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza,” which seemed to be their main point. (The activists, of course, never noted that Israel does deliver aid, sometimes under fire, and that Gaza has a border, also with Egypt.) Was I a victim of bias (especially as a large number of friends were and still are suffering from the Kassams that seem to be Gaza’s main export)? Or was the journalism student a victim of growing up in an age of political correctness where there has to be moral equivalency? Probably the answer lies somewhere between the two.
Israel Radio still refers to IDF soldiers as “our forces” and I can certainly relate to that – especially last week, when they came under fire on the Golan Heights and along the border with Gaza and when the flotilla floated back into national consciousness.
In a show trial with a rowdy audience, Turkey, in absentia, blamed most of the IDF’s top brass for the deaths of nine people aboard the Marmara.
Outside the courthouse, members of IHH, the Islamic group that dominated the ship, held placards with slogans like “Israel, your end is near” and “The revenge of our martyrs will be bitter.” These slogans fall in the “bad for the Jews” category.
They also make Israelis like me wonder about the motives of many of the “peace activists.” All of them boarded the ship with the full knowledge that they were trying to break a blockade placed to stop weapons reaching the terrorists in Gaza, and some of them tried to lynch the first IDF soldiers sent to stop them.
Actually, like many of the threats Israel has to deal with, the Islamist backers of the ostensibly non-violent protest should concern the rest of the world, but as I’ve noted, the US president and most European leaders have other worries.
It’s not all about us.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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