What responsibility do Israeli English-language media outlets have to North American Jews and orgs?
By Maayan Jaffe
The first edition of the International Jerusalem Post was launched on Friday, Sept. 18, 1959.
“It was long before the words ‘global village’ had been combined, in an age when journalism was still a vocation and personal computers belonged to the realm of science fiction,” wrote the paper’s editor, Liat Collins, in a 2009 anniversary column. Culling through the paper’s archives Collins discovered a letter from then Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, congratulating the Post on its international debut. His message equally resonates in 2015:
“Modern science has made the world smaller by high speed communication,” wrote Ben-Gurion. “But the nature of the world will largely be shaped by what is communicated. Anyone who promotes a wider knowledge in other countries of what goes on in his country is helping to promote peace and goodwill among the nations.”
Today, individuals have unprecedented access to information. A 2014 report by the American Press Institute found Americans follow the news on a wide variety of devices, including through television, radio, print versions of newspapers and magazines, computers, cell phones, tablets, e-readers, and devices such as an Xbox or PlayStation that link the internet to a television. In any given week, Americans follow the news using four different devices or technologies; laptops and computers were used 69 percent of the time.
Technology is shrinking the world.
According to CEO Ronit Hasin-Hochman, the JPost website has 90 million unique users per month, in addition to the 17 papers and magazines it distributes in 72 countries. Earlier this year, The Times of Israel (TOI) founding editor David Horovitz told a crowd of more than 1,200 people at its first annual gala in New York that his site is “the fastest-growing such site in the Jewish world with millions and millions of monthly unique users.”
While among web visitors are the more than 300,000 Anglos living in Israel, Internet readership for Israel’s most prominent English language sites – JPost, TOI and Haaretz – is more than 50 percent from North America, according to these media outlets. Charlotte Hallé, editor of Haaretz English Edition since February 2008, says she believes as much as 90 percent of Haaretz English website readers are from outside of Israel. The opposite is true of the print edition.
In an era where “pro-Israel” is becoming increasingly unpopular – the 2013 Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project survey found young Jews were more likely to be critical of Israel and less likely to feel attached to Israel – one wonders the impact these English-Israeli news outlets are having on young Jews. Is there a responsibility of English language Israeli papers to connect North American Jews to Israel? What role can North American nonprofits play in leveraging these media outlets to build stronger ties?
Curate, Contextualize, Connect
Justin Hayet, 2015 CAMERA Campus Activism Award winner, says as a young Israeli activist he reads Israeli news every morning and then multiple times throughout the day. He likewise follows key Israeli journalists on Twitter. These reports have helped him identify what areas of Israeli politics and history he needs to know more about in order to effectively fulfil his role as young pro-Israel leader.
“A lot of the research and books I read are because of articles I read on JPost about current issues that elude to greater complexities in Israel,” says Hayet.
Yet, Hayet does have concerns.
“Some papers … work against support for Israel,” he notes, citing an Oct. 2014 cartoon published by Haaretz that showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flying a plane into the World Trade Center.
“I don’t know how we can encourage next gen Jews to look at Israel when they see something like that – coming out of Israel,” says Hayet. “Some sites look at the struggles of Israel and that’s good and OK, but I am not sure these paper’s realize that they could be pushing people on the fence [about Israel] over the edge, to be against Israel.”
Rebecca Dinar, director of communications and media relations for the Jewish Federations of North America, comes at it from a different perspective. She tells eJewish Philanthropy the ability to “have a seamless conversation about what is happening throughout the globe and to hear a lot of different perspectives … makes us closer as a people.”
She feels it can be helpful for nonprofits to curate and contextualize relevant Israel articles. For example, JFNA sends out “Fed World: The Latest Local-to-Global Federation Update” through which it spoon feeds federation leaders relevant content to support their efforts.
Steve Rabinowitz, founder of Bluelight Strategies in Washington, D.C., goes through a similar exercise for many of his Jewish [organizational] clients. He says the art of news aggregation is becoming increasingly popular because it allows nonprofits to put out the Israel messages they want to their people and saves time and effort on the part of their constituents.
Rabinowitz says for those Jewish leaders who want to really understand the workings of the Jewish state it is imperative they read Israeli papers.
“Most American Jewish papers have come to be the same” when it comes to what they report about the Holy Land. In contrast, he says, Israeli papers will tell you everything from the impact of the latest car crash to the inner baseball of the Knesset coalition.
Haaretz’s Hallé agrees. She cited the recent Ethiopian riots in Israel, about which nearly all Jewish and non-Jewish North American media outlets reported.
“[North American papers] ran one story. We ran more than 20 articles from different perspectives, with different nuances and angles,” she says.
Journalism Live & Uncensored
A newer point of connection between Israel’s English news outlets and their North American readers launched five years ago with the advent of The Jerusalem Post annual conference in New York. This event will take place next month, on June 7. Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde says the paper expects 1,500 participants, representing year-on-year growth since its inception. TOI had 1,200 at its February gala.
“The best way to understand Israel is to come to Israel,” says TOI’s Horovitz. “The next best thing is to bring a sense of Israel to the people abroad.”
Linde says the JPost conference is a means for North American readership to meet directly with Israeli leaders, be briefed on the situation on the ground and tackle important issues of the day. In contrast, Horovitz says TOI’s event is “an opportunity to feel good about Israel and recognize its achievements under challenging circumstances.”
JPost’s Chief Political Analyst Gil Hoffman, who like several other major media outlet reporters, has been speaking in the States since 2000 and can tackle as many as 50 talks in a three-week period, says his goals are a combination of these two ideas: information and inspiration.
Hoffman, whose talks, such as “Red States, Blue States, and the Jewish State,” focus on internal and external politics, including U.S.-Israel relations, tailors events for listeners of all ages and outlooks.
“It is important for me to give people hope,” says Hoffman, noting “hope” looks different for different people. He feels a tremendous weight to be intellectually honest as a reporter and to relay the messages of the Jewish state. Hoffman has been heckled, protested against and put down, but he too has hope that his talks are making an impact.
“I just hope that during the five minutes these people sat in my talk, they learned something,” he says. “In my speaking, my love for Israel is palpable. Even though I am talking about politics, and that is sometimes kind of dirty, … I think the image of Israel as a democracy with all its flaws in process of being worked out in a democrat way is what people can relate to best – and love the best.”
Hoffman encourages Jewish organizations to adapt to this new era “where the details are out there and people can no longer accept everything the Israeli government does without questioning it.” He says Jewish orgs can see this as “a positive challenge and an opportunity.”
As a journalist, Hoffman thinks it is imperative English language media outlets continue to provide all the facts and perspectives. Nonprofits can use those facts, disseminate them to their constituents or leverage them to support (or contradict) their views and ideals about Israel.
Adds Horovitz: “My conviction is that the more you understand about Israel, the more fundamentally you empathize with it. There is nothing Israel should be hiding. The more you are informed, the more you can be a part of the process – and that is very important.”