Media Watch

Some end of the week stories you may have missed…

from the London Jewish Chronicle: Secret airlift for Zimbabwe

An emergency mission to airlift the few remaining Zimbabwean Jews to Israel has been launched by the Jewish Agency. Staff have spoken individually to every member of the 350-strong community and are believed to be making arrangements for their removal at short notice.

Details are a closely guarded secret.

by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz: They must be doing something right

Over its eight years of existence, birthright, which has brought 160,000 young Jews from around the world on 10-day visits to Israel, has entered the consensus. It has the numbers; the biggest donors are on board; and both Israeli and Diaspora Jewish leaders line up to make speeches at its impressive mega-events.

Yet still, the doubt lingers: What kind of return has the Jewish people been getting on the investment of hundreds of millions of dollars and all this hype?

“Birthright, it’s a nice idea with great PR, bringing lots of teenagers here for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s not really a serious program,” said a senior Jewish Agency official, who will have to remain unnamed.

“Birthright is a travesty,” chimed in a senior official from a Zionist organization in one of the largest Jewish communities in the West.

Criticism such as this is rife, but you seldom hear it openly.

Birthright’s backers have answers for the critics. They accuse the Jewish Agency and other large and established mega-organizations of jealousy.

“They can’t bear to see a young, small, independent operation transforming itself into a superstar,” said one of birthright’s executives. “Basically, they can’t deal with the fact that they didn’t think of the idea.”

from the Forward: Charter School Effort Opens Rift on Civic Values

The recent announcement that mega-philanthropist Michael Steinhardt is backing an effort to bring a Hebrew-language charter school to New York — together with talk of a possible national network of similar institutions — seems certain to revive debates about whether such schools violate the separation of church and state. But the proposal raises a second, more elemental question: Would the schools serve to sever young Jews from the American mainstream and, in the process, betray the underlying purpose of public education?

also from the Jewish Chronicle: Troubled Friends

Readers who have given to the British Friends of the Hebrew University — a UK charity supporting a remarkable Jerusalem institution that is a beacon to the world — may have been confused to receive a letter last week signed by the charity’s chairman, Brent Isaacs. The letter takes to task the Jewish Chronicle for what its author calls a “historically insignificant and non-positive” report about the Friends published here on May 30, which he claims was “plainly incorrect” and was published in such a way (Mr Isaacs is slightly vague here) that “best suits [the JC’s] business”.

“Urgent” and “private and confidential” written warnings were delivered to our offices by a City law firm instructed by the Friends to the effect that, should we insist on pursuing the story, we risked incurring substantial legal penalties.