The Jewish Agency was one of several partners at the Jewish Media Summit this week in Jerusalem, spearheaded by the Government Press Office, which brought together hundreds of journalists representing Jewish media worldwide.
Held June 22-25 at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, the Jewish Media Summit aimed to strengthen ties between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to create a direct media channel between Israel and Jewish media outlets; and to discuss and create new platforms for sharing information.
Jewish Agency Chairman of the Executive Natan Sharansky addressed the participants along with Yuli Edelstein, Speaker of the Knesset, on the topic “From Prisoner of Zion to the Leadership of Israel: Moral Heroism and Pragmatic Politics.” Audience members tweeted that their remarks, which included wry references to Israeli politicians who have recently been sentenced for serious crimes, were “hilarious,” “entertaining,” and “refreshing.”
The theme of the conference was “The Challenges of Reporting on Israel and the Jewish World,” and many of the panel sessions and plenary lectures focused on those challenges: “Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, or Paranoia?”; “Israel’s Image Problem,” and “The Future of Jewish Media: Economic Strategies.”
“It’s comforting to know that we share so many concerns no matter where we come from,” said Leni Reiss, Contributing Editor for Arizona Jewish Life with a 30-year career in journalism. “Dwindling circulation, the competition from technology, where news is accessible 24 hours a day, increasing postage and production costs.”
Gary Rosenblatt, Editor-in-Chief of the New York Jewish Week, added: “It’s always good to learn more about Israel and each other. Any opportunity to be in Israel and connect is valuable, though I find that every time I come back from Israel, I’m a little more confused about issues I thought I had clarity on, especially political issues. This is a place where things issues are always more complex than you think.”
The journalists also received briefings on Israel’s security situation on its borders and vis-à-vis Iran, the status in Israel of Judaism’s progressive streams, and the new Government of Israel-World Jewry Joint Initiative, which has been spearheaded by The Jewish Agency along with the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.
In the panel on “Israel’s Image Problem,” Susan Fishkoff, Editor of the JWeekly newspaper in San Francisco, noted that Jewish journalists have until now been unsatisfied with the level of communication with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and that this conference, where she could communicate directly with co-panelist Yigal Palmor, spokesman of the MFA, was an important step toward “healing that rift.”
Additionally, the journalists had many frameworks in which to discuss in theoretical terms their professional roles in maintaining Jewish life in their communities, and how to balance coverage of local community life with news about Israel and news about Jewish communities worldwide.
Eyal Arad, President of Arad Communications in Israel, said that the discourse between Israel advocates and the Jewish media abroad has great potential for tension, because it is a “confusing” relationship.
“The way we talk about stories to Israelis is not the same as the way we talk about them to foreigners,” he said. “The facts are the same –we always tell the truth – but as is the case in all media, we spin things differently. With you [reporters for Jewish media overseas] – are you local, or are you global? Are you our ‘base’ or are you ‘switchers’? Do we talk to you the way we talk to Yediot Acharonot? Or like we talk to a daily newspaper in China? The first step to improving the relationship is to admit it is confusing.”
Fishkoff responded that what Jewish media want, “and what we owe Jewish communities,” is “loving, nuanced, sophisticated coverage.”
The closing plenary focused on the extent to which Israeli media covers Jewish news from the diaspora, and how well Jews overseas truly understand Israel – ending with a reporter from Argentina announcing he had created a new Facebook group for the participants, in which they could share their local community news, with an eye toward translating Jewish news from across the globe into different languages, so that Jews worldwide could come to better understand each other’s concerns and successes.
Linda Lovitch, a media and communications consultant who works at Jerusalem Online, said that the Jewish Media Summit helped address the “great need for connections between the press in Israel and the press abroad. Israelis are under the illusion that there is a great dialogue, but there’s not. However, there is a great interest in having one. We need better tools for telling each other’s stories.”
“A lot of the Jewish papers are going through the same issues,” noted Yoni Goldstein, editor of the Canadian Jewish News. “How we cover stories about each other, financial difficulties. I think this conference was a good start to the conversation.”