Over a hundred people gathered in the Charry Sanctuary of the Germantown Jewish Centre on Sunday. They were not there to worship, but to discuss the portrayal of Israel in modern media and its influence on shifting public attitude toward the nation since the Six-Day War in 1967.
While discussions concerning Israel can be sensitive in nature for the Jewish population worldwide, the Germantown Jewish Centre agreed to host a panel of Jewish-American journalists actively reporting on many aspects of Israeli conflict, as well as other facets of Jewish culture.
The Panel members
The panel of journalists included Ami Eden; editor in chief of Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Jane Eisner; Editor of the Forward, Eli Lake; a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, and Jennifer Rubin; writer of the Right Turn blog for the Washington Post.
Sam Katz, a documentarian and former candidate for Mayor of Philadelphia and Governor of Pennsylvania, moderated the panel discussion. Additionally, Asaf Romirowsky, former Manager of Israel and Middle East Affairs at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, provided comments at the opening and closing of the discussion.
As each journalist spoke, differences of opinion regarding trends in media portrayal of Israel became evident. Among the topics discussed were the difficulties that foreign correspondents in Israel were having gaining access to credible news sources, the language and cultural barriers that pose a hindrance to foreign correspondents’ understanding of events, and the lack of funds available to hold foreign bureaus in a shifting and uncertain news media landscape.
One prevailing thread throughout the discussion was a skepticism regarding the accuracy of public knowledge and understanding of the issues plaguing Israel.
“News outlets have cut back on coverage that would lead to better understanding,” Eisner pointed out.
Rubin chimed in saying that to remedy the difficulty of gaining access to reputable sources, the Israeli government needs to do a better job of providing accurate information to journalists.
As the conversation progressed, audience members were invited to participate. Members of the congregation enthusiastically shot their arms in the air and were called upon to question the panelists.
Betsy Teutsch raised her hand and asked the panelists why there wasn’t more media coverage of tensions between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs – a population that accounts for nearly 20% of Israel’s overall population, yet is rarely acknowledged in the media.
“So many other things are going on in Israel that deserve our attention,” Eisner said in response.
Informative not inflammatory
Rabbi Steve Stroiman praised the Germantown Jewish Centre for providing a “moderating voice” so that the community could gather to openly and respectfully discuss such a controversial topic. Fully expecting a certain amount of tension, Stroiman shrugged his shoulders.
“Emotions run extremely high with Israel among Jews,” Stroiman said.
For that very reason, Stroiman stressed, such a discussion should be a model for other Jewish organizations to emulate. It was a sentiment shared by many, as evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive mood upheld in an environment of differing opinions.
In the end each of the panelists acknowledged their occasional disagreements while stressing the importance of approaching such a complex, complicated issue from all sides.
“We are trying to do the best we can to reach different audiences,” Eisner said.