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Jewish journalists have Israel’s back and wish Israel had theirs

The authors surveyed journalists for Jewish media in more than 20 countries across eastern and western Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Australia. This is the second of three articles, reviewing the study’s findings. The full study, A World in Flux: Jewish Journalism Struggles to Survive, was released at the 2018 Annual Conference of the American Jewish Press Association in Cleveland, June 17-19.

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A common denominator uniting Jewish journalists across the Diaspora is great affection for Israel, a desire for closer ties with it, and a dogged determination to defend it from attack.

Virtually all the journalists we surveyed — 93 percent — said they had visited Israel three times or more, and almost as many said they do not feel isolated from Israel.

These are among the first findings of our study of Jewish journalists in more than 20 countries outside Israel and North America. Our research, so far as we can tell, is the first such project focusing on this group of media professionals, included an in-depth questionnaire and follow-up telephone interviews with a dozen survey participants. Our goal was to identify the challenges they face and to generate practical ideas to aid them.

The majority agreed that caring about Israel is important to them, Israel is the spiritual center of the Jewish people, and Diaspora and Israeli Jews share a common destiny. In an era in which North American Jewry’s connection to Israel is becoming more problematic and tenuous, the rest of world Jewry is clinging tighter to Israel.

Our one-on-one interviews with survey respondents uncovered their desire to show ties to Israel that sometimes sounded like small-town American boosterism.

Dan Kantor, editor-in-chief of “Hakehila Magazine” in Finland, told us of the 300 Israeli families in Finland, who make up about one-third of the country’s Jewish community, and that Finland’s Maccabiah Games delegation is 110 years old.

“It is the oldest, uninterrupted Maccabi delegation that exists,” he said.

Andrea Ghita of Romanian TV program, “Baabel,” said that the only rabbi in Transylvania, a vast and thriving Jewish community for centuries before World War II, is from Israel. Her Romanian colleague, Eva Galambos of Realitatea Evreiasca, told us that “all of the youngsters have made aliyah to Israel.”

David Singer of Australia said that his country has the highest per capita rate of aliyah, and that a growing number of Israelis spend post-army time there surfing and hiking.

Journalists from European countries boasted of Hebrew studies in their community schools and of the high-level of interest that Israel has garnered among their youth.

Alice Marxova, editor-in-chief of “Rosh Codesh” in Prague, said the Czech Republic’s remaining Holocaust survivors still get together with one another. The establishment of the Lauder School in Prague, 20 years ago, which offers Jewish studies, Israel studies, and Hebrew, has influenced the country’s Jewish youth.

“The younger people are more interested in Israel and religion,” she said.

For some, however, their community’s ties to Israel evoke criticism and even anti-Semitism in their homelands.

What Ant Katz, editor-in-chief of “South African Jewish Report,” described to us as the “vigorously Zionist, right-wing” Jewish community of South Africa is also confronted with “the cold face of Israel being branded as apartheid.”

As a result, he and others said they feel a need to defend Israel in the face of criticism from their countries’ non-Jewish majorities.

“Presenting Israel honestly in the face of a hostile world,” and “fighting against misinformation and lies about Israel,” were what respondents listed as among their key journalistic purposes.

“It’s understood that we don’t criticize Israel, Netanyahu, or Israel’s policies,” Eva Galambos said.

One survey respondent said she wants to “present Israel not only from a political point of view, but to show its culture, and different facets of its life and endeavors.”

“We need to explain Jewish history and the complex situation of Israel to prevent the Jewish community from being wounded,” another said.

At the same time, Jewish journalists in the Diaspora bristled in the face of Israeli assumptions that they exist solely to produce hasbara for the country. One of the sore points of a 2014 conference for Jewish media in Jerusalem was what they felt was the condescending attitude of Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Others asked that the Israeli government do a better job of listening to the Diaspora and that global Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Agency provide more support for their activities.

“We want to be seen as partners and not as Jews who should live in Israel instead of our home countries,” Ant Katz said.

Next: Can anything be done to ensure a future for Diaspora Jewish media?

Alan D. Abbey is Media Director of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Max Moser was a Begin Fellow and research associate at the Hartman Institute.

About the Author
Alan D. Abbey is media director of the Shalom Hartman Institute. He lives in Jerusalem.
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