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December 25, 1987 - Image 25

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-12-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

A huge Chagall painting fills an entire Knesset wall, often command-
ing more attention than the speakers and entertainers.

concerning himself with how we look to the
non-Jews and worrying about the charge
that we are washing our dirty linen in
public.
Some of the sessions took on a life of
their own — simply because of the par-
ticipants, who were from such varied
backgrounds and yet had so much in
common.
At one point during the self-censorship
session, for example, the editor of a Jewish
newspaper in Australia posed several ques-
tions to the group that she had to deal with
at home: should she have published a
report that the local Chevra Kadisha
(burial society) had mistakenly buried
someone in the wrong grave? Or that a
teacher at a local Jewish day school was
"leading a wild life" ?
Most of the Diaspora editors seemed to
agree that such news did not belong in a
Jewish newspaper, but Yuval Elitzur of
Ma'ariv felt differently. "Why shouldn't
yOu have published the story [about the
Chevra Kadisha]?" he asked. "Why
shouldn't those stupid functionaries get
what is corning to them? My job as a jour-
nalist is to get the story and publish it."
The incident reflected the difference be-
tween the pressures brought to bear on a
Diaspora Jewish community newspaper —
some of it self-imposed — and the free-
wheeling style of an Israeli press that does
not look back over its shoulder. In addi-
tion, we in the Diaspora are a religious/
ethnic press, while the newspapers in Israel
fulfill the role of a general-interest secular
press.
In my presentation, I focused on three
areas of self-censorship in the American
Jewish press: threats to editorial in-
dependence from the Jewish establish-
ment; coverage of Jewish communities in
distress, seeking to highlight their cause
without threatening their very existence;
and criticism of Israel.

Federations now are involved in publish-
ing more than half of the Jewish news-
papers in this country, a trend I find
disturbing because Federations think they
are serving the Jewish community by try-
ing to control it. Ideally, Federations would
not be in the newspaper business. But they
are, and the best that can be hoped for is
that they hire qualified journalists and
leave them alone.
In offering lessons as to how the press
can save — or destroy — lives of Jews in
distress, I cited the rescue effort on behalf
of Ethiopian Jewry several years ago. The
"Operation Moses" airlift of several thou-
sand Ethiopian Jews to Israel came to a
halt after several months as a result of
publicity. In Israel, the government alerted
the press in advance of the rescue, taking
the press into its confidence as to why
publicizing the effort would jeopardize its
success. The Israeli press responded by
voluntarily offering to blackout the story.
In the U.S., on the other hand, there was
no formal effort on the part of the Jewish
fundraising establishment to inform the
Jewish press of the sensitive developments
taking place. As a result, there were mixed
messages and confusion. Some papers
chose to publish the stories, others did not.
And untimely publicity helped lead to the
suspension of the airlift.
I suggested that the American Jewish
establishment take a lesson from Israel
and share sensitive information with the
Jewish press.
The key element, of course, is trust —

and a realization that the better informed
the press is, the more enlightened its deci-
sions can be. And the more enlightened, in
turn, the Jewish community can be.
Clearly the most common dilemma for
Jewish journalists around the world is how
to deal with criticism of Israel. I expressed
my belief that we in the Diaspora worry too
much about such criticism, and noted the
pressure we receive from the Jewish fund-
raising organizations — sometimes direct,
sometimes implied, but always there — to
present a false front of unity. But if Jews
speak with one voice, I argued, their view-
point tends to be ignored. Only if there is
diversity can their views be taken
seriously.
Different communities have different
constraints. Roger Ascot of L'.Arche of
Paris said that the Jewish press there
"must take sides, without ambivalence, for
I srael."
The more free the community, the more
free its press.

Jews In The Secular Press
In another session, Jewish journalists
who work in the general media talked
about whether or not they felt compelled
to bend over backwards to prove their ob-
jectivity in reporting on Israel and Jewish
causes:
"When you work for the general media
and cover the Arab-Israel conflict, you
must make a decision," said Eric Silver of
The Observer of London. "You must say:
first, I am a reporter, with a sense of what

Participants at the conference adopted a resolution to create a new international Jewish media association. Above, the
officers of the new group relax with conference organizers Asher Weil, left, and Uzi Narkiss, second from left.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

25

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