South Africa a lightning rod for fair reporting debate

  • Howard Feldman 2018
It is a remarkable privilege to be writing this week’s column on a bus somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Today is day three of the Jewish Media Summit, and this morning, we are on our way to visit Tel Aviv to get a sense of the start-up, entrepreneurial culture that has come to define Israel.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Nov 29, 2018

The Jewish Media Summit 2018 is a gathering of about 100 Jews from around the world. It seeks to address some common concerns about fairness in reporting news from the region, the issues faced by those who are supportive of Israel, and to give participants an understanding of the complexities as well as the beauty of Israel.

Participants are guests of the Israeli Press Office, and are treated to an intense, non-stop programme that is designed to showcase all aspects of Israel relevant to those in the media.

Incidentally, and as an aside, it seems that Jews don’t control the global press (but I, for one, would love to).

The summit is fascinating. Each participant brings their own perspective and experience. Each participant sees every conversation through the prism of their background and experience.

Whereas the Americans in the group might focus on the treatment of the Reform or Conservative movements by Israel, the Hungarians are struggling to understand if one can be supportive of Israel and an anti-Semite at the same time. The food bloggers, on the other hand, care nought for this theme, and seem to focus on the coffee breaks, not the sessions. I might tweet, others are on Facebook Live, and others are Instagramming everything.

Even more fascinating is the uncomfortable and adversarial relationship between the members of the Israeli press. On a panel made up of The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and The Times of Israel, it was clear to see that even in trying to understand and define what the “new anti-Semitism” is, political standpoints and approaches to the settlements became central to the conversation. It ended with panellists shouting at each other, and calling each other liars. It was enthralling. I couldn’t get enough of it!

What I have found particularly noteworthy is that as small as the South African community is, we are on the cutting edge of the conversation around the Jewish world, whether it is because of the fact that we are ground zero for the “Israel apartheid” myth, or because we look outside and inside South Africa for our news.

I have found the challenges we are facing in the country to be no different to those of others. The difference is that we are prepared to engage with them and address them. South Africans are often accused of avoiding conflict, but my experience at the summit is that, to the contrary, we are active, engaged, and confident about our ability to speak our minds.

The recent Herzlia incident, the anti-Semitic voice note, the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement, a corrupt government with a bias against Israel, and the role of the Jewish community in the country, are subjects we have not shied away from. We have these conversations time and time again, and in doing so, we have dealt with many of these challenges. It is important to give ourselves credit for that. We are often hard on ourselves. That might be a good thing, but it is equally important to give credit when it is due.

What is clear is that Israel has not figured this out either. It understands the importance of a sympathetic press, and it acknowledges how vital it is that Israel is reported on fairly. But it is not yet clear how this can be achieved.

Maybe that is what day four is about.


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