At Jewish Media Summit, Israeli Leaders Address Israel-Diaspora Divide
Ailing local newspapers key to bridging religious, ideological rifts, participants say
At the 4th Interactive Jewish Media Summit on Tuesday, Israeli leaders in Jerusalem discussed how to bridge Israel-Diaspora gaps with representatives from national media outlets, alongside members of the international Jewish press and other Jewish organizations.
While most international Jewish outlets tend to focus on local Jewish news, Israel is still a frequent topic that is covered in a way that Nitzan Chen, the director of Israel’s Government Press Office, which sponsored the conference, says is mutually beneficial for both parties.
“Although Jewish media outlets generally cover local news, the State of Israel sees great importance in interacting with them, strengthening ties between Israel and these local communities,” he told The Media Line.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at the event that Jewish media are crucial for battling mutual threats.
“The role of the Jewish media is so important … for being a voice of the community, a voice of the Jewish people, especially when it comes to fighting anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred, BDS,” he said.
Unity between Diaspora and Israeli Jews was a central theme of the evening, as the relationship between the two has been strained, particularly among American Jews who comprise around 80% of Jewry outside Israel.
“This conference takes place as a part of a larger solidarity campaign. It shares the message that Jews around the world are responsible for one other,” Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich said. “The relationship between Israelis and world Jewry is critical to the Jewish people’s future, yet, we are not connected enough.”
Yankelevich, the first Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) female cabinet member, touted, and participants assessed, her Knesset proposal which would mandate that government ministries consult with the global Jewish community on relevant policies.
Sandy Cardin, CEO of Our Common Destiny, an organization that promotes Jewish unity, supports the proposal.
“Allowing global Jewry to weigh in on mutual interests of concern to all Jews will strengthen us as a people, it will strengthen Israel as a nation, and it will create a sense of unity much needed at this time of polarizing discourse and physical isolation,” he said. “Israel is the state of the Jewish people regardless of where they live.
“This does not mean that Jews residing outside of Israel should have the right to dictate what happens in Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Beersheba. It does mean, however, they should be consulted before Israel takes decisions that could affect Jews and Jewish life in other parts of the world,” Cardin added.
Dani Dayan, former Israeli consul general in New York, agrees.
“One of the most serious problems we have in the Israel-Diaspora relationship is lack of communication and lack of knowledge of each other,” he said.
“Everything that increases the level of engagement, the level of mutual knowledge, ideas, beliefs, traditions, the reasons [behind our] decisions I think is positive,” Dayan, who was born in Argentina and immigrated to Israel when he was 15, said.
Ties between Israelis and American Jews are rocky due to some very different ideological beliefs.
“There [are tensions] related to pluralism, acceptance of conversions and marriages, issues relating to worship at the Kotel [Western Wall],” Uriel Heilman, director of JTA Hebrew, said.
The majority of affiliated American Jews are members of the more liberal Reform branch of Judaism while in Israel, Orthodoxy is the dominant stream whose rabbis are charged with various civil functions, such as marriage, funerals and administration of religious sites.
The friction between Israelis and the Diaspora was highlighted in an exchange between Israel Hayom Editor-in-Chief Boaz Bismuth and the moderator Hila Korach, journalist and TV host at Israel’s Channel 13, formally known as Reshet 13:
“You cannot disconnect a Jew from Israel even if he wants to,” Bismuth said.
Korach responded: “Actually you can. When you talk about the different streams in religion … if you’re not Orthodox, you’re going to have some problems.”
American Jews and Israelis have also grown increasingly alienated on political issues. According to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 70% of Israeli Jews supported US President Donald Trump in the recent election and 13% supported President-elect Joe Biden (17% were undecided). In a poll sponsored by J Street, 77% of American Jews supported Biden versus 21% for Trump.
Chen believes the Diaspora media play a role in bringing Israelis and the international Jewish community together.
“Jewish media has a vital role of connecting world Jewry with Israel and the developments in the country, whether political or civic,” he said.
Back at the conference, Rivlin was tasked with addressing the elephant in the room: the travails of Jewish media.
“It is difficult to see how many Jewish newspapers have closed,” the president said. “Titles that have survived for more than 100 years have fallen silent or stopped printing each week.
“We must all do all we can to support the Jewish media,” Rivlin said.
Local news, in general, has been hard hit by the pandemic with over 60 US regional newspapers closing their doors as of October 28, according to the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Jewish outlets have been not been exempted from the industry’s difficulties.
In large part due to the economic consequences of the novel coronavirus, the 60-year-old outlet Canadian Jewish News ceased operations in April.
That same month, the United Kingdom’s Jewish Chronicle, the longest-running Jewish paper at nearly 180 years old, declared it would no longer be operational.
In July, the New Jersey Jewish News closed after 74 years of publication.
While Israeli officials believe the international Jewish media is critical to bettering Diaspora-Israel relations, not all Jewish outlets are Zionist.
Yosef Rapoport, a New York-based journalist and podcaster for the Yiddish24 app, said of his outlet: “In general, it is not a Zionist site, as most Haredi sites aren’t. It takes the Satmar [strongly anti-Zionist] point of view,” he told The Media Line.
Still, Rapoport says that Israel’s general safety is a point of mutual agreement.
“There is a tacit agreement among most Haredim, be they Zionists or not, that Israel’s security means the security of all the Jews in Israel,” he said. “The reporting is pro-Israel security [while making their religious disputes with the state] known, so it is a bifurcated view.”