Archive for January, 2009

BBC Anti-Palestinian?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

Poor BBC.

How ironic that the legendary British Broadcasting Corporation, reviled by many pro-Israel supporters for being so decidedly un-pro-Israel in its coverage, is being pilloried at home for refusing to air a three-minute appeal for young victims of the Gaza conflict.

Thousands of demonstrators rallied in London, and more than 11,000 complaints were filed with the publicly financed BBC after it explained the decision not to show the appeal, based on its goal of maintaining impartiality in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Some Jewish critics are no doubt surprised to learn that the BBC has come under fire from pro-Arab groups who believe the network is slanted toward Israel.

BBC executives seem to be saying that if a network is objective in its news coverage it cannot promote humanitarian causes. I have no problem with the BBC airing an appeal for the children who suffered in Gaza - as long as it also broadcasts an appeal for the thousands of Israeli children who for more than seven years have lived in constant fear of rocket attacks on their communities from Gaza terrorists.

E-mail: [email protected]

Israel Stopped Hamas…Sort Of

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

The two top headlines on The Jerusalem Post Web site this evening neatly summed up the dilemma of Israel’s 22-day military campaign in Gaza.

The first read: “Barak Declares Victory as IDF Completes Gaza Withdrawal,” noting that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Hamas was dealt a serious blow and “will be quiet now for a long time.”

The next headline read: “Gaza Smuggling Routes Operational Again.”

Welcome to the mysteries of the Middle East.

It’s difficult to judge now whether or not the Israeli effort was a success, since so much depends on what happens next.

On the one hand, Israel flexed its military muscles - and this deterrence factor cannot be overstated in terms of what it means in the Mideast, where power demands respect. The carefully planned incursion was overwhelmingly seen as justified and necessary by Israelis after their southern region endured thousands of rocket attacks over the last seven years. Something had to be done.

On the other hand, the people of Gaza continue to defy Western logic, seeming to side with the terror group that purposefully endangers and exploits its civilian population. And the rest of the world portrays Israel as disproportionately aggressive.
Every Jew is a critic so now we are hearing: Should it have been quicker? Less invasive in terms of the loss of human life in Gaza? Or should it have gone on until Hamas was more definitively routed?

Those remain open questions, as does the value of putting Egypt in such a pivotal political position now in controlling the tunnels, despite Cairo’s poor record in preventing weapon-smuggling through the Gaza tunnels until now.

Like so much of Mideast politics, future events will determine whether actions taken now were indeed wise and helpful. Considering that Israel helped create Hamas and Hezbollah as alternatives to Yasir Arafat and the PLO - the same PLO that now sides with Israel in regards to Hamas - it’s not at all certain that the law of unintended consequences has been suspended.

Anatomy Of A Rally

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

One of the fascinating and never-resolved issues in our community is when and how to hold a pro-Israel rally, and this week’s debate among leaders in New York was a case in point.

With pro-Palestinian holding large demonstrations here and in other parts of the country over the last week, pressure built on Jewish groups to respond in kind. Some leaders urged a mass rally to show support for Israel in its fight with Hamas, while others worried that a small turnout on a winter’s day might signal lack of concern on the part of American Jewry. Still others noted that with Congress and other public officials squarely on Israel’s side, rallies might not be the best use of time or resources.

While the discussion went on in some circles, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who among other roles is head of AMCHA (Coalition for Jewish Concerns), called from Israel last Saturday night to urge Hillary Markowitz, a veteran activist here, to organize a rally for the next day.

She said that was impossible, but managed to plan one for Tuesday afternoon in midtown Manhattan, across the street from the Israeli Consulate.

Markowitz, a nurse, enlisted Meredith Weiss, also a volunteer, and other pro-Israel activists, with “zero budget,” according to Glenn Richter, who has been organizing such rallies since the 1960s campaign to free Soviet Jewry.

On Tuesday afternoon, an impressive crowd of several thousand people turned out on little notice for a the rally, sponsored by AMCHA, Fuel For Truth, the National Council of Young Israel and about 20 other organizations.

Despite the cold temperatures, the spirited crowd responded warmly to a number of speakers who stressed that their presence was as Americans opposed to terror as well as Zionists supporting Israel’s right to defend itself.

Several young people who were themselves wounded in Hamas terror attacks or lost friends or relatives in attacks addressed the rally, as did Fuel For Truth executive director Joe Richards, who asserted: “Free Palestine…from terror, and from Hamas.”

National and local media were on the scene, and the event was featured on radio and television news broadcasts that day and evening.

“This is the way it should be done,” an Israeli official told me during the event. “There’s something to be said for spontaneity, for responding” while others are deliberating as to whether, when and where to speak out. If nothing else, he said, it allows activists to give vent to their emotions in a positive way.

Later, Markowitz expressed deep gratitude for those who attended, including busloads of students from schools in Philadelphia and New Jersey. But she was upset that establishment Jewish groups declined to participate, charging that they refused to send out e-mails to constituents and even encouraged people not to attend, instead urging them to wait for the community-wide rally, planned for Sunday morning, Jan. 11, outside the Consulate.

“I can understand that they didn’t want to co-sponsor, even though we were paying for it,” Markowitz said, “but don’t undermine our rally. It’s very upsetting to me that we are not unified.”

Markowitz said she spoke with Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, and that he wished her well but said his group plans and coordinates rallies, rather than joins one organized by others.

Miller confirmed that remark, but strongly denied that JCRC would tell people not to attend the rally. He explained that his group is “supportive of every rally for Israel,” but “generally speaking,” does not circulate information for other groups. “In essence we would be endorsing an event over which he have no control,” he said.

In the past, speakers from marginal pro-Israel groups have addressed community-wide rallies and made statements that have caused discomfort and embarrassment to politicians and Jewish leaders, one source noted.

In the meantime, the Conference of Presidents, UJA-Federation of New York and the JCRC are gearing up for a large-scale rally on Sunday. And one can be sure that many of the folks who braved the cold on Tuesday will be there again, caring less about who the sponsors are than the cause itself: showing support for Israel in a time of crisis.

Signs Of The ‘Times’

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

How the mighty have fallen. The New York Times is the latest major daily newspaper to lower its traditional editorial standards, now accepting display advertising on its front page.

An article in its Business section today noted that “in its latest concession to the worst revenue slide since the Depression,” The Times ran a two and a half inch high ad for CBS in color across the bottom of page one of Monday’s edition.

The Washington Post is one of the last holdouts among major dailies now, with the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times having also succumbed to the increasingly desperate need for advertising.

As if to underscore the crisis for print publications, The Times also reported on Monday that more Americans now get most of their news from the Internet rather than newspapers. Forty percent cite the Internet as their primary source for news while 35 percent said newspapers, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. The study noted that the percentage of people who rely on newspapers actually increased one percentage point last year, but the number of Internet readers almost doubled, from 24 percent a year ago.

And another article in The Times on Monday described how monthly magazines have seen their ad pages dwindle for January, a traditionally slow month, with Conde Nast publications taking some of the biggest hits. Wired was down 47 percent in ad pages from a year ago, Architectural Digest 46 percent, and Vogue 44 percent.

There’s little gloating among competitors in the industry, though, as everyone tries to find a way to make money on the Internet. How do you give your product a way for free - in this case, original news reporting - and attract enough advertising to stay afloat?

A few publications, most notably The Wall Street Journal, charge for their product. But the Journal is not only a niche publication with a special appeal to high-income readers, it may well be that a high percentage of those readers charge their subscription to their companies as a business expense.

In the meantime, the rest of us are doing our best to provide quality journalism under increasingly difficult conditions.

So while I appreciate your reading this Blog, I hope you’re also reading, and subscribing to, our weekly print edition. If not, see me after class…

The Widening Israel-Diaspora Gap

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher

(Return to Jewish Week Homepage)

Few can watch the footage of Palestinian suffering in Gaza these days without feeling great sadness and empathy. But while some of us blame the cynicism and brutality of Hamas for purposely putting civilians in harm’s way as part of its strategy, appealing to the world to stop Israel in its tracks, others blame Israel without considering the context – or worse yet, are convinced that Israel is the aggressor here, not an independent state fighting terrorist thugs whose sole purpose is to destroy it, and Jews everywhere.

I am well aware and proud of so many friends and neighbors who not only follow the news from Israel closely now, during this time of crisis, but as a regular part of their day, every day of every year. These are the people who participate in grassroots efforts on behalf of the IDF soldiers now (from taking part in special prayer sessions at synagogues to sending them pizza). They are the folks who visit Israel regularly, give generously to charities in and on behalf of the Jewish State, and are the backbone of rallies on behalf of kidnapped soldiers or military campaigns.

On the other extreme are a vocal but relatively small portion of the community who oppose Israel’s campaign in Gaza, more concerned about unintended casualties among the Palestinian population than security for the citizens of Israel’s south who have been have been the target of thousands of rockets from Gaza over the last few years.

(And note to journalists and editors in the general press who often use the gentle word “lobbed” to describe those rockets coming out of Gaza: a “lobbed” rocket kills, just as ones that are “fired.”)

I suspect that the majority of American Jews are somewhere in the middle, supportive of Israel’s effort to protect its citizens, but uncomfortable with the IDF campaign, and the painful images they see of the results of the bombings. “Can’t you find another way?” they might be asking of Israel, as if the government and people had not endured years of attacks and provocation before striking back?

“We’d love to, but this is the Mideast, not the Midwest,” would come the reply.

The reality, of course, is that those of us who have been to Israel, seen its borders, met its people, and understood its challenges, are the most compassionate in times like this. My worry is that with an ongoing economic contraction at home, and fewer projects and programs to bring Israeli and American Jews closer together, the gap between us will only widen, and that level of compassion will decline.

I hope I’m wrong.