The American Jewish World is a media sponsor for this year’s Twin Cities 64th Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) Celebration. The organized Jewish communities on both sides of the Mississippi River have joined forces, along with a host of synagogues, Jewish agencies and groups, for events on Sunday, April 29, including a solidarity walk in St. Louis Park (4-13-12 AJW).
The AJW will have a table at the Sabes JCC amid the Moroccan-themed festivities taking place from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Of course, not everyone is celebrating the birth and development of the Jewish state. Over recent days we have seen some news that reveals the stresses in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, there was the viral video that captured Israeli Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner, a deputy brigade commander, using his rifle to club a pro-Palestinian protester from Denmark in the face. Eisner was dismissed from his command post — and his actions denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — following the confrontation between IDF soldiers and demonstrators on bikes, along Route 90 in the Jordan Valley. B’Tselem, the human rights monitoring group, recently released a video showing Eisner assaulting a total of five demonstrators, using the stock of his weapon as a club.
Although the video of Eisner assaulting the protesters (which I first saw on the Jerusalem Post’s Web site) is quite shocking in its brutality, there is an online petition effort to have him reinstated to his command role. The petition states, in part, that Eisner “should be commended for executing his difficult mission and should not have been dismissed.”
Apparently some Jews, in Israel and in the Diaspora, would like see a heavier boot come down on protesters, as if that will somehow ameliorate the underlying problem of an occupation that has gone on for 45 years.
Such sentiments do not play well in the United States; there was widespread condemnation, for example, when Lt. John Pike — the “pepper spray cop” — working for the University of California, Davis police force doused nonviolent protesting students with a chemical irritant. Locally, the Minneapolis Police Department began an investigation of one officer who is alleged to have assaulted a KSTP-TV photographer during an Occupy Minneapolis protest on the Nicollet Mall. Again, there was a strong negative public reaction to authorities — caught on video cameras — using excessive force against protesters.
In the Israeli context, there are real problems with the occupation of the Palestinian territories that cannot be resolved through the skillful application of public relations strategies. The recent 60 Minutes story, “Christians of the Holy Land,” provided a revealing glimpse into how Israel tried to suppress a tough story in the American news media — and came away with egg on its diplomatic face.
Reporter Bob Simon’s story about Christians in Jerusalem and Bethlehem painted a picture of a religious group that has become collateral damage in the ongoing war between Jews and Muslims. Apart from the difficulties faced by Christians — one family’s home and souvenir shop was shown hemmed in by the Israeli security wall on three sides — Simon revealed that Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., tried to kill the story before it even aired. The exchange between Simon and Oren provided a glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak, of international politics and the news media.
I think it is worth a minute or two of your time to read a portion of the verbatim transcript from the 60 Minutes report, the part about Oren’s efforts to squelch the story. The lead is a brief statement from political insider and columnist Ari Shavit, who told Simon: “Israel is not persecuting Christians as Christians. The Christians in the Holy Land suffer from Israeli policies that are a result of the overall tragic situation. And this, of course, has consequences for everybody.”
And the story continued:
For Israel, there could be serious economic consequences. According to Israeli government figures, tourism is a multi billion dollar business there. Most tourists are Christian. Many of them are American. That’s one reason why Israelis are very sensitive about their image in the United States. And that could be why Ambassador Oren phoned Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, while we were still reporting the story, long before tonight’s broadcast. He said he had information our story was, quote: “a hatchet job.”
Michael Oren: It seemed to me outrageous. Completely incomprehensible that at a time when these communities, Christian communities throughout the Middle East are being oppressed and massacred, when churches are being burnt, when one of the great stories in history is unfolding? I think it’s — I think it’s — I think you got me a little bit mystified.
Bob Simon: And it was a reason to call the president of– chairman of CBS News?
Michael Oren: Bob, I’m the ambassador of the State of Israel. I do that very, very infrequently as ambassador. It’s just– that’s an extraordinary move for me to complain about something. When I heard that you were going to do a story about Christians in the Holy Land and my assum — and — and had, I believe, information about the nature of it, and it’s been confirmed by this interview today.
Bob Simon: Nothing’s been confirmed by the interview, Mr. Ambassador, because you don’t know what’s going to be put on air.
Michael Oren: Okay. I don’t. True.
Bob Simon: Mr. Ambassador, I’ve been doing this a long time. And I’ve received lots of reactions from just about everyone I’ve done stories about. But I’ve never gotten a reaction before from a story that hasn’t been broadcast yet.
Michael Oren: Well, there’s a first time for everything, Bob.
As a longtime journalist, I can testify that when someone threatens to sue you or cause trouble before a story is even written, or broadcast, you are on to something. You have touched a nerve. Ambassador Oren comes off quite poorly in the previously cited exchange.
And there’s more. JTA reported this week that the Jewish Federations of North America — and Christians United For Israel — “asked their members to send messages to CBS executives to complain about the [60 Minutes] segment. JFNA’s action alert, sent before the segment aired, read: ‘We hope that CBS will be flooded with responses through their inboxes, Facebook, Twitter and mail after the program to express discontent if it is as biased as we anticipate.’”
The key detail here is JFNA’s action alert was “sent before the segment aired.” Again, perhaps we should take the time to consider a news story once it is published or broadcast, rather than jumping to a quarter-baked conclusion about something in the ether.
There certainly is room to contend with the arguments advanced in “Christians of the Holy Land.” However, it is best to know what you’re talking about before gainsaying the story.
I’ll look forward to seeing you at Yom Ha’atzmaut on Sunday.
— Mordecai Specktor / email@example.com
(American Jewish World, 4.27.12)
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