Sorry Naf­tali, we’re not your foot­sol­diers in the me­dia war

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY JENNI FRAZER

IT WAS not, per­haps, quite what the For­eign Min­istry had bar­gained for when, af­ter a decade­long gap, the idea of re­viv­ing a Jewish jour­nal­ists’ con­fer­ence in Jerusalem was mooted.

Un­like pre­vi­ous events, this one was run by the For­eign Min­istry in con­junc­tion with the Govern­ment Press Of­fice and — for the first time — the newly des­ig­nated Min­istry of Di­as­pora Af­fairs.

Given that the lat­ter’s min­is­ter is the con­tro­ver­sial Jewish Home Party leader Naf­tali Ben­nett, it is un­sur­pris­ing that the en­tire pro­ceed­ings had a dis­tinct slant.

From a break­fast meet­ing with Knes­set mem­bers who rep­re­sented only right-wing par­ties (“Where are the Labour MKs?” asked the jour­nal­ists — “They didn’t want to come” was the re­sponse), to the some­what wor­ry­ing sug­ges­tion by speaker af­ter speaker that Jewish jour­nal­ists were front-line troops in Is­rael’s pro­pa­ganda war, the con­fer­ence as­sumed a bias which was, re­fresh­ingly, re­jected by many of the 140 par­tic­i­pants from 27 coun­tries.

Nev­er­the­less, there were some high points, not least the gala open­ing ses­sion with out­go­ing Pres­i­dent Shi­mon Peres and a timed-for-the-8pm-tele­vi­sion-news ad­dress by Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. There was also a later ap­pear­ance by Is­rael’s pres­i­den­t­elect Reu­ven Rivlin and — nat­u­rally — Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett.

For­mer Pris­on­ers of Zion Yuli Edelstein, now Speaker of the Knes­set, and Natan Sha­ran­sky, to­day the chair­man of the Jewish Agency, pro­vided an un­ex­pect­edly hi­lar­i­ous More­cambe and Wise-style dou­ble act, trad­ing jokes about who had been bet­ter off while in Soviet jails (Mr Sha­ran­sky: “you were in jail with crim­i­nals. I had a pri­vate suite”).

Through­out the con­fer­ence, of course, the burn­ing news story of the week was the fate of the three kid­napped teenagers, and face-to-face with some of the main play­ers in the tragic drama, the jour­nal­ists took ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to work out what was hap­pen­ing. On the sec­ond day, the re­porters split into four sep­a­rate tracks — Gaza, high-tech, Jewish re­newal and the West Bank.

Those on the West Bank sec­tion piled into a shabby ar­moured bus with an armed guard and were taken to the dis­tress­ingly or­di­nary bus-stop in the Gush Etzion bloc from which the teenagers had been picked up.

The bus stop, now cov­ered with sad mes­sages, was the back­drop for an ag­gres­sive ad­dress by Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin. As Mr Elkin thun­dered neo-bi­b­li­cal vengeance on the per­pe­tra­tors of the kid­nap­ping from the safety of the bus shel­ter, West Bank Jews con­tin­ued to flag down pass­ing ve­hi­cles on the road. Per­haps hitch­hik­ing should be banned for teenagers, an Aus­tralian re­porter told Mr Elkin. His re­sponse? “It’s more dan­ger­ous to hitch­hike in Tel Aviv than here in Judea and Sa­maria.” Else­where, de­spite end­less at­tempts to por­tray life in the West Bank as one of gen­teel in­te­gra­tion be­tween Jews and their Arab neigh­bours, a sharp re­minder of the re­al­i­ties forced the way through.

David Perl, the mayor of Gush Etzion, stated: “I’m not happy for my kids to play with Arab kids. They are cul­tur­ally and so­cially dif­fer­ent. We don’t need it and we don’t want it.” Re­ject­ing the idea of a two-state so­lu­tion, Mr Perl com­plained: “Do Jews in France ask for a sep­a­rate state? No.” The dif­fer­ence, of course, is that French Jews have full civil rights, some­thing that can­not be said of the Pales­tini­ans.

The mis­take, per­haps, was to treat a group of jour­nal­ists — even one whose opin­ions were as di­verse as pos­si­ble — as though it were a UJA mis­sion, with classes in ba­sic Zion­ism.

Fiercely pas­sion­ate about their work, Greek, Dutch, Amer­i­can, French, Span­ish and Bri­tish jour­nal­ists told the For­eign Min­istry and Mr Ben­nett’s min­istry that they could not have it both ways — if they wanted Jewish jour­nal­ists to de­fend Is­rael, then they had to treat Jewish jour­nal­ists in the same way, giv­ing them the same ac­cess as the so-called “big play­ers” of CNN or the Guardian. It is to be hoped that the mes­sage will have pen­e­trated by the time of the next Jewish me­dia sum­mit — if there is

one.

To­gether with 12 other pho­tog­ra­phers, French­man Fred­eric Bren­ner toured Is­rael and the West Bank in an ef­fort to doc­u­ment the com­plex­i­ties of life for those who live there. The re­sult­ing trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tion is next on show at DOX, Prague’s Cen­tre for Con­tem­po­rary Art, from Oc­to­ber 24 to March 2, 2015

FRED­ERIC BREN­NER

PHOTO: FLASH 90

Ben­nett: led the Jewish me­dia sum­mit

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