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An Is­raeli press tour sub­jected our re­porter to an er­ratic itin­er­ary, bizarre ques­tions and even a sing-a-long

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY JENNI FRAZER

PRIME MIN­IS­TER Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu must have thought it was his lucky day.

Fresh from yet an­other dif­fi­cult en­counter with Is­raeli po­lice, and jug­gling a rocky coali­tion with sev­eral min­is­te­rial port­fo­lios, the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter was en­ti­tled to be on his guard as he faced us, a group of jour­nal­ists from the Jewish di­as­pora.

But “Bounce­back Bibi” was in scin­til­lat­ing form. In an ap­pear­ance which a col­league likened to a game of soft­ball, the Prime Min­is­ter bat­ted away such “tough” ques­tions as “should Is­rael keep the Golan?” with an eye-roll that could have been seen sev­eral con­ti­nents away.

An­other ques­tioner ur­gently wanted to know whether Mr Ne­tanyahu had con­sid­ered play­ing a role in a Rus­sian or Ukrainian-lan­guage film (he had not).

Only time — and per­haps luck — in­ter­vened to pre­vent a man wear­ing a jacket cov­ered with hun­dreds of stars of David ask­ing a ques­tion about food.

To say this was a de­press­ing sce­nario is an un­der­state­ment. And yet, the Ne­tanyahu en­counter was said by many to be the high point, to­gether with an ear­lier au­di­ence with Pres­i­dent Rivlin, of an in­tense four-day Jewish me­dia sum­mit, which at­tracted 160 par­tic­i­pants from 30 coun­tries.

What was ev­i­dent from my time at this, the third such sum­mit or­gan­ised by Is­rael’s Govern­ment Press Of­fice (GPO) un­der the cur­rent coali­tion, is that it is not clear what the con­fer­ence was ac­tu­ally for. The over­all theme was: “Is­rael and the Di­as­pora: It’s Com­pli­cated” — which it is.

But it is hard to ex­pect di­as­pora Jewish jour­nal­ists to take Is­rael se­ri­ously, and vice-versa, if it in­sists on treat­ing them as an ex­ten­sion of its pub­lic re­la­tions arm, a prac­tice long de­rided by com­mu­ni­ties around the world.

The ar­cane process by which peo­ple were ap­proved to take part in this event meant that there were a solid num­ber of blog­gers and so­cial me­dia rep­re­sen­ta­tives — who had not the faintest idea what we older hands were com­plain­ing about.

Parts of the pro­gramme seemed to take no ac­count of the fact that most, though not all, of the par­tic­i­pants were work­ing jour­nal­ists. These were peo­ple fa­mil­iar with Is­rael, its to­pog­ra­phy and its po­lit­i­cal shenani­gans.

For them, some events were deeply frus­trat­ing be­cause there was barely any op­por­tu­nity to pose chal­leng­ing ques­tions.

GPO di­rec­tor Nitzan Chen seemed to be­lieve that we, the del­e­gates, were the front­line troops in Is­rael’s on­go­ing war against in­ter­na­tional opin­ion.

After lead­ing the group in an ex­cru­ci­at­ing pre-Chanukah ren­di­tion of Ma’oz Tzur at Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin’s res­i­dence, for ex­am­ple, Mr Chen told the Pres­i­dent with some pride that, “we have cre­ated a corps of peo­ple who can go out into the world and ad­vo­cate for us”.

The sum­mit was a great op­por­tu­nity for Jewish jour­nal­ists to meet and net­work — and to gain ac­cess to pow­er­ful politi­cians.

But it is hard to see the point in bring­ing in, say, Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Michael Oren to talk about the pos­si­bil­ity of Is­raeli recog­ni­tion of Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive Jews — and then not al­low the deeply wellinformed Amer­i­can Jewish jour­nal­ists present to ask any ques­tions.

One good idea in the wake of Pitts­burgh and the wave of global an­ti­semitic at­tacks, both ver­bal and phys­i­cal, was the de­ci­sion to de­vote ses­sions to un­pack­ing an­ti­semitism in dif­fer­ent world com­mu­ni­ties

But all such ex­am­i­na­tion was pre­sented from an Is­rael-cen­tric view­point, with no op­por­tu­nity given to the di­as­pora jour­nal­ists to tell each other what things are like where they live.

And yet there were Hun­gar­ian jour­nal­ists who could have talked about Vik­tor Or­ban, Brazil­ian jour­nal­ists who might have had the low­down on new far-right leader Jair Bol­sa­naro, Ukrainian and Rus­sians who would have given a flavour of the rapidly de­gen­er­at­ing sit­u­a­tion in their coun­tries — and even three from Bri­tain with knowl­edge of one Jeremy Cor­byn.

Well, there’s al­ways next time.

We were treated as part of ?ihW[bÊi FH cWY^_d[Ê

An Is­rael sup­porter by any chance? One par­tic­u­larly colou­ful par­tic­i­pant among 160 at­tend­ing the Jewish New Me­dia sum­mit

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