In his charge to the 50 Jewish journalists from around the world attending the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem last week, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin noted that “this is not an easy time for the Jewish people or for the media — and especially for the Jewish media.” He called on the journalists to be “the voice, and the eyes and ears of the community,” and to speak out on behalf of “those who are working for a better future.”
The summit, sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Government Press Office, featured panels on subjects ranging from the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the impact of the U.S. elections. (See Editor’s column, page 1.) They were informative, as were interviews with a range of government leaders, including Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu. A key ingredient was the opportunity for the journalists themselves to meet and hear about the issues — communal and professional — their colleagues deal with in other communities, in distant countries. One powerful reminder for American participants was that while the spike here in anti-Semitic incidents and comments on social media in recent months is deeply concerning, Jewish journalists in Europe have been dealing with various forms of anti-Semitism for years.
It was sobering to hear a colleague from Istanbul say that “we suffer when Israel is at war in Gaza,” or to learn from the French, Greek and Austrian correspondents of their communities’ fears over far-right parties gaining political strength. Some public schools in France can no longer teach about the Holocaust, we learned, and commemorations of the Shoah come under ridicule, with Jews accused of monopolizing victimhood. A Dutch editor said she moved her office to an anonymous location for security reasons. The Jewish community of Belgium must deal with proposed bans on shechitah of animals for kosher slaughtering. Denmark and Sweden have legislative efforts that would ban ritual circumcision. In a number of countries it appears the alt-right is meeting up with the radical left in a shared bigotry toward Jews.
For all of the differences among the conference participants, there was the common bond of Jewish identity and commitment, support for the State of Israel and a shared interest in staying in touch and reporting more deeply on the accomplishments and challenges of Jewish communities around the world.
As President Rivlin and others noted, the responsibility for journalists to do their work with integrity has never been greater than today, in a post-fact, “fake news” age that threatens to undermine the profession’s mandate to search for truth. Hopefully, at a time when media outlets are struggling financially, the Jewish community will continue to appreciate and support this vital enterprise.