Jerusalem Post

Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

Beat the journalism clock: Track rising anti-Semitism via Jewish and Israeli news media

This past Saturday, the Jewish sabbath — just two weeks removed from the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and 80 years to the day following Kristallnacht -- the Israeli news site Times of Israel ran the following stories on its home page. Each was about anti-Semitism; either a hateful display of it (including one new one in the United States) or warnings about its steady rise in Europe.

Because it would take too much space to explain them all, I’ll just supply the links and note the nation of origin. Please read at least a few of them to gain a sense of the level of concern.

(1) The Netherlands.

(2) The United Kingdom.

(3) Poland.

(4) Germany.

(5) Austria.

(6) United States.

A quick web search that same day uncovered a host of other stories documenting recent anti-Semitic actions, many cloaked in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist rhetoric, including this one from The Jewish Chronicle, the venerable, London-based, Anglo-Jewish publication.

A local Labour party [meaning a regional branch of Britain’s national opposition political party] confirmed it amended a motion about the Pittsburgh synagogue attack to remove a call for all forms of antisemitism to be eradicated and for Labour to “lead the way in opposing" Jew-hate.

The story, of course, included the usual explanations meant to excuse actions of this sort. And, for the record, while I do not consider all criticism of Israeli government actions to be anti-Semitic, I do believe that the line between legitimate political criticism of Israel and hatred of Israel because its a Jewish nation is frequently blurred.

I listed all the above stories to make some journalistic points. The first of them is to point out journalism’s unique internal clock.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Some empathy, please, as New York Times Jerusalem chief bids adieu

Some empathy, please, as New York Times Jerusalem chief bids adieu

About a month ago I wrote a post on the buzz developing around the changing of the guard at the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times. I noted then that Times coverage of the seemingly intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about as closely watched -- and unsparingly critiqued -- as is any  produced by American journalism.

For the bureau chief, the job is a near guaranteed ulcer-producer. Still, the position is coveted by the Times' most ambitious, most skilled and toughest reporters. In the context of that super-competitive newsroom, that's saying something.

My early December post was pegged to the departure of Jodi Rudoren, who is leaving Jerusalem after four years. No replacement has been officially named as of this writing, but check out my earlier post if you're interest in the scuttlebutt about who that may be.

My return to the subject is prompted by a exit interview Rudoren gave to The Jerusalem Post, Israel's leading right-of-center and oldest English-language newspaper. Click here to read the entire exit interview published in the newspaper's weekend magazine.

It's well-worth your time as a primer on what it takes to cover a highly complex, super-important international conflict while under a microscope.

How does one prepares for such an assignment? How do you deal, just about daily, with angry, highly partisan readers who feel their side has been wronged? How do time and space constraints work against properly contextualizing daily events when one has decades of bloody conflict from which to draw?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

Coverage of the religion angle to Supreme Court decision: Fairly predictable

OK, so you're a religion reporter, and it's Friday morning the 26th, and you're glued to your desk awaiting the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage. 

Word starts to seep out at 11 a.m. Eastern. 

Since many of the justices took special care to mention the concerns of religious groups, it's your job to do the sidebar. What do you write? 

As I scanned various papers large and small, ranging from the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger to Utah's Deseret News, it seemed that most punted by simply getting reacts from local religious and political leaders. Or they took the compendium from Religion News Service. I've had to write zillions of similar react pieces and it's harder than it looks, so I'm not knocking these folks. 

But I am going to credit the outlets that went the extra mile.

The Wall Street Journal didn't just react to the ruling but looked ahead to coming battles on religious freedom. It had some of the best quotes I saw all day, including one from Richard Land, the former culture wars czar for the Southern Baptists who's been a bit of a pariah in recent years after he was edged out of his position in 2012. However, the Journal remembered Land and gave him a call:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Reuters does sweeping report on Jerusalem tensions, yet misses some things

Reuters does sweeping report on Jerusalem tensions, yet misses some things

Politics, gay marriage, entertainment news, separation of church and state -- sure, these things get our attention. But the continual clash of faiths in Jerusalem --  a conflict that may yet overwhelm us all -- gets comparatively little coverage.

Except for a searching, savvy story by Reuters on who gets to pray on the Temple Mount -- and what happens if they can't have it for themselves.

What happens, as Reuters reports, is a series of tense incidents as religious Jews climb the stairs to the mountain -- called the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims -- and attempt to pray. Worst cases have included the five-year riot known as the Second Intifada, which sent 4,000 people to their deaths.

Even between riots, a Jewish terrorist group some years back tried to blow up the Dome of the Rock. And last October, Reuters says, a spokesman for Temple Mount groups was shot four times and spent 10 days in a coma.

Although this story is in labeled as a blog item, it's written as a sophisticated newsfeature, with a clear attempt at balance. But even in 2,300 words, it misses or discolors a few points. We'll get to that in a few.

"There are few patches of land more contested than this 35 acres," Reuters says, and truer words were never written. The article paints a vivid picture of being there on a near-confrontation: a visit of "religious-nationalist Jews" to the mountain, shadowed closely by Israeli police and guards of the Waqf, the Islamic trust that runs the area:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Yes, it's often dangerous for reporters to dance with polls

Yes, it's often dangerous for reporters to dance with polls

Be wary. Be very wary when reporting survey results, those microwave-ready story hooks -- perfect for slow news days -- that purport to provide objective data revealing, well, sometimes nothing. That goes double for polls that claim to measure religious beliefs and practices.

That's because all but the very best crafted ones fail to get anywhere close to the subtleties that turn generalized numbers into accurate snapshots of how beliefs and practices truly play out in individual lives.

Case in point: A recent WIN/Gallup International survey claiming to measure religious belief around the world. One of the nations surveyed was Israel, where religion is as politicized as it is anywhere, making it particularly difficult to label individual religious choices.

Take, for example, my Israeli-born wife's cousin, Ayala. She's a leader in her Jerusalem synagogue but would probably physically recoil if you called her religious because of the divisive social and political connotations the term carries in Israel.

Ayala speaks contemptuously of those theologically ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews who consider themselves the only true practitioners of Judaism in Israel. Nor does she speak well of the politically right wing Orthodox Zionist hardliners who are the backbone of the West Bank settler movement.

Want to get into a sure fire argument in Israel?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Yes, Bess Myerson was Jewish -- but don’t ask mainstream media how

Yes, Bess Myerson was Jewish -- but don’t ask mainstream media how

I don't know if time heals all wounds, but it often smooths edges. When Bess Myerson was chosen Miss America in 1945, she reportedly still found hotels and other sites still closed to her as a Jew. But to me as a boy, she was just that pretty brunette panelist on the TV game show I've Got a Secret.

If anything, attitudes changed toward American Jews have changed even more thoroughly. Or maybe, mainstream just don't like to mention religion at all. So many media obits of Myerson, who died Dec. 14, play down her faith and heritage beyond the phrase "the first (and, to this day, only) Jewish Miss America."

CNN does one of the better jobs with Myerson's Jewish connections. It says many American Jews looked up to her as a role model, as they admired Jewish ballplayers Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax.

One of CNN's best remarks, though, is borrowed:

"Her victory was seen by many as a symbolic statement of America's post-war rejection of the crimes and prejudices that ravaged Europe as well as a representation of the vitality of the American Jewish community," noted a biography on the Jewish Women's Archive site.

Most of the report is the "classic rags-to-riches" story -- yes, CNN actually uses that phrase -- of a Bronx girl who became a media figure, then entered public service in New York and took a fling at the U.S. Senate. It also briefly reviews, as do other media, the "Bess Mess," a "mid-'80s scandal involving a romantic affair with a married contractor and an alleged quid pro quo with the judge in his divorce trial."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Hezbollah, Israel, media silence and the PCUSA

Hezbollah, Israel, media silence and the PCUSA

Nowhere has it surfaced in mainstream American press that an Israeli civil rights organization filed a whistleblower complaint with the IRS, accusing the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) of violating its tax-exempt status through overt political lobbying, and by violating US anti-terror laws through links with Hezbollah.

Reports have been printed in the religious press (Jewish and Christian), but save for English-language stories in Israeli press, Arutz Sheva 7 and the Jerusalem Post, this story has not captured the interests of editors. 

Perhaps the extensive coverage of the Catholic Church and conservative Protestant lobbying against the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or the Houston sermon scandal has satiated the editors' appetites for First Amendment church/state stories. But it remains odd nonetheless that no one else is discussing a politics-and-religion story that has arisen this time from the “left."

What has been written is pretty good, however. The Jerusalem Post story is a well-crafted piece that shows how one writes a story when one side will not play ball, the reporter has limited information, and is working within space and deadline constraints.

(As an aside, I wrote for the Jerusalem Post for a number of years as one of their London correspondents, but am not now affiliated with the newspaper and do not know the author of the article in question.)

The kernel of the various stories comes from the same, not very well written, press release

Where the Jerusalem Post stands out is in the value it added to the press release. It begins its story in a matter-of-fact tone.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

Some might argue that the war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge ( צוּק אֵיתָן), was the major news story out of Israel this summer.  The seven week military operation launched by the IDF against Hamas certainly was the focus of the majority of news stories. The quantity of stories on a topic, however, is not a reliable gauge as to the importance of an issue. 

In 2008 I was part of the Jerusalem Post’s team covering the Second Lebanon War (albeit in my case as their London correspondent reporting on the European and British responses). That war between Israel and Hezbollah generated a great deal of ink, but that conflict has quickly disappeared from current memories. It was another in an unending series of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and their surrogates. The sharp rise in public displays of anti-Semitism in Europe in the wake of Operation Protective Edge may give this latest war “legs”, but the issues, actors and outcomes have not changed all that much.
 
Were I to add, only partially tongue in cheek, another candidate for the “big” story out of Israel this summer, I would nominate this item in Newsweek

Please respect our Commenting Policy

As usual, good Francis and bad Benedict at the BBC

The honeymoon continues for Pope Francis and the press.

Coverage of the pope’s trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories was rather good. Save for a brief flutter over what language Jesus spoke, the press coverage was sympathetic, balanced and thoughtful, and in marked contrast to the treatment afforded Benedict when he traveled to Germany or England or Mexico.

Yet the visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories also highlighted the shortcomings of the craft of journalism — shortcomings not in the form of errors or omissions, but unexamined assumptions. When should a reporter stop and ask himself if he is repeating the conventional wisdom — taking on trust that something is a fact, when it is an opinion?

A BBC story on Francis and the Middle East entitled ”Pope Francis cements reputation for deft diplomacy” repeats the now rather tired conventional wisdom of the good Francis / bad Benedict. While the two popes have very different styles, I do not believe there are facts that would substantiate the good/bad claims.

Please respect our Commenting Policy