Q: does Israel prefer the JC or the Guardian?
Israel needs to bombard its enemies with facts — and not take its friends for granted
Here’s your starter for ten: name the British newspaper the Israeli government feels most antagonistic towards. The Guardian? Only last week, we reported that the paper which regularly gives a platform to anti-Israel propagandists refused to publish a letter from the Israeli Embassy’s press secretary pointing out that one of its guest columnists was Hamas’s London representative.
Well, no. It’s not the Guardian.
There is a paper that the Israeli government feels is so beyond the pale, so utterly outside of the rules of civilised discourse, that it barred any representative from that paper from attending press briefings during Prime Minister Olmert’s visit to London.
Still can’t guess?
It’s the paper you’re reading now.
Mr Olmert has his fingers on Israel’s nuclear button. He has any number of major problems to deal with, from the immediacy of the threats posed by Hamas and Hizbollah and the chaos in Gaza to the more long term existential threat posed by Iran. He has an economy which is about to be hit by the global economic crisis. He has his own future — which might include prison — to worry about.
But what did he make sure he found time to do on his visit to London? To issue an order to the Israeli Embassy to exclude all JC journalists from his press briefings, because last week we had the temerity to point out on our front page that Mr Olmert’s trip to London was seen by many of the most critical diplomatic figures in Israel and the UK as being entirely pointless.
As it happens, the day after we went to press a senior British official told me that our story had, if anything, underplayed their puzzlement at the purpose of Mr Olmert’s visit, which was, he said, “a complete waste of everyone’s time”. That was indeed the case. On Tuesday night, Mr Olmert attended a hastily arranged meeting for communal figures. I was at another, clashing, event and many of the people there told me they had been invited to the Olmert meeting but couldn’t see the point of paying hommage to a disgraced Prime Minister on a visit without a purpose.
I relate this not because of any affront to the JC’s amour propre — the JC will always publish the news, rather than the sanitized version politicians and other interest groups would prefer — but because it illustrates a wider problem with the Israeli attitude to the media and the presentation of its case. That problem long predates Mr Olmert and will, I’m sure, continue long after his departure.
Put simply, Israel too often takes its friends for granted and behaves as if it doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
The JC is proud to be a voice of support for Israel in a media environment which is overwhelmingly hostile. The BBC adopts the default position that Israel is an oppressor; other newspapers rarely give context to Israel’s actions in defence of its citizens. (One exception is Sky News, whose outstanding foreign editor, Tim Marshall, will be writing in this slot from next month.)
But it is no good simply writing off media organisations which have a knee-jerk hostility to Israel. They have readers and viewers whose ideas will be framed by what they see and read. When Israel ignores them, it gravely damages its prospects.
If there is one thing I have learned from speaking at shuls and meetings over the years, it is that people are desperate to see Israeli leaders — and, to be blunt, our own community leaders — take a far more trenchant attitude to putting forward Israel’s case.
It’s long been time to engage in full-on argument with organisations such as the Guardian and the BBC: to bombard them with facts and logic and to take on the automatic hostility which underpins their coverage.
And also, perhaps, not to treat the friends Israel does have with contempt.