CRC’s 5th annual Israel Today series ends with insight into mainstream media

by | Jun 10, 2016 | Other News

Moderator Kim Simon Fink and Matti Friedman offer a lively discussion on mainstream media malfunction in the international press.

Moderator Kim Simon Fink and Matti Friedman offer a lively discussion on mainstream media malfunction in the international press.

It was a standing-room only crowd as the Community Relations Council of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and its community partners presented the final event in their 5th Annual Israel Today series on May 10. Matti Friedman, former Jerusalem Bureau reporter and editor for the Associated Press and author of two books, Aleppo Codex and Pumpkinflowers, captured the crowd’s attention with his engaging style and fascinating stories about mainstream media malfunction in the international press.

After a brief moment of silence to mark Yom Hazikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, the evening’s “main event” began when moderator Kim Simon Fink took the stage with Friedman. The lively discussion centered on several questions submitted by audience members.

Friedman addressed what he called the “need for simple stories,” and how Israel, and its context in the Middle East, defies that description. He explained how attempts to simplify events, to write 600-word articles or fill 90-second soundbites, as is often required by print and television media, ends up framing the story in a certain way—a way that inevitably paints Israel as the aggressor, or “bad guy.” Friedman likened Israel to a “blank screen” upon which the negative characteristics of the age are seen through the lens of perceived Jewish moral failings.

Friedman spoke about the challenges reporters face, to churn out news-worthy stories daily, as well as the challenges readers face when confronted with vast amounts of information in what has become a 24-hour news cycle. While he remains a believer in mainstream media, Friedman cautioned that the responsibility rests with consumers to educate themselves on the broader history and context of what they may read or hear on any given day. The journalist-turned-author encouraged reading books for a fuller, more accurate perspective on Israel, suggesting Like Dreamers by Yossi Klein Halevi and My Promised Land by Ari Shavit.

Friedman also spoke about his own two books, including the recently released Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story, which he describes as his attempt to put Israel’s story in the context of the modern Middle East and explain why events in this country over the past 20 years are deeply connected to what has happened in the Middle East—not just the breakdown of the Middle East over the past five years—but also the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan and the experiences of American soldiers in those wars. “[In it] I’m trying to put the story in context and suggest links between my experiences, and between Israel’s experiences, and the experiences of people from other countries.” Friedman signed copies of the book at the conclusion of the event.

Reflecting on the evening, Jay Klebanoff, president of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater says, “Matti Friedman provided great insight into the facts on the ground in Israel’s defense efforts to secure her populace, including his findings as an AP reporter as to why most international reporting on Israel follows a pro-Palestinian story-line. Matti is highly intelligent, charming and entertainingly funny, yet has gritty credibility as a former IDF soldier and AP Middle East correspondent.

“The Israel Today series brings smart, informative and compelling speakers to our community. Each was impressive and proved well worth the time. There are wonderful people out there doing incredible things on Israel’s behalf. Hearing from them is inspiring,” says Klebanoff.

The free community event, which took place at the Reba and Sam Sandler family campus, began with an introduction by Joel Nied, incoming chair of the Community Relations Council, of Delegates Joseph Lindsey, Jason Miyares, Glenn Davis, Steve Heretick, and Scott Taylor. The evening’s agenda also included the announcement of the 2016 Israel Poster Contest winner, Brian Cohn. A sixth grader at Ohef Sholom Temple’s Religious School, Brian highlighted the fact that “Israel’s Etenergy can get 40% more power from the sun with lightweight solar energy trackers, based on the principles of kite surfing.” Brian received a warm welcome to the stage as audience members got their first look at the winning entry. Elizabeth Hughes, winner of the first annual contest, was also in attendance and was recognized.

by Nicole Farrar