Gonzo Jewish journalism: The final chapter

To bring everyone up to speed from my previous posts (here and here) from the floor of the American Jewish Press Association’s conference in Atlanta last week…

Thursday proved to be a pretty productive day at what had, until that point, seemed like a somewhat uneventful couple of days.

The first session, called “The New Philanthropy,” was led by Mark Charendoff of the Jewish Funders Network. He basically explained what Jewish philanthropists are looking to fund these days — new ideas by new people. He said when funders call him in search of an organization to give money to, he always tells them to think outside the box. He also cautioned about people starting organizations that merely replicate what already-existing organizations do.

Lunch followed the session so I immediately weaseled my way into the seat right next to Charendoff so I could talk to him in a more one-on-one environment. Charendoff, a surprisingly soft-spoken man, had a lot to tell me. For starters, he said how much he and his staff enjoy Jewsweek and that he thinks it’s filling a necessary void in the community. When I asked him why there wasn’t a long line outside my office of Jewish fat cats waiting to write blank checks to Jewsweek, he said (a) not everyone has heard of you, (b) online ventures have an uphill battle trying to get money from old school philanthropists, and (c) unfortunately, these fat cats often want to satisfy their own ego before they want satisfy the needs of the group they are trying to help. And that often means giving money to higher profile, but less entrepreneurial, causes.

While all this was going on during lunch, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was making a really hokey Powerpoint presentation on how great they are. And, at the end, they announced that they would be increasing their rates to newspapers by 10% in October. There was an audible gasp in the room.

From what I gathered from the other editors there, they all seemed to be tired of JTA. While it offers them a Jewish wire service, it fails to come through on ease-of-use, pricing, and customer satisfaction. The editors told me they use it because they have to.

Well, that’s when I told them about a new venture we’ve been working on called JewishContent.com. It’s basically a content supermarket where writers who want to make money post articles they’ve written, slap a price on them, and the editors can come and purchase them — a la carte — in an automated online store. It’s an incredibly robust system (writers can set different prices for different publications, editors can request certain articles to be written, etc.) and they all seemed pretty excited to start using it when they got back to their offices. (By the way, if anyone reading this blog would like to make money writing, please click here for easy-to-understand details on how you can get started — and get some preferential treatment by joining the “Jewsweek Syndicate.”)

After everyone moved onto the next session – “Hot topics in the Middle East” — I stuck around to shmooze with an old friend, Yossi Abramowitz of JFL Media. He told me he’s working, as usual, on a bunch of initiatives but remained cagey when it came to details.

I couldn’t stick around for the next session — “Dissent in the Jewish community” led by Malcolm Hoenlein of the self-important Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations — but I did squeeze myself into a 30-second handshake with Hoenlein where he told me he’s an avid Jewsweek reader. Who knew?

That night was the annual Rockower Awards banquet where they hand out awards for excellence in Jewish journalism. You can see a complete list of the winners here. We didn’t win anything, but I did walk away with a small door prize.

So, that’s about it for the conference this year. Made a lot of connections, learned a little bit, and got to talk about The West Wing with somebody from the Israeli Prime Minister’s office.

4 thoughts on “Gonzo Jewish journalism: The final chapter

  1. Two important letters concerning Jeffrey Goldberg’s article:
    Among the Settlers in New Yorker Magazine
    The Editor
    The New Yorker
    Email: [email protected]
    Fax: 212-286-5047
    As a Public Relations professional involved both personally and
    professionally with the “Jewish settlement movement”, and one who agrees
    with the rights of Jews to live anywhere in the world they choose, including
    Judea and Samaria (The West Bank), I was pleased when Jeffrey Goldberg
    contacted me to help him arrange interviews amongst supporters of the
    tight-knit “settlement” community with the assurances that he would write a
    fair and balanced article. In my humble opinion, media coverage of the
    Arab-Israeli conflict is very skewed, and I am always hesitant to assist
    reporters seeking to write major feature stories.
    I informed Goldberg that I, as do many “right-wing” Jews view the media as a
    major danger for Israel, and Goldberg agreed with me and informed me as one
    who served in The Israeli Defense Forces, speaks a decent Hebrew and
    considers himself a Zionist that he would write a fair and balanced article.
    I arranged for him to meet Minister Benny Elon, one of the foremost
    “Pro-settler” politicians on three separate occasions, arranged for him to
    be hosted for dinner by Minister Effi Eitam, arranged for him to have an
    extensive sit-down interview with Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert…. He met
    with each of these individuals, and again assured a fair and balanced
    I introduced him to leaders of the Jewish communities of Hebron, Efrat and
    elsewhere. Suffice it to say, Goldberg deceived me and I view him as very
    unethical, dishonest and quite frankly, a liar.
    The article was the typical biased Anti-settlement coverage, which is
    regularly written. In fact, Jewish residents of these communities just want
    the right to live as Jews – To pray, live, work and enjoy life in the land
    of our forefathers. Why do residents of these communities carry arms? Could
    it be because every day Muslim terrorists who want to visit “Allah” try to
    kill them? Would it be because very regularly their discos, pizzerias, and
    schools are targeted by Islamic terrorists?
    These Jews live in these areas not to manipulate Arabs, but to live a Jewish
    life. To defend Jewish rights and be strong, proud Jews. Why not talk
    about the fact that Jewish settlers all have bulletproof cars to protect
    themselves? (BTW, the Arabs do not).
    The New Yorker must understand that the days of Jewish weakness are over –
    We were killed en masse in Auschwitz, but survived… and for that the world
    loved us. In 1967, we were attacked by a much larger Arab world, and we
    won… For that, the world condemns us. Better to be alive and hated in
    Hebron, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that dead and hated in Auschwitz, bus
    bombings and elsewhere. Perhaps Goldberg would feel better if the Jews of
    Judea, Samaria and Gaza moved to Warsaw, Kiev, and Paris – All cities where
    Jews have been killed en masse.
    Goldberg should be ashamed of himself for allowing his biases and
    pre-conceived notion to shape his story. The brave Jews of Judea, Samaria
    and Gaza allow Israel to continue to survive, as they are the front line
    against Arab terror. They just want the right to live in peace – no
    different than Jews anywhere else in the world.
    Having just returned from a week trip to Israel, which included a day visit
    to Hebron, I saw nothing but Jewish families, who are proud to be Jewish,
    want to play, work, pray and live. The “West Bank” settlers arent placing
    suicide bombs, endangering Western civilization or killing babies – They
    have the right to live anywhere they choose, and while Goldberg and the
    Western media may condemn them, I, for one will continue to stand by them,
    despite lying and unethical journalists and media with pre-conceived
    Ronn D. Torossian
    5W Public Relations
    The Goldberg Manipulations
    by Andrea Levin
    June 6, 2004
    The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg is not known for dishonesty; he’s
    recently won awards for daring stories on Hezbollah and Iraq. But a May
    31 piece entitled “Among the Settlers: Will They Destroy Israel?” is so
    distorted, included being sloppy with facts, as to raise questions about
    his other writing.
    The title signals the thrust of the piece and rightly indicates there
    will be little interest in balanced or thorough consideration of the
    genesis, purpose and legality of the settlement enterprise. Instead
    readers find a 24-page spread, rich in stereotypes and heavily devoted
    to lurid portraiture of Jewish residents of the West Bank and Gaza. A
    number appear emotionally unstable and many are physically repellent —
    one has “fingernails [that] were chewed and dirty,” others are “sallow”
    and “sour-faced.” The opening “Zealots” section has one after another
    spewing vile language and fierce anti-Arab sentiment.
    Moshe Levinger, with “bulbous eyes” and “outsized teeth,” is said to be
    the unfortunate “face” of the settler movement, a man who calls for
    expelling any Arab “who hurts Jews.” Yet Goldberg contradicts himself,
    writing, for example, that “three-quarters of the Jews in the West Bank
    and Gaza could be considered economic settlers” – that is, not motivated
    by religious fervor – and the remaining 25% of the “national religious
    camp can be divided into two main groups.” One part will “respect the
    authority of the elected government in Jerusalem” as compared to what he
    terms the “more unremitting settlers” of Hebron. So, then, Levinger the
    Hebron firebrand is a fraction of a small minority.
    Another indicator of his tangential role can be seen in a Nexis search
    of major world publications for the last three years. Goldberg’s “face”
    of the settler movement was mentioned in fewer than a score of media
    stories and these mainly in passing references to his activity in the
    late sixties in Hebron. In contrast, Ron Nachman, mayor of Ariel, turns
    up in four times as many news citations. But perhaps the writer
    preferred readers not to see this “face” or to know that in Ariel at the
    College of Judea and Samaria hundreds of Arab men and women earn degrees
    along with Jews.
    Goldberg sticks to his dominant message that religious fanatics
    disconnected from Israel’s daunting, real-life political challenges
    embody and define the entire settlement question.
    Thus too he skates over or ignores completely essential information
    about the history of settlements. In the entire piece, there is not a
    mention of the Labor party’s embrace of the Allon Plan, first enunciated
    in July 1967. That peace proposal defined Israel’s defensive territorial
    needs in the wake of the Six Day War, consistent with UN Security
    Council resolution 242, whose framers believed that it would not be in
    the interests of peace for Israel to return to its pre-1967 armistice
    lines. The Allon Plan projected ambitious settlement construction to
    secure strategically critical areas, including in the Jordan Valley,
    areas in general sparsely populated by Palestinians. In the next decade,
    under Labor prime ministers seventy-six settlements were built.
    Goldberg alludes to Labor’s founding role only in a brief, misleading
    observation that “such men as Shimon Peres and Yitzhak
    Rabin”…”discerned a strategic value to settlement; these kipa-wearing
    pioneers would keep watch over the newly-conquered Arabs…” In fact,
    Israelis who established the twenty-one Jordan Valley settlements, for
    example, were primarily not “kipa-wearing” religious settlers, but
    secular men and women who founded kibbutzim and moshavim for security
    motives. There were no residents of Jordan Valley or Gush Etzion or
    other, similar, Allon Plan communities interviewed for the piece.
    Goldberg is equally deceptive in his single, dismissive reference to the
    legal status of settlements. He declares simply: “Most international
    legal authorities believe that all settlements, including those built
    with the permission of the Israeli government, are illegal.” That’s it.
    Case closed. None of the “international legal authorities” are named and
    none of the contentious issues involved are described.
    The writer fails to mention that the United States does not characterize
    the settlements as “illegal.” And many experts on international law have
    disputed their illegality on multiple grounds. Professor Julius Stone, a
    leading scholar on the subject, has maintained that the effort to
    designate Israeli settlements as illegal is a “subversion. . . of basic
    international law principles.”
    Likewise, suggestive of both the casual incendiary tone of the piece and
    Goldberg’s shoddy approach to accuracy is his repeated charge that
    Israel is practicing “apartheid” in areas “across the Green Line.” He
    explains the system is “apartheid, because two different ethnic groups
    living in the same territory are judged by two separate sets of laws.”
    One wonders whatever happened to the touted fact-checkers at the New
    Yorker. In the West Bank, there are different laws not on the basis of
    ethnicity but of nationality. The Palestinian Autonomous areas have
    their own legal system, mainly inherited Jordanian law and new law
    introduced by the Palestinians themselves. Moreover, if Israel moved to
    extend its own legal system to the territories, that would constitute
    annexation, which both Palestinians and Israelis oppose, and would be
    universally condemned. The areas under emergency Israeli military
    control are, as Goldberg notes, “temporary.” To bring the charge of
    “apartheid” in circumstances involving the Israeli military’s recent
    counter-attack against a terrorist onslaught unprecedented in the
    nation’s history is, yet again, highly distorted.
    “Among the Settlers” is one of those accounts that says much more about
    its author than its subject. It is a gaudy display of twisted Jewish
    assault on caricatured “other” Jews and intellectually dishonest
    generalizations about the representative significance of those “others.”
    In occasional moments of professional integrity, Goldberg introduces
    facts – such as the very small percentage of settlers represented by his
    featured “representatives” – and those facts demonstrate less the
    strength of a zealot threat to Israel than the weakness of Goldberg’s
    zealot journalism.

  2. Ynet English Edition – the soon-to-be-launched English web site featuring the best of Ynet, Israel’s leading web site, and Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest daily newspaper, also will be syndicating its content to jewish media and others when it launches this summer. This service will be customized and competitively priced.

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