Menu JTA Search

Special Report Zionism in Action — or How to Give U.S. Newsmen a Better Understanding of Israel

“We want you to understand why we react the way we do.” This is how Bill Levine explained to a group of American news and media people on their first day in Israel why they had been invited and what their hosts hoped to achieve during their visit. Bill Levine is a top official at the World Zionist Organization’s information department. He periodically organizes tours for U.S. media men to Israel. Last March’s tour was his fifth.

Judging by the “feedback” reaching him, in terms of articles, radio casts and TV programs produced by the tour participants since their return home, and in terms of personal letters from them to him, Levine can say proudly that the tour was a resounding success. “The tour was all I expected–and more,” wrote Robert Zimmerman of the “San Diego Union” in a warm letter to Levine. The 34 participants in the March tour all represented middle-order media which have an interest in world affairs in general and in the Mideast in particular but which would not normally have correspondents stationed in the region. Only five of them were Jewish. Some of the other had only the scantest knowledge of or contact with Israel, Judaism or their local Jewish communities before the tour.

Wrote Ray Spahr, of the Miami Valley Broadcasting Corp of Dayton, Ohio: “I gained tremendous admiration for the Jewish people of Israel. My particular background has not led me into contact with many people of your faith. The only Jews I knew here in Dayton are merchants in the downtown stores and the late Rabbi Rustlander….”

Apart from the direct and immediate result of the trip–in the form of journalistic output–several of the participants were able to share their experiences of Israel with interested groups and organizations in their home towns. Spahr wrote to Levine from Dayton that he had “given talks on my trip to three different groups, and will probably do more if invited….” Lynn Haney of Cleveland, coordinator of radio and television for the local Catholic diocese, spoke to the Cleveland Zionist Federation about her Israel trip, and also addressed student groups in a number of campuses in the Cleveland area.

IMPRESSED BY DIVERSITY OF VIEWS

On a professional level, one outstandingly successful outcome of the tour has been a ten-part television series produced by Don Smith, executive producer of WAGA-TV of Atlanta on various aspects of Israel. He filmed the footage during his visit, and found it so worthwhile when he returned that he is screening it during the six p.m. prime time news, with repeats the following lunch time. Each program is anchored onto the story of a Georgian now living in Israel. But in effect the series covers several areas of Israeli life.

Smith writes: “What we hope to do with the series is expose our viewers to aspects of life in Israel and present an accurate picture of Israel’s relations with her neighbors and her military strength.” A writer on the Milwaukee Labor Press, Patsy Cashmore, reported back to Levine in Jerusalem that she had written a column on the trip and was planning a series on the Histadrut. with a particular focus of women’s activities in it.

Articles and programs which use the information and insights made available to the tour members during their visit are of course Levine’s most satisfying record of a job well done. He says the group members were particularly impressed by the across-the-spectrum range of opinion to which they were exposed and this colored their view of the entire trip.

Visiting the new moshav of Dikla in the Rafiah area early in the trip, they were treated to an anti-government harangue by the Hery Herut faithful secretary of the settlement. Levine and other officials accompanying them said nothing. And that, says Levine now, looking back, is what impressed them most: “Our silence, our obvious desire to show them as broad a range as possible of Israel’s politics and problems.”

NEXT STORY