Menu JTA Search

Op-Ed: Israel needs its version of Al Jazeera

JERUSALEM (JTA) — During the three weeks of the war between Israel and the Hamas, I was asked often what the Jews of the Diaspora could do for Israel. The answer that seems to have emerged: develop a global TV network and Internet portal.

In Israel there is a sense of victory over Hamas following the unilateral cease-fire announced by the Israeli government. As we move into national elections, the politicians have begun competing with each other for credit for the decisive military victory based on the premise that this credit will be converted into electoral support on Election Day.

While there may be a consensus on Israel’s military victory, there is a strong question how Israel has fared on the public relations front. Despite Israel’s seeming moral edge over the Hamas given the country’s suffering rocket attacks aimed at civilians for the past eight years and the disengagement that brought about the unilateral withdrawal from the entire Gaza Strip in the summer of 2005, Israel’s moral stance was strongly questioned by the international media as films of wounded and dead Palestinian children were broadcast around the world.

Why did many of the international media “buy” the Hamas narrative of the conflict as opposed to Israel’s?

While skeptics may view this as part of the trend of global anti-Semitism, it is critical that we deal with this issue since international opinion is an important “battlefield.” Ultimately this is a global economy and a small world, and if Israel is going to get the international recognition for its case, we must address this issue with the same strategic planning as we address the military operation.

While there may be multiple approaches to this issue, one direction should be the establishment of international English-speaking TV channel and Internet portal. An important conveyer of the Hamas narrative was Al Jazeera, which recently recognized the importance of communication not only with the Arab world in its native Arabic but with the English-speaking world as well. Al Jazeera gave the Hamas a media edge with which Israel could not compete. The network was on the scene in real time, and while it had the “credibility” of being an independent news source, it became the shofar of the Hamas narrative.

As opposed to this English speaking on site reporting, Israel has to filter its reports to foreign journalists, many of whom are not proficient in Hebrew. These journalists have no access to an Israeli narrative outside of the one portrayed by the government’s spokesmen and their reporting reflects their skepticism of the official line.

An important aspect of having a Jewish TV station as opposed to an Israeli one is that it will have access to the Arab capitals in the same way as Al Jazeera has access to Jerusalem. Thus this station could become an important channel of communication between Israel and its neighbors in the same way as Al Jazeera has become with its recent interview of Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The advantage of digital communication is its ability to reach millions of people; we dare not miss this opportunity. It is paradoxical whereas Jews as individuals such as Steven Spielberg have been so successful in communicating cultural messages, as a people we still do not have a vehicle for “national” communication.

(Dr. Jonathan Mirvis is the international director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School based at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.)

NEXT STORY