Blogger Wars Over Conference


Nefesh B’Nefesh is better known for its efforts to get North American Jews on planes to Israel, but last month it settled for driving more Internet traffic there. The organization recently hosted the first International Jewish Bloggers Convention at its Jerusalem headquarters. The conference, which featured keynote speaker former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who doesn’t blog — attracted 200 Israeli-based bloggers (many of them Anglos) and 1,300 people around the globe who watched the live video feed.

In the wake of the conference, an, ahem, Web of controversy is spinning across the JBlogosphere. Who is a Jewish blogger? And what role should a blogger play?

Part of the acrimony is a reaction to Nefesh B’Nefesh’s choice of seven blogger panelists who were treated to free business-class flights and passes to El Al’s King David Lounge at John F. Kennedy Airport. In exchange, Nefesh B’Nefesh paired each blogger with one of the 240 olim making aliyah, whom they were to interview and blog about.

The flight’s business-class section served as a veritable human blogroll. Seated next to Abitbol were David Bogner of Treppenwitz, screenwriter Robert Avrech of Seraphic Secrets, and Yashar Books’ Rabbi Gil Student who blogs at Hirhurim. Frum Satire’s Heshy Fried was in the row behind them and Esther Kustanowitz, who until recently wrote the Jewish Week’s Matchup column and blogs at My Urban Kvetch, was in front.

But not everyone is seeing blue skies. Shmarya Rosenberg of Failed Messiah has been a vocal critic, bemoaning what he feels was a rigging of the conference to favor those on the political right. “Nefesh B’Nefesh did not sincerely try to invite all Jewish bloggers,” he told the Jewish Week. “If Nefesh B’Nefesh had called it a ‘Pro-Aliya’ bloggers’ convention or something like that, and made it clear that the convention’s intent was to support Nefesh B’Nefesh’s agenda, I wouldn’t care. But that isn’t what Nefesh B’Nefesh did.”

Not true, says Yael Katsman, NBN’s director of communications and marketing. “We had secular panelists, feminist panelists. The schedule was made public well in advance. Anyone who was interested in coming came.”

From an ideological standpoint, the seven “chosen” bloggers are decidedly pro-Israel. According to Renana Levine, Nefesh B’Nefesh’s PR and communications manager, the bloggers were chosen based on blog traffic, reader demographics and the determination that the blog was pro-aliyah.

Some panelists took offense at being labeled right wing for taking part in the conference. “I see that being a secular, socialist, Zionist, Labor blogger … who has a blog devoted to promoting peace and dialogue with our various Arab neighbors makes one a Right-wing Religious Fanatic,” fumed “Oleh Girl” on her blog in response to an article in Haaretz about the conference.

And so unleashed yet another backlash, with many JBloggers defending Nefesh B’Nefesh and accusing Failed Messiah and friends of sour grapes.

Blogging can “unleash people’s untamed egos,” says Israellycool’s “Aussie Dave.” “To the bloggers who believe they should have been invited to the conference (instead of registering like us common folk) … I say get over yourselves. And if you don’t like it, how about getting off your posterior and organizing a conference of your own.”

Most attendees appreciated the opportunity to meet the men and women behind their favorite blogs.

Plans are already under way for Nefesh B’Nefesh’s next International Jewish Bloggers Conference, Katsman says. Whether Failed Messiah will show up has yet to be determined.