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Jewish World Review July 22, 2002 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Midsummer Night's Questions

Random thoughts about things I cannot figure out | Summer's here and that means the silly season is on for the media.

Other than Palestinian terrorists, it seems as if most newsmakers are on vacation. So while the rest of the media is obsessing about the exploits of Allen Iverson and the possibility of a baseball strike (okay, that is serious), I'll use the midsummer lull to throw out a few questions about the news to which I don't have good answers.

  • First, why is it that American Jews seem to care more about Israel's image than Israelis do?

    In the midst of a massive worldwide media and propaganda assault against Israel, those running the Jewish state seem to be going out of their way to flaunt their indifference to the need for better hasbarah, or information policy. The latest instance is the proposed appointment of an Israeli ambassador to London whose command of English is poor. Of course, the current Israeli envoy to the United Nations, Yehuda Lancry, is in the same boat, which explains why you may never have seen him spinning for Israel on TV.

    Everyone knows that the Israelis are notoriously difficult to deal with while the Palestinians seem to be able lead supposedly hard-bitten foreign correspondents around by the nose to cover anything they want.

    Some American Jews are concerned enough about this that they want to raise money to create a media office in Jerusalem that would assist journalists in writing about the many positive stories about Israel - and negative ones about its enemies. This latest effort won't be the first attempt to work on the problem but so long as they leave the real Israelis out of it, they may have a chance of success.

  • Speaking of coverage of Israel, why is it that Israel's prime minister still cannot have his name printed without the words "hard-liner" appended to it while no one in the mainstream media ever tags Yasser Arafat as a terrorist?

    And if the Palestinian Authority's Sari Nusseibeh is universally written of as a "moderate" because he thinks suicide bombings are moral but just not particularly useful to his cause, does that mean the late Meir Kahane was also a moderate simply because he just wanted to throw all the Arabs out of Israel rather than advocating their indiscriminate murder?

  • And while we're on the topic, can someone explain to me why critics of Israel get to be called "peace activists" even though most of their efforts seem to be devoted to fronting for one of the most bloodthirsty terrorists in the world and rationalizing the demonization of Israel?

  • Does Amnesty International expect that its credibility on the Middle East conflict was restored by a recent report, which said that Palestinian suicide bombings violate the human rights of those Jews who are blown up?

    A.I. has already gone on the record supporting the Palestinian "right of return" - a code phrase for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. Is this report a vain attempt to boost their fundraising efforts among American Jews or do these pious folks actually have a sense of humor?

  • Can we call a moratorium on whining from journalists who are forced to defend their Middle East coverage? The public's lack of faith in the media is a serious problem. Just patting us on the head and telling us that you're too fair-minded to actually have an opinion on the conflict won't cut it. If there's anything worse than a biased media, it is a biased media that pretends it's objective.

  • Has anyone adequately explained what has been going on between the U.S. State Department and Saudi Arabia?

    Last week, the moguls of Foggy Bottom, threatened to arrest a reporter for JWR National Review magazine who had exposed the "Visa Express" policy that had allowed so many shady characters - including potential terrorists - into our country.

    I know the "Arabist" tag is supposed to be outdated, but I think a check of how many of our diplomats own the special edition DVD of "Lawrence of Arabia" might be in order.

  • Turning to domestic Jewish concerns, can someone explain to me why funds can always be found to build things that are basically extraneous to Jewish survival in this country, while money for Jewish education is still scarce?

    Scanning the pages of Jewish weeklies and monthlies from around the country, I've noticed a steady stream of stories about Jewish museums planned in a variety of locations. Most of them deal with the Holocaust, but others would house antiquities or tell the story of American Jewish life.

    I've nothing against historians being able to earn a living, consider Holocaust education as vital and think history museums are great. But do any of the people planning all of these edifices really think they will make a greater contribution to Jewish life than educating Jewish youngsters? Isn't it more about the egos of the communities - and the sponsors - who each want their own museum rather than answering a real need?

    The current amounts of money for scholarships to pay the exorbitant tuitions of Jewish day schools - our community's best investment in the future - isn't nearly enough. Efforts to increase the availability of Jewish education seem to be on hold. The notion of a boom in the building of Jewish museums while Jewish education goes begging is a tragedy. But it is nice to know that Americans in the future will be able to learn all about American Jewry. They'll need it because the way we're going, there may not be much in the way of other evidence around.

  • Finally, let me weigh in on the other real threat to our future: the possibility of a players' strike or owners' lockout in major league baseball this summer.

    I know a lot of poetic nonsense has been published by intellectuals and writers who are also baseball fanatics, but there really is something to the idea that the sport reflects all that is best in our national character. Other sports are great, but only baseball seems to be attuned to the daily rhythms of our life (162 games a year) and its slow pace punctuated by moments of great intensity speaks to those of us who have not yet succumbed to the attention deficit disorder that animates most of our popular culture.

    Personally, I think the millionaires in the players' union have a slightly better argument than the billionaires who own the teams. Why is it that the owners beg to be saved from a system they have themselves created and perpetuate?

    Why do we let the owners get away with saying that the failure, stupidity and disinterest in winning that characterize the so-called low-income teams (paging the Phillies) should be rewarded with money taken from the teams that know what they're doing (like the Yankees)? If we have reformed welfare, and socialism didn't work in Eastern Europe, why do we think it will work for baseball? The good teams are already subsidizing the losers. What the sport needs is to fire loser owners who aren't willing to invest in winning teams.

    That said, I'm in favor of anything that avoids a strike or lockout because either one would damage the game irreparably.

    And since anything that hurts baseball is bad for America and anything that hurts America is bad for the Jews, I can only conclude that a baseball strike would do great harm to American Jewry, Israel and threaten the future of the civilized world.

    Are you listening Bud Selig?

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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