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Panelists Analyze Israel’s Media Challenges, Seek Solutions

December 19, 2011 10:10 pm 6 comments

Panelists from left, Ronn Torossian, James Taranto and Benjamin Brafman. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

On December 15th, The Algemeiner hosted the first in its series of discussions dedicated to “finding solutions,” to Israel’s negative media experience. The initial session on “Israel in the Media” was moderated by Gershon Jacobson Jewish Continuity Foundation Director and Algemeiner Editor Dovid Efune and generated a lively repartee. Panel members included Benjamin Brafman, James Taranto, and Ronn Torossian.

Efune organized a tripartite agenda, setting the temperament of the discussion he asked “What is the problem? From where does it come? What are the solutions?”

Renowned criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman initiated the discussion defending “any criticism of Israel” he would offer as “constructive.” “My heart is filled with love – such love engenders the obligations to offer suggestions – even if ‘they’ do not want to be heard.”  Calling himself “an advocate on behalf of Israel,” the attorney said he was “deeply concerned that Israel does not do a good job in its efforts at hasbara, (public relations)” and needs to take “pre-emptive actions.”

James Taranto, editor of the Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal, followed, stating that he “hates” and is “a skeptic” of public relations. He juxtaposed Israel’s “open society” against the “exotic” systems of the Palestinian Arabs, and cautioned that “anti-Semitism – not usually a problem for Americans – is a strong current among journalists from “other countries.” Taranto had specific criticism for Tom Friedman of the New York Times, who, said Taranto, is “reporting on the contents of Thomas Friedman’s imagination.”

Ronn Torossian, founder and president of 5W Public Relations, used the forum to deride the public relations practices of the Israeli government. Citing the failure to have “well-spoken people who speak to the issues,” he denigrated Israel’s public relations efforts as “a lot of people making a lot of noise and not communicating.” Israel, said Torossian “scores an ‘F’ in the school of media and public relations.”

Moderator Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier, Senior Rabbi of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, shared moderator’s responsibility with the Algemeiner’s Efune and queried the panel about the influence of the American president – Democrat or Republican – wondering “how potential leaders will project Israel’s cause in the media.”

Lawyer Brafman responded legalistically, offering examples of “precedent.” He cited the Obama administration’s reactions to building apartments in Jerusalem as a “firestorm” verses the limited response to the murder of Syrian protestors by their own government. He expressed disdain for candidates who “patronize the Jewish population by saying everything they think the Jews want to hear….What will they do if in the office?” Brafman specifically stated he was “not endorsing anyone” and was “hearing patronizing conversations from candidates – depending on to whom they are speaking.”

While Jews tend to vote Democratic, James Taranto reminded the audience that “Israel’s popularity is far beyond the Jewish community,” specifically noting the large number of evangelical voters. Ronn Torossian’s criticism of the Obama administration was stark: “Obama is a disaster for the State of Israel. Hillary would have been worse…Any serious Republican candidate is better than Obama.”

With his next challenge, Dovid Efune returned the panel discussion to its topic.  “What,” he asked James Taranto, “is your experience among other media professionals regarding anti-Israel bias or antisemitism?” The WSJ editor responded that he “publicly criticizes those who criticize Israel,” but admitted that critics of Israel are “pretty set in their opinions.”

Public relations professional Torossian empathized with reporters who have “a crazy job,” and may not know the difference between news and public relations. Brafman noted that First Amendment protection allowed reporters to offer virtually any statement as fact, that there is a  “reluctance to even correct mistakes…and there is  no accountability on many levels” even when reports are inaccurate.

Rabbi Kermaier wondered if Israeli inaction in “not showing the good” or “not calling out the enemy” allowed media distortion to simply exist.

“It’s lonely when you’re Israel” responded Brafman. He spoke of the need to teach American Jewish youth how to answer criticism about Israel.

Regarding the effects of public relations on media perception Torossian was blunt: “Israel,” he said, “does an awful job with PR….Israel has to do more to help itself.” He stressed the need for “media and communications training: …telling the story is part of the battle.” Brafman joined, noting the importance of preemptive PR. “If you are preemptive you can’t lose – you can set the stage.”

James Taranto, offered a perspective of journalistic reality, saying “putting the story out there and making the case is important …I don’t think it will change the mind of those against you.” He considered that the media “has three parts – European, American and others, especially Arabian. He cited and praised the effect of Al Jazeera, which he termed “basically serious except about Qatar.” (n.b.: its major funding source). He reminded the gathering that American “mainstream media is not really mainstream” and must be held “accountable.”

Brafman’s response was passionate. “Israel is burdened by speaking the truth…When you speak the truth and the other side does not, you are at a real disadvantage. We can be our own worst enemy – it’s hard to find the unity,” he reprized. He called for education and the avoidance of confrontation.

“We need a revolution in the Jewish media world” stated Torossian. “Israel needs to do a better job of utilizing allies. The ‘trick’ is to reach people through friendly outlets, to get the swing vote.”

Each of the panelists suggested that education, especially of Jewish college aged students is essential. “Stop worrying about planting trees,: said Ben Brafman. Start planting Jewish students who know about Israel.”

Panelist James Taranto addresses a question. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

Guests in attendance included Cantor Joseph Malovany. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

From left, Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier, Ronn Torossian, James Taranto and Benjamin Brafman. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

Moderator and Algemeiner Editor Dovid Efune. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

Panelist Ronn Torossian of 5WPR. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

A crowd of over 250 attended the event. Photo: Baruch Ezagui.

6 Comments

  • What took you so long.
    This week alone, the news is terrible. Muslims are being accommodated with foot baths and this is a slow takeover of the universities in the US, which will mean more “Israeli apartheid” attacks on Jews.
    * The mayor of Bethlehem (once a christian city) has an arab mayor who announced he wants a boycott against Israel.
    * Antisemitic Jewish professors of political science in Ben Gurion University in the Negev are teaching hate of Israel and can’t be fired because of tenure!???
    Jewish professors in Europe are being coerced to leave their positions.
    * Professors in American Universities are teaching hate of Israel, in the U of California, Berkeley and other branches, and a jihadist professor in Kent State U of Ohio screams “death to Israel” and he’s not fired – the president of the school is Jewish.
    * Who’s minding the store!?
    What can we do???
    * We must get the Republican candidates to insist on bombing Iran for the sake of Israel and the US…to force an end to the terror and bring back good leadership to our country and more power to help Israel. Our candidates must speak of Israel more often, tell our citizens what that democracy means to us, and stop the hate!
    Thank you for listening… and let’s get the media to do more truth in reporting!

  • the bottom line is well said. and very realistic.

    “Each of the panelists suggested that education, especially of Jewish college aged students is essential. ‘Stop worrying about planting trees,: said Ben Brafman. Start planting Jewish students who know about Israel.'”

    the organization StandWithUs just celebrated ten years of developing educational material that is attractive and easy to understand and full of relevant facts. on the website you can find representatives in different cities. a person who seriously wants to educate both Jewish and non-Jewish students about the truth in the Middle East, would do well to connect with StandWithUs.

    another fabulous organization in this important field is honestreporting dot com. they are media watchers and criticizers. they get results. and will coach others to get results through letters to editors. a letter to the editor can be a powerful thing. as more people connect with honestreporting, the further their accomplishments will reach.

    fighting ignorance and media bias is a mountain, and these organizations are not much more than ant hills, but they are going in the right direction, and the lowly ant is known to break down barriers. the more people working together, the more these organizations can accomplish.
    in the field of Shlaimos HaAretz i only know of these two organizations that are actually attacking the Goliath of biased media.

    i only wish these two organizations would not stop short of full disclosure. their adherence to the rule of not criticizing the government in Eretz Yisroel, leaves a giant task for others to initiate and accomplish. by following the HUSH philosophy about the government, activists are aiding the abuse that is being carried out against citizens. abuse that may eventually destroy the country from within.

  • Dear Israel,

    Stop invading Lebanon, stop stealing land, stop stealing water, stop with the apartheid system and stop using other nations passports for your assassination schemes would be a good start in getting people to think better of you.

    Nah, spend millions trying to market your BS, it’s easier than actually doing the right things.

  • frania kryszpel block

    No words of admiration quite fit for these men who come together not for glory,not self serving. Why Israel does not make media a priority is quizzical. Hard to understand. Israel is a country that so excells in technology that it is the 1-800 number other countries must call when their machinery goes down. Destroy Israel on Friday…then on Monday the manual is gone. No one to help get up the worlds failed technology. The 1-800 number disconnected. Good. Now,instead of focusing on one important survival method, it is time to not neglect but to zone in and put the spotlight on media relations. _This is a people business. There is no lack of brilliance in this area.

  • I admire Ben BRafman and Ronn Torossian of 5wpr for being so successful yet proud Jews.

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