Israeli Government Cultivates Allies at First Christian Media Summit
JNS.org – Recognizing that it’s easier to communicate with journalists who are prone to be supporters of Israel than those with a perceived anti-Israel bias, the Israeli government recently offered Christian media professionals a crash course in the Israeli political system.
More than 130 journalists from 30 countries converged in Jerusalem this week for Israel’s inaugural Christian Media Summit, which was sponsored by the Israeli government’s Press Office, and spearheaded by Minister of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage, Ze’ev Elkin.
Christian journalists, many of whom are ideological supporters of Israel, collectively influence billions of potential Israel supporters around the world.
Among the topics discussed at the conference were Israel’s role as a model of religious tolerance and co-existence, as well as countering the inherent biases that the Jewish state often faces in international legal forums, such as the United Nations, and in the mainstream media.
Brian Schrauger, a veteran Christian journalist reporting for the USA Radio Network and JerusalemJournal.net, said that Israel “is doing something very, very smart. It’s catering to a group of journalists that don’t often get attention, and it’s educating them. And these are by-and-large friendly journalists that generally support Israel.”
“The journalists that are here have a larger consumer base of readers and viewers … than ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN combined in the US. So there is a huge, huge market here,” Schrauger said.
David Parsons, vice president and senior international spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, said that Christian media outlets “have a vast constituency, not just in the US, but around the world.”
According to Parsons, Israel’s government has recognized the value of “engaging with Christian media directly to show them how to report the story better.”
“It’s very effective, and very important,” Parsons told JNS.org.
The conference was well-attended by Israeli politicians and thought-leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
Netanyahu, for example, stressed the difficulties that Christians face as persecuted minorities in neighboring countries across the Middle East.
“Israel is the one country in a vast region where Christians not only survive, they thrive,” Netanyahu stated, noting that Israel has “no better friends” around the world than Christian communities.
Elkin said that Jerusalem was “the ideal place to host this summit,” because the city is a “model for tolerance and dialogue.”
“The importance of hosting the most influential members of the international Christian media in Jerusalem is paramount,” he said. “As Christianity has its roots in Judaism, these journalists have the unique opportunity to understand that the spurious charges claiming that Jerusalem has no contextual historical attachment to Israel are utterly absurd.”
Parsons said that the age of objective media coverage is a thing of the past, with most journalists choosing sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict before they file their content.
“I think there is just dishonesty at a very human level, where you have reporters trying to assert that they are objective, and impartial, when in fact, they are not,” he said.
“We are talking about people who are taking a position of ‘advocacy journalism for social justice issues.’ That is the way many journalists approach this conflict: that you should always root for the oppressed, and you always view the Palestinians as oppressed,” added Parsons, who noted that this approach leads many journalists to “even justify the Palestinians’ use of violence against Israel, who they believe is the oppressor.”
Itamar Marcus, the founder of Palestinian Media Watch — a group that monitors Arabic-language messaging within Palestinian media and school textbooks — gave a lengthy presentation detailing antisemitic broadcasts by Palestinian Authority-run networks during the last six months.
“Palestinian media and schoolbooks are broadcasting messages of hatred,” Marcus said.
Palestinian affairs journalist and field producer Khaled Abu Toameh seconded Marcus’s message. He told attendees at the conference that “there hasn’t been any attempt by the Palestinian Authority to prepare the Palestinian people for peace with Israel — to the contrary. Ironically, Palestinian incitement intensified after the signing of the Oslo Accords.”
“There is no peace process,” Abu Toameh said.
Toameh advised the Christian journalists to be careful about who they select to help them produce their news content: “If the person you hire to help you produce your piece is an activist for the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),” that will severely affect the report, he said, adding that there is “more than one way of telling the story.”
Conference attendee Schrauger said that the event was an “amazing conference. Israel has brought in its best voices to explain the narrative that exists here in the Middle East. It’s a narrative that the rest of the world is not hearing.”
Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett expressed his appreciation that so many Christian journalists accepted the Israeli government’s invitation to participate in the first-of-its-kind summit.
“I want to thank you for being our friends,” he said, “because sometimes we feel alone out there.”