All but ignored by the Hebrew-speaking press as they gathered in Jerusalem this week, American Jewish professionals and activists have lashed out at the Israeli media and society for failing to notice – and learn from – another Jewish community nearly as large as their own.
Coverage in the Hebrew media of the General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella body that represents billions of dollars of annual charity donations from hundreds of thousands of North American Jewish households, was generally limited to policy speeches given at the conference by Israeli politicians.
Speaking to journalism students this week, Ma’ariv Diaspora affairs reporter Eli Berdenstein admitted he did not know a great deal about American Jewry, but in any case rejected the idea that US Jews who claim they are "Jews by choice" are authentically Jewish.
Danny Ababa, Diaspora reporter for Israel’s largest daily, Yediot Aharonot, told The Jerusalem Post that "this whole business [the GA] is one big kiss-up to rich people. American Jews are not authentic; they’re obsessed with money; there’s something annoying about them."
"Can you imagine such arrogant statements about a convention of social workers from Africa?" responded an irate American Jewish official who asked to remain anonymous. "American Jews are obsessed with money? This is a fund-raising organization gathered in a professional conference. The Israeli journalists don’t even understand where they are. It’s like walking into an art museum and complaining the art isn’t edible. These are the people the Israeli media put in the nexus where Israelis meet American Jewry?" he asked.
Israel’s English-language press devoted extensive coverage to the gathering of one of the largest charitable networks in the world. The Post and the English-language edition of Haaretz both devoted a supplement and ran many news and opinion articles about American Jewish society and philanthropy this week.
Yet at the same time, Haaretz‘s Hebrew edition almost failed to note the conference’s existence. A glance at the papers’ Web sites also showed the same disparity in coverage.
"They don’t understand the community, the day-to-day work of charity and volunteering, people devoting their whole lives to these things," agreed Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. "The Israeli media’s disdain is not new. It’s responsible for a lot of the gap in knowledge about American Jewry [among Israelis]."