September 23, 2016

Jerusalem Post Editor Examines Israel’s Complexities, ‘Not Just the Headlines’

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Yaakov Katz, the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, explored Israel’s storied history and current problems with media misportray at a lecture Thursday.

Prior to serving as editor of Israel’s premier English-language newspaper, Katz worked as a senior policy advisor to Israeli ministers of education, economy and diaspora affairs, according to a University press release. He is currently a faculty member and lecturer at Harvard’s extension school and the co-author of two books on Israeli Military history.

To highlight Israeli ingenuity, Katz shared a story about Israel in 1969 — almost two years after the Six Day War — in a conflict with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Katz explained that the Israeli military needed pictures of what was going on in Egypt — just on the other side of the Suez canal — to determine whether or not Egypt was gearing up for another war, but they lacked adequate surveillance methods. Inspiration came in the unconventional form of a children’s movie, which gave one officer the idea to attach cameras to a number of remote-controlled toy airplanes, thus creating “effectively, the first drones in history.”

While Israel may have “changed the face of modern warfare,” Katz said their makeshift drones failed to help them predict what was to come in just four years time — the Yom Kippur War.

“I think Israel is a nation of contradictions,” Katz said. “It is a country of radical religious extremists; ultra orthodox Jews and religious Muslims … but on the other hand it is the one country in the Middle East that affords equal rights, not just to men and women, but to homosexuals as well.”

Katz added that the country is surrounded by enemies — Hezbollah in the north, Hamas in Gaza and Isis in Syria — and yet, it continues to function.

“The culture is thriving, the economy is booming,” he said. “People are out in the streets. People are enjoying life. It doesn’t necessarily make sense.”

Perhaps this is what accounts for Israel’s innovative successes, Katz suggested.

“When you have no alternative, you have to improvise,” he said. “When your back is up against the wall you have no choice and you just want to survive, you have to come up with new ways of doing that. A friend once told me … ‘The shadow of the guillotine sharpens the mind.’”

Since the dawn of the country’s existence, “Israel, for better or for worse, has fought a war every single day,” Katz said. He added that Israel is fighting a war on three fronts: the front lines, the home front and the media. Bias and dishonesty in the news is something that Israel faces every day, and unfortunately, this is an overwhelmingly widespread trend in today’s media.

Katz used the 2008 Gaza War or Operation Cast Lead as an example, citing a story in a Palestinian paper announcing that Israel bombed a school in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, killing 40 people. Newspapers around the world ran headlines reading “Gaza’s Darkest Day: Israel Massacres Innocents,” Katz said.

Three weeks later, however, the United Nations informed journalists that no Israeli shells were ever shot at the school — only outside — and the number of deaths was vastly exaggerated. However, this information never received much attention, and the damage to Israel’s public image was done.

“When we look at Israel, we have to look at the complexities, not just the headlines,” Katz said. “That is a big challenge for people who give the news and people who consume the news … Instead of just searching for the catchiest, sexiest way to tell a story, we need to actually tell the full story.”

Katz said he feels that in today’s media, “accuracy is given up for speed,” and that’s a problem.

Katz ended his talk with some parting advice to the audience. “Don’t hesitate to question. To ask, to try to learn and to educate yourselves,” he said.

The event, entitled “Israel in a Changing Middle East,” was sponsored by the Cornell Hillel.