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Defending Israel… with the pen

By Cindy Mindell

Sarit Catz

Sarit Catz

Inaccurate and distorted accounts of events in Israel and the Middle East abound across the spectrum of media outlets, from college radio stations to network television, from community newspapers to national magazines, and, of course, on the Internet. In recent years, misinformation about the Middle East has also surfaced in specialty publications – fashion and architecture magazines, encyclopedias, professional reference works, geography textbooks, travel guides, and even dictionaries. Frequently inaccurate and skewed characterizations of Israel and of events in the Middle East may fuel anti-Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice.

Such are the findings behind CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), founded in 1982 to promote accurate and balanced media coverage of Israel and the Middle East. Closer to home, the volunteer-run PRIMER-Connecticut (Promoting Responsibility In Middle East Reporting) works toward the same goal by monitoring media outlets and responding to bias with letters to the editor.

Both organizations also focus on educating news consumers to recognize and effectively respond to media bias against Israel. The two will co-sponsor a workshop on Sunday, Nov. 17, “Israel Advocacy and Confronting Media Bias: Effective Use of Traditional and New Social Media” with Sarit Catz, director of CAMERA’s International Letter Writing Group.

“It is crucial that supporters of Israel learn to identify media bias and respond strongly to flagrant distortions of Israel’s positions and actions,” says Mark Fishman, president of PRIMER-CT. “We cannot permit Israel’s enemies to control policy by their manipulation of social media and traditional news sources.”

With a newly opened office in Jerusalem, CAMERA monitors Israeli media in English and Hebrew, including a Hebrew website, presspectiva.org.il. The organization also has a Spanish-language division, ReVista de Medio Oriente, revistamo.org, and two projects addressing coverage of Israel in the British media – BBC Watch, bbcwatch.org, and CiF Watch, cifwatch.com, which monitors the influential British newspaper, The Guardian.

Sarit Catz joined CAMERA staff two years ago. An Israeli native, she grew up in Brookline, Mass. and studied international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, simultaneously earning a degree in international business at the Wharton School. After graduating, she spent nearly two decades as a comedy writer in Hollywood, writing and producing sitcoms and screenplays.

“Most people don’t know much about Israel and, as with all things they are uninformed about, they believe what they hear,” Catz says. “Often what they hear, even from media, is incorrect, incomplete, and presented without context. The issues regarding Israel are complex and many people don’t have the time or inclination to invest in the topic. So, misperceptions and misinformation abound.”

Catz came to the CAMERA position as she realized how serious media bias against Israel had become. “I always thought that everyone knew Israel as I did – as the creative, resilient, free, and open society it is,” she says. “As I started to realize how uninformed and misinformed many people are about Israel – even in the Jewish community – I became more and more active in Israel advocacy and education as a volunteer in various organizations. When I found out about this opening at CAMERA two years ago, I jumped at it.”

Catz not only facilitates letter-writing campaigns, but also writes articles, op-eds, and blog posts about media coverage of Israel or the lack of appropriate coverage. Her weekly blog post, “Where’s the Coverage?”, highlights stories ignored by the media that would add to the understanding of issues involving Israel.

“CAMERA has achieved many, many corrections and clarifications,” Catz says. “Our letter-writers have achieved remarkable successes as well. One very high-profile apology was made by the editor of the Sunday Times of London. The paper had printed a cartoon replete with antisemitic iconography on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. After hearing from around the world, including many CAMERA letter-writers, the editor not only apologized completely and ‘unreservedly’ but also said he understood the sensitivities of the community and would ‘bear them very carefully in mind in future.’” The same happened in July, when CAMERA and several American Jewish organizations responded to a troubling cartoon published in the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. As a result of the outcry, the editor-in-chief published an apology and a promise to be more judicious in selecting content.

Even so, Catz says, CAMERA is not aware of all Israel-related media coverage, so it relies on its members and others to be its additional eyes and ears. Information about troubling media reports can be sent to CAMERA via the website, camera.org.

The most important thing people can do in responding to bias is to speak up, Catz says. “Nothing will change if people are silent when they hear or read incorrect, biased, or misleading stories about Israel,” she says. “Published or not, all letters to the editor are read by someone and tallied. If there are many protest letters about an article, editors will take notice.”

Specifically, Catz says, be brief, polite, and clear in a letter. And respond as quickly as possible in order to increase your chances of being published. See CAMERA’s “Top 10 Letter Writing Tips” here: camera.org/index.asp?x_context=22&x_article=386

Sarit Catz will discuss “Israel Advocacy and Confronting Media Bias: Effective Use of Traditional and New Social Media” at a brunch to be held on Sunday, Nov. 17, 10 a.m.-12 noon, at the Jewish Community Cewnter of Greater New Haven, 360 Amity Road, Woodbridge. For information contact (860) 233-1004 or workshop@primerct.org.

Comments? email  HYPERLINK “mailto:cindym@jewishledger.com” cindym@jewishledger.com.

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