If a rocket lands in a desert and the networks don’t report on it. . .

CNN International is a marvel of a television network. As I write this Wednesday night 60 rockets have been shot from Gaza at Southern Israel, targeting civilians. But here’s the top news as reported by CNN:

1.  Two buildings blown up in New York, apparently due to a gas leak.

2.  The continued search for the lost Malaysian plane.

3.  Demonstrations in Turkey focused on the death of a 15 year old injured nine months ago in the crackdown by the increasingly repressive Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan.

4.  Ukraine and the upcoming referendum scheduled by Crimea.

5.  The South African murder trial of “the bladerunner” Oscar Pistorious.

All worthy of top-of-the-news coverage, except perhaps the Pistorious trial. But 60 unprovoked rockets targeting civilians in a regional hot spot?

Nada. Nothing. Zip.

But running below the reports:  “Stayed tuned for these and more international stories.” I did. They didn’t. Of course, this is the network whose regional base is Abu Dhabi, and whose stories are often done in collaboration with one or another Gulf nation or Gulf-owned business.

It’s also the network that reported extensively on the $900 million purchase of message service Viber by online retailing giant Rakuten.  Somehow it managed to repeatedly mention that Rakuten is a Japanese company while simultaneously failing to mention one interesting little fact: that Viber was developed in Israel.

It seems that when it comes to CNN, it’s all the news that’s bought and paid for.

Spring time for Tunisia:

Tunisia is often heralded as an example of how good things can come out of the Arab Spring. It is repeatedly reported that this is where they are working out their difficulties democratically and respectfully, and where they are setting up a decent, civil society.

Well, that decency apparently does not apply to everyone. To its credit, Norwegian Cruise Lines just announced that its ships will not be calling in Tunisian ports after passengers were denied entrance for the crime of being people of the Israeli persuasion. 

That’s a society to be held up as a successful model? In what world?

Back in the U.S.S.R.:

My wife, Dana, and I recently returned from a week’s visit in St. Petersburg, Russia. A beautiful city, its tsarist, Soviet, and post-Soviet periods are interwoven into the fabric of the city. We were impressed with the beauty, the richness, and the openness of the city. It seems genuinely progressive and cosmopolitan, and the people we met seemed very frank talking about its past and its current challenges.

Was it just a bit strange, even eerie, to enjoy the city, its people, its museums, its restaurants, its wide boulevards, its seeming openness, and then go back to the hotel, turn on CNN or the BBC and see the 2014 equivalent of tanks rolling a la Hungry circa 1956 or Prague circa 1968?

In a word, yes.

As one involved in a small way in the efforts of the 1970’s and 1980’s efforts to gain freedom for Soviet Jews, it was a joy to see the revival of an almost dead and buried Jewish community in Russia.

For two-plus generations, the Soviet Union repressed religions in general, and it reserved some of its most vigorous repression for Jews. The result was millions of Jews with virtually no knowledge of their rich history and rituals, and virtually no outward displays of Judaism.

Today, Jewish synagogues and institutions have come to life. There are pre-schools, senior centers, Hillel chapters for college students. Jewish life has basically come back from the dead.

A friend who had been responsible for setting up Hillel chapters throughout the former Soviet Union arranged for us to visit the St. Petersburg Hillel. We toured the busy, impressive Jewish community center in which it is housed. Then we sat in for a few minutes as young Hillel members participated in a program.

The subject: what it means to be a volunteer in the Jewish community.  One of the leaders spontaneously asked Dana to comment on what it means to her. It was an incredible few minutes. You could see the young Russian Jewish leaders inspired by Dana.

It was awesome to see the life that has come to a Jewish community that was smothered for decades by the Soviet regime and near death just 25 years ago. The work done by our friend and his colleagues will leave an impact for generations. Truly a miracle.

At the movies:

I noticed that the Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers is still making the rounds in the U.S., and that people are still recommending it. I also recommend seeing it. Like all serious films, it should be seen with a critical and thoughtful eye.

All living former heads of Shin Bet, Israel’s General Security Service who report directly to the Prime Minister, look back with surprising frankness at post-1967 Israeli-Palestinian relationships, raise critical issues, provide perceptive analysis, and, based on their experience, suggest what Israel can and needs to do to achieve lasting and secure peace and stability.

The film shows some very serious, thoughtful, effective former security heads reflect on Israel’s policies, tactics, mistakes, and dilemmas. It is the type of discussion that only takes place in a very free, open society, where all kinds of laundry is displayed.

One word of caution. It’s editor/director does have a viewpoint and, like anyone else, his edits reflect it. For example, near the end, he reads from a piece published in 1968 or so quoting a well-known figure saying that the “occupation” will result in Israel becoming a terrible, undemocratic, freedom-limiting, place (I’m paraphrasing but you get the drift).

The editor/director asks if the prophecy has come true. Then he shows the answer of one of the interviewees and the answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”

I would love to know what the other interviewees answered and I would love to have asked the director why he did not include the answers of the other interviewees. And I would love to know how many other people wondered about the same thing as they left the theater.