A Jewish presenter or a presenter who’s Jewish?

I’m not a Jewish news presenter. I’m a journalist and a news presenter who happens to be Jewish – and I am proud of being both. There have been times in my career, however, when being both has been far from easy.

During my 20 years as a journalist I’ve worked on many different stories about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Inevitably, all reporting comes with criticism and complaints of bias, but the view wherever I’ve worked is that as long as it’s coming in equal measure from both sides, you’re probably getting it about right.

In July 2014 operation Protective Edge quickly developed into a full-scale conflict with round-the- clock coverage. As the bombs rained down on Israel and Gaza, the strength of anti-Israel feeling quickly intensified to a level not seen before in this country.

There came a point in our daily morning meeting when I realised I was one of the few voices in that room trying to reflect Israel’s stance. What about the tunnels, I asked? What about the bombs terrifying tens of thousands of innocent Israelis?

But with our news wires flooded with pictures of so many innocent Palestinian children, injured or killed, my pleas fell on deaf ears.

I don’t believe this is because my colleagues were anti-Semitic or even necessarily anti-Israel.

But this situation was clearly viewed as another example of the mighty US-backed Goliath of Israel versus the disenfranchised and, in many cases, helpless Palestinians.

Live, on air, I interviewed Israeli politician after Israeli politician, some of whom were more hardline than others, and had to grill them as any journalist would.

Had a representative from Hamas been available, I would have given them the exact same treatment, but they had all gone underground.

Very quickly, I found myself under personal attack. I had Facebook messages from family friends berating me for my questioning and Sky’s coverage of the conflict.

I had extended family phoning querying if I’d been under strict orders to ask tough questions and, ‘didn’t I know their son /daughter was in the army?’ I was also trolled viciously on Twitter by fellow Jews who wrote: ‘How can you call yourself a Jew?… Where is your shame?’

Being in the public eye means you have to have a pretty thick skin and you learn to take most criticism with a large pinch of salt.

But this was different. I was under attack for asking difficult questions – fair questions, I believe, that needed answering.
But the line of questioning wasn’t so much the problem; it was because I, a Jew, had the audacity to ask them.

It is something I have asked myself time and time again since.

Can I not be a journalist and a Jew? Is there such a thing as neutral when the lives of your friends, family and people are at stake?

Israel, unfortunately, will always feature on the news. But while my heart may be divided, my head – my job – is to report and present.

People can troll but no one really knows what it’s like to sit in that chair, on air, as a Jew and a journalist, unless you’ve experienced it yourself.

What would you do?

About the Author
Samantha Simmonds is a TV presenter, broadcaster and journalist