From the Diaspora with Love… Photo Ops?

Twenty-five-hundred people. Newborns to nonagenarians. Blacks and whites, Christians and Jews. All bound by a deep love for Israel.

Twenty-five rag-tag activists waving Palestinian flags and scrawled signs. Mostly college students. All white. Including one who looking remarkably like a neo-Nazi.

Now… you guess where the media stationed themselves.

When the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh hastily planned a community rally in support of Israel, we were surprised at the number of attendees – there, despite two days’ notice. We were heartened by the diversity of the crowd. We were moved to tears by the speakers.

TOI1And we were stunned that the media couldn’t have cared less.

But, of course, we shouldn’t have been. Apparently, a rousing call to action by an African American representative of interfaith supporters of Israel and a prayer recited by Pittsburgh parents of men and women serving in the IDF can’t hold a candle to a woman in a burka with fake blood smeared on her clothes.

Guess which one dominated the TV news and photos in the daily paper?

TOI3croppedThe average person, who forms his opinions based on what he sees in the media, would have no idea that 2,500 people stood up for Israel, versus 25 who are opposed. Or that the Israel supporters who chose to take on the protestors as they passed them by were well-informed and articulate – leaving the demonstrators dumb-founded and unable to respond.

Not surprisingly, most of the protestors understood little, if anything, about the prevailing issues in the current conflict – and, in fact, about the Middle East. (I shudder to think of how the young women in tank tops and mini-skirts would fare in the society and culture they fight for.) Sadly, we’ve become a polarized society of liberals and conservatives – and, more and more, people fight for things on their side’s agenda, whether they understand them or not.

But that’s a whole other issue.

So, back to the media. Back to the cameraman from a local TV station, who didn’t venture to the Rally until it was almost over – and even then, shot little footage. Back to the TV news reporter, who didn’t even exit the truck, but wrote a story covering the event as though she’d participated. Back to the photographer from the daily paper, who clicked endlessly at the Rally, but whose editor opted instead to publish shots of the protestors.

Makes one wonder what we need to do to get the media’s attention.

Thankfully, we’re above smearing fake blood on ourselves – because people who truly value life aren’t very comfortable wearing blood just to make a point. Same reason we won’t carry around “bodies” (stuffed, bundled white sheets), as protestors did last week on a local street corner. Besides, our story isn’t about death, the immediate and tangible evidence of violence. More often it’s about the slow and persistent degradation of the human spirit. Which, in the end, can be equally devastating.

So, I challenged myself to think of the tricks and trappings that might capture the attention of the media, to come up with newsworthy images that could tell the other side of the story in ways that might appeal to those who are all about shock and scandal.

For our next rally, we could convene thousands of people, sound an ear-piercing siren and give everyone fifteen seconds to dash inside and to a basement, hopefully without crushing one another in the inevitable stampede. We could then sound the all-clear and let everyone leave – only to be dispatched to the basement soon thereafter by another wailing siren. Just a daily reality in Israel.

Or we could shoot fireworks into the night sky, lighting up the atmosphere with bright white lights and shaking the foundation beneath with loud booms. Great photo ops. The media might like this – until they realize it’s meant to represent the real-time experience of a state-of-the-art missile defense system shooting a deadly rocket out of the sky and saving innocent lives.

Or we could put the media into a dim, airless underground room for hours on end. Babies howling, children crying, people sacked out on makeshift beds, resigned to losing another day of productivity or spending another sleepless night. No, that wouldn’t make for very compelling TV. But, at least it would put the media somewhere they can do no harm. Meanwhile, we could dig tunnels under the TV station and the newspaper office, stockpile weaponry…

And, therein lies the real problem. What do the media do vis-à-vis Israel besides fill the average head with a lot of misinformation? They make some of us crave their attention – and actually consider sinking to whatever level we must to obtain it.

The fight with the media we won’t win. Instead, let’s win the fight to maintain our integrity and go about the business of advocating for Israel to those who want to know the truth. They’re out there. It’s just too bad they’re not the ones behind the camera or sitting at the news desk.


About the Author
Ellen Roteman is Director of Marketing Communications for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh