Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

How one American understands the view from Israel

Photographs of channels 11, 12, 13 and 14 news taken by Gil Tohar on June 13, 2024; screenshot of tweet showing June 10 ratings taken by Wendy Kalman
Photographs of channels 11, 12, 13 and 14 news taken by Gil Tohar on June 13, 2024; screenshot of tweet showing June 10 ratings taken by Wendy Kalman

This was adapted from a lesson I delivered at my synagogue for Tikkun Leil Shavuot, 2024. Its title was “The View from Israel.”

At the end of April I flew to Israel to spend three weeks with my son, his wife and their new baby, my first granddaughter. I also met with friends and family and volunteered, but really, my focus was on the baby. The air was heavy with concern for hostages, for soldiers, for displaced families – and simultaneously with anger at the government. The way I experienced Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron for fallen soldiers and victims of terror and Yom Haatzma’ut in 2024 was markedly different than how I’d experienced them in the 1990s and early 2000s when I lived in Israel. Like then, during Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron places of entertainment are closed and television programming is replete with shows, movies, documentaries about the Shoah and about fallen soldiers; it is always a somber day. This year was far, far more difficult. Televised programming and government ceremonies were peppered with all too raw individual stories of loss, of sacrifice, of pain.

Being in Israel while the Eurovision contest was taking place added another layer of emotions: The hate rained down on 20-year-old Eden Golan and the poise with which she stood up to it; the sea of public votes which offset countries’ scant votes and catapulted Israel to the final top five – everything was emotional all the time.

I lived in Israel for over a decade, two of my sons were born there, my sons and I all have dual citizenship and I am fluent in Hebrew. I follow what goes on there closely. My ex-husband’s large family, some of whom I saw while I visited this time, and my daughters-in-law are Israeli and truly embody Jewish diversity. All this is to say that while I have not lived in Israel in decades, I would like to think my understanding of Israeli perspectives is still pretty much intact.

Before I delve into the view from Israel specifically, I’d like to cover how each of us views, perceives and understands the world around us. Since illustrations help, I’ve linked to graphics I cannot embed for copyright reasons; they will open in separate tabs.

The first illustration is straightforward and probably something you’ve seen before – two people are looking at the same thing – the number six. Or is it a nine? – from different perspectives and disagree vehemently. Both are right. And both are wrong. And that is because each only sees from where he is standing. The second is somewhat similar – one person sees three rods, another four – but it kind of looks like someone purposefully created something designed to confuse. And yet, we have to acknowledge that none of us know the designer’s intent.

This connects to the third illustration. This concept, which I’ve thought about a lot but never knew had a name attached to it, is called an assumption iceberg. This comes from a book I now want to read called, “The Joy Of Conflict Resolution: Transforming Victims, Villains And Heroes In The Workplace And At Home,” by Gary Harper. What it shows is that while we may know our own motives, when we see or are impacted by events around us, we may make assumptions about other people’s intentions. And we should not. We do not know what others are thinking. The Assumption Iceberg says that despite what we see, the majority of information is still waiting to be uncovered. Like an iceberg, it is hidden. As author Yossi Klein Halevi pointed out in an interview in November on the Ezra Klein Show, a podcast, “…I’ve learned, in Israel, really never to make definitive statements about the future, even the near future, because it’s so unpredictable. This is such a radically fluid reality.”

The next graphic simply explains that there are things we know we know, things we know about but may not understand, things we understand but aren’t aware of, and the biggie, I think: things we don’t even know that we don’t know. What this figure doesn’t show is how much more the stuff we don’t know surpasses what we do. But it’s something we need to remember when we judge what we see. It also reminds me of something I once read on Facebook that has stuck with me ever since – “Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.”

I know we are getting away from the main topic – the view from Israel. But I’d like to first share another graphic based on an ancient Buddhist text. The story, a favorite of mine, tells of six blind men who come across an elephant. Each one touches a different part of the elephant and describes what he feels. The man who feels its ear compares it to a rug, the man who feels its tail compares it to a rope, etc. Each man can only describe the animal based on what he knows – and these descriptions vary greatly. In some versions of the story, the men suspect each other of lying and begin to fight, physically. “The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to claim absolute truth based on their limited, subjective experience as they ignore other people’s limited, subjective experiences which may be equally true.” I’d like to add that there is one version of the story in which a man who can see walks by the others. He explains to them that the elephant actually is all the things they have described. The six men not only learn that they were all partially correct and partially incorrect, but that they are blind.

All of this is relevant to how we see and understand things differently, but it’s not the entire story. While misinformation, fake news and social media are beyond the scope of this blog, there are two other pieces of this puzzle of how things are viewed which I do want to share.

One is that our own experience, such as where and how we grew up, our gender, where our family came from, the color of our skin, our political affiliation, the values of our society or our community – all together help form the lens through which we see and measure what we see in the world. Our American measuring stick, though, is not the best way to understand events, culture, values and ways of thinking in other parts of the world. So, if we discard our lens and our measuring stick, then the question is how can we understand what matters elsewhere? How? One way is by immersing yourself. If you can’t go and interact first-hand with those who live in Israel, you can find ways to read more by locals about locals and for locals. Really, there is no reason to limit yourself even if you’re not a Hebrew speaker. Today, tech makes it easier to translate content made for local consumption even if you don’t have the language.

The last thing – the other missing piece – has to do with something called framing theory. Framing theory speaks to how the media shapes what we see and how we see it. This last graphic (below) shows a newscaster saying, on the one hand, “Nearly half of viewers don’t like the new show,” while the other bubble presents it differently, “The new show was a hit with almost 6 out of 10 viewers.” How the news media or politicians or marketers or anyone else presents context matters. Framing actually plays a large part in how this American understands the view from Israel.

An example of how things are framed impacts how they are perceived. Courtesy of Sketchplantations

We are all familiar with news outlets which promote a specific agenda. But what about those which appear to be more balanced or objective? Do they also frame what readers and viewers are led to understand? The answer is yes. And that is because writers and editors make choices all the time which influence how readers perceive what they are reading or hearing. It ranges from which facts – or stories – to include or not include to other things like how to set the story against a larger context or how much of that context to provide. I also want to mention how much word choice matters. Are the adjectives loaded? Do the nouns impart something about character which another word might not denote? Is active or passive language being used? Is someone doing something to someone else or has something been done to someone, without naming who the actor is?

As we see, a number of things influence both how stories are shaped and how they are perceived.

Now, let’s talk about Israel.

Nearly half of Israelis get their news from network television. Keshet, Channel 12, is by far the most popular for the news. Its aim is to present a broad range of views, which makes for interesting panel discussions. The right, though, thought it too far left in its coverage of the protests last year against the proposed judicial overhaul. Still, it has the most viewers. Reshet, Channel 13, has a similar outlook but has a much smaller audience. Younger, too. It tends to reach more people on social media than over the airwaves. Then there is Channel 14, which does not broadcast on Shabbat. It started gaining viewership even before the war. In an interview with WNYC, Oren Persico, a staff writer at The Seventh Eye, an independent investigative magazine which looks at the media in Israel, called it a “right wing pro-Netanyahu propaganda machine.” Ittay Flescher, an Israeli-Australian journalist and educator, also noted in his excellent round up of the four news outlets that 14 has been mocked for its factual inaccuracy. Kan, Channel 11, is public television. It aims for balance, although the right tends to see it as too far left. It has the lowest viewership of the four.

While Israelis can get their news online, print can still be found in many homes, especially the Shabbat edition, which is larger, like Sunday newspapers here. What I am going to say about how the media has treated the Hamas-Israel war pretty much holds true for the written media as well. Ha’aretz may be further left, but its readership in Hebrew in Israel is dwarfed by the other outlets.

When Hamas infiltrated on October 7, viewership of network news skyrocketed, especially since the government seemed to be missing in action. Persico noted that the news was showing people who were in shelters asking for help in real time and connecting them to it. This was active journalism of another level.

But Persico also describes what I think is an important point here: “The main two roles of TV journalism in Israel after October 7th, was, one, to lift the morale of the army, lift the morale of the Israeli public. The second is to not show anything damaging that’s happening in Gaza because of the Israeli bombardment and invasion. The logic here is that if you show civilians in Gaza getting hurt, then a lot of people in Israel will start questioning the legitimacy of the IDF attacks in Gaza. You don’t show that. The result is that Israel is very much still on October 7th.”

I have to wonder – what role does the news media see for itself?

At any rate, in an article in The Conversation, a non-Israeli media outlet which also covered the discrepancy of Israeli and others’ views, the point was also made that Israelis “continue to relive – through survivors’ testimonies and other stories – the horrors of October 7. These kinds of reports are rarely watched now by others” outside of Israel.

What I saw on television – especially on Yom HaZikaron – and on the streets, backs that up. Israelis are still experiencing the pain of October 7, the pain of losing citizens, of still losing soldiers, of wanting those being held hostage to come home to their families. The personal stories never end. I recall seeing a map on my phone that someone had developed a few months ago, showing every community in Israel from which fallen soldiers have come. In short, everywhere. With every notification on WhatsApp or in the news that begins “It is permitted to publicize…” Israelis brace themselves for the names of more fallen soldiers.

The week before last, I watched a Hadassah magazine panel discussion Behind the Headlines with three Israeli journalists. They spoke as parents as well, noting how their children’s education has been disrupted in ways we don’t even think about: Teachers and administrators and parents of friends being called up for reserve duty, and while some return injured, others never return. It is a lot for school children to process.

Hadassah Magazine Discussion: Behind the Headlines: Living in and Covering Israel at War (May 29, 2024)

Persico, though, also makes another important point about what Israelis are and are not seeing. “They do see soldiers collapsing buildings and cleaning out terror tunnels that were used by Hamas. They do see a lot of streets that are now rubble. What they don’t see is humans in Gaza being killed or wounded, especially women and children. They don’t see that at all. Nothing of the human cost that is so horrifying. Even if you do mention the number of the casualties in Israel, you always say, ‘This is the numbers that we get from the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza, and Hamas is a terrorist organization, and you shouldn’t trust their numbers.’” And if they see pictures of many shirtless men captured, the assumption is allowed to be made that all these men are terrorists. Even if they are not.

Persico also makes the point in his WNYC interview that those who got on Channel 14 in the first days of the war and made statements about flattening all of Gaza, in some ways emboldened the more centered news stations into echoing those statements. By the media choosing a frame which does not include human interest stories of individuals in Gaza, it is contributing to the dehumanization of Gazans which, in turn, makes it easier for Israelis to ignore or justify away civilian loss.

I personally think that Israel should have taken a path of repeatedly and loudly making that distinction between Hamas and Gazans, between Hamas and Palestinians, both in words and in deed. There are many choices involved in how a war is carried out, small ones and big ones, and each choice made means other opportunities to carry things out differently were not taken. In my eyes, both the government and the media could’ve made choices which would’ve driven home the point that Hamas is the shared enemy of both Israel and Gazans. Perhaps college administrators and the public would’ve responded differently to protests then, who knows. At any rate, I don’t want to spend time on my opinion here, but to get back to the view from Israel.

A number of my synagogue’s congregants have gone to Israel since October to volunteer and help. The plight of displaced citizens from the Gaza envelope and the north, the hit that agriculture and the economy have taken are known to us all. What I don’t know is if visiting Americans are picking up that the story that Israelis are getting is incomplete.

And not just from the news shows. Israeli non-news satire and parody shows are also using framing. Maybe you’ve seen American comic Michael Rapaport who’s appeared a few times? Once he was in an Israeli bit which slammed actors participating in the Golden Globes for their silence on the issue of the hostages. Another time he was in a Harry Potter sketch making fun of protesters on US college campuses. Other sketches have been more poignant than biting, driving home how we have faced generation upon generation of persecution and yet we survive. Another one has Moses imploring Israelis to retain the achdut, the unity, they have now, even after this is all over. (All four videos linked to are in English or have English subtitles.)

In the face of hatred, Israelis are more united. They see what is happening on North American college campuses and in different cities globally and cannot understand why. What is wrong with people? Do they hate us so much?

If they are stuck – and I really don’t like that word – but if they are stuck in October 7th, plus they have not been seeing footage of the human toll of Israel’s war in Gaza which the rest of the world is seeing daily, and has been seeing daily since October 7 for eight months now, then the gap between what Israelis see and what the rest of the world sees is growing wider every day.

In the beginning of March, NPR ran a story about five things that have changed for Israelis in all these months of war. The first two echo what I am saying here. One, is that their lives are on hold. Suspended animation. And the other is that they feel that the world has turned on them. Part of that has to do with the gap between what they are and are not exposed to since October 7– and what the world sees taking place in Gaza.

Two things make this more painful. One is that media outside of Israel often frames events in ways that ignore Hamas culpability and thrusts blame on Israel and the other is that Israelis can’t help but see the growing antisemitism and it reinforces the feeling that the world is against them and there is no one but themselves to rely on. That kind of thinking puts Israelis at risk of turning away more from others, and can spiral.

I’ve not talked about the views different slices of Israeli society may have, but we know that settlers who disrupt humanitarian aid into Gaza or go on rampages in the West Bank are not seeing the same things those who belong to peacebuilding groups who are collecting that aid or trying to protect West Bank Palestinians see.

I’d like to spend a few minutes on another view that comes out of Israel and that is of Israeli Arabs, who were victims on October 7 just like Hamas’s Jewish victims. Hamas did not differentiate. In March, when Ali Al Ziadna, a Bedouin Israeli whose brother and uncle are still being held, confronted the Palestinian ambassador to the UN to ask how is it that Thai workers get released but not Muslims, the ambassador instead asked him why he wasn’t more concerned with Gazans’ suffering. Just as there is not one sole Israeli view, there is not one sole Palestinian view. It’s complicated.

The Center for Democratic Values and Institutions surveyed Israeli Arabs in November and December and, as the Jerusalem Post reported, found that about 70% felt that they were a part of Israel and its problems, 86% supported wartime volunteer efforts, and 56% supported Ra’am Party leader Mansour Abbas in his statement that what Hamas did on October 7 does not reflect the values of Islam or Arab Israelis.

They see the news that Israelis are getting – they’ve seen the coverage, which Palestinians in the territories are not seeing. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in a December survey from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research were asked if the kind of atrocities Hamas did are acceptable and said no. At the same time, while they knew Hamas attacked, they did not believe Hamas had carried out any atrocities. So, support for Hamas simultaneously grew, because people felt they had gotten their cause back on the world’s agenda. But had their news been framed differently, would they instead have agreed with Mansour Abbas?

Pew conducted a survey a few months later, in March and April – now, after half a year of the war on Hamas taking its toll on Gazans – and parsed some of the data in terms of Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. Pew found that “Israeli Arabs are much more likely than Jews to say the country’s military response has gone too far (74% vs. 4%).” At the same time, Pew also noted that, “Today, 19% of Jews think peaceful coexistence is possible, down from 32% who said the same in 2023. In contrast, Arab Israelis have grown slightly more optimistic about peaceful coexistence, with 49% saying it’s possible, up from 41% last year.”

Palestinian citizens of Israel, unlike those who live in the West Bank and Gaza, have access to both Israeli news and Arabic news. So they get the human interest stories that do not appear in Israeli press. They hear about individual cancer and other patients whose treatments have been stopped, who cannot get medicine. Or they read about specific displaced families now living in tents with limited access to clean water. Whereas for Israeli Jews, the world stopped on October 7, for Israeli Arabs, perhaps it has carried on. They have a foot in the world of October 7 and a foot in the world-since-then.

Let me tie this back to the story of the six blind men and the elephant. While each of them could only describe the small part they were exposed to, and the sighted man who walked by theoretically saw it all. But what if he was looking down from a clearing up above. He might see sun falling on the elephant giving it beautiful jewel tones and a dry head. And if another person was laying down alongside elephant saw that the elephant was stuck in mud, filthy dirty? At the same time neither man might see the mosquito buzzing around the elephants eyes, teasing him and making him want to sneeze. Even those who see, can only see what they see. Not what they can’t. Just like us. Or like Israelis.

I was tasked with trying to share the view from Israel. Instead, I shared how there is no single view, how views get shaped or influenced, how what Israelis see and experience forces them into a place that is very different from where the rest of the world is. The repercussions are real for all Jews everywhere, as we see antisemitism and mob behavior growing, and for Israelis specifically as global organizations take actions against Israel. This may reinforce the feeling that the world is against us. But we can’t let it. We just have to help others see from perspectives other than their own.

About the Author
Wendy Kalman, MPA, MA, serves as Director of Education and Advocacy Resources for Hadassah The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Previous roles include senior academic researcher for an Israel education nonprofit, knowledge manager at a large multinational as well as roles in marketing and publishing in the US and in Israel. She has presented papers at political science and communications conferences and has participated as a scholar-in-residence at an academic workshop on antisemitism. Wendy lived in Israel for over a decade and is a dual citizen, fluent in Hebrew.
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