Israeli public broadcasting should go international: An Israeli BBC?

Israel is bursting with media talent. The country is swamped with brilliant journalists, producers, actors, artists and an astonishing number of media outlets such as The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Ynet, Haaretz and too many others to name. So why is Israel’s image abroad so abominable?

Politics, of course. There is no central authority that exports Israeli culture and politicians all too often regard journalists as a threat. So Israel’s external image is unintentionally being sacrificed due to internal politics. However since politicians from all sides of the political spectrum agree that the outside world should be able to see that Israelis are human beings, there is no reason they should not agree to establish an independent Israeli public broadcasting system.

Quality international television

Imagine being able to watch the best Israeli productions while abroad as well as listen to Israeli and Jewish music. An Israeli international broadcasting corporation could also show quality films and television serials from other countries. This kind of broadcasting entity could easily become the best in the world.

Today’s negative caricature of Orthodox Jews in particular is not much better than in Medieval times and the period preceding World War II. International press agencies and news outlets often publish negative portraits of Jews which reinforce anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Why are Orthodox Jews almost never portrayed in a sympathetic light?

I had assumed that the photograph of Orthodox Jews from the BBC’s Week in pictures: 6-10 May 2017 had been taken by an anti-Semite whose intention was to portray Israelis and Jews in as negative a manner as possible. This was not the case — it was taken by an Israeli photographer.

The photograph makes Orthodox Jews look like people wearing Guy Hawkes masks (which were meant to scare children to death). News outlets pay good money for pictures which reinforce public — or their own — stereotypes.

Why don’t foreign media use images such as those in the below video by Melech Zilberschlag, which shows that Orthodox Jews can be sympathetic people?

Arab oil sheikhs finance anti-Semitic propaganda

Arab oil sheikhs fund anti-Semitic news outlets such as Al Jazeera which are constantly bashing Israel. And staff of so-called human rights organisations such as Amnesty International publish virulent “anti-Zionist” propaganda.

Where is the Israeli counter-offensive?

And where is the Israeli counter-offensive? That is, with the exception of the tens of thousands of Jews who spend their own time and money writing blogs, articles and letters to the editor defending Israel?

Where is Israeli hasbara?

Israel’s PR campaign usually amounts to preaching to one’s own parish, which means that it is more or less ineffective when it comes to countering opposing viewpoints.

Expand Israeli broadcasting to viewers abroad

Fortunately Israel’s public broadcasting authority produces many quality films and videos which portray Israelis and Jews in a positive and realistic light. Why not make a comparatively small investment and expand Israeli broadcasting to other countries? There are plenty of high-quality Israeli films, television programs and video clips.

For instance, video clips by Israeli artists such as Shai Gabso, Gali Atari, Illy Botner, Yonatan Razel, Motty Steinmetz, Karen Peles and many others can be presented to the outside world as examples of Israeli culture. Expanding Israeli broadcasting to other countries would go a long way towards improving Israel’s image.

About the Author
Asaf Shimoni is an author, journalist and translator who returned to Israel on October 1, 2023 after spending more rhan 40 years abroad, most of them in the Netherlands. He is currently milking cows on a kibbutz after living for five months in Haifa. He grew up near Boston, made aliyah while living on a kibbutz (from 1973 to 1976), and graduated from Syracuse University in 1978. He also lived some 5 years in Sicily. He believes that the media should be as critical and truthful as possible.
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