More on JNews
We carried a notice of JNews’s launch on Monday 15 March here.
Some postings on the JNews site:
Geoffrey Bindman’s No Hiding Place for War Criminals and Torturers was crossposted by the Financial Times on 15 March.
A comment on Cathy Ashton’s mission to the Middle East in As the US falters, EU foreign policy chief flies in
Update: JNews: a potential voice for peace , Keith Kahn-Harris 20 March.
To win moral authority in the Jewish community, the new website must apply its critical perspective evenly on Israel-Palestine
One might think there were already too many writing outlets on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the newly launched UK website JNews has too much potential to be dismissed.
In a piece on this site earlier this week, director Miri Weingarten explained that JNews will provide “information, views and comment from alternative Jewish sources, which will demonstrate that it is perfectly possible to maintain a critical Jewish perspective, but one that arises out of deep empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians”. This is an ambitious mission, and one fraught with complications.
Although the project is not aimed exclusively at Jews, its ability to reach a Jewish audience is clearly central to its success. There is certainly a growing concern within sections of the Jewish community at the direction Israel has taken (and not just among the usual suspects of secular Jewish intellectuals). Further, the Jewish Chronicle, while it does allow some critical voices, is dominated by a narrowly conceived pro-Israel agenda. Conversely, some sections of the British Jewish population that are otherwise critical of Israeli actions are also suspicious of the pro-Palestinian movement and elements of the non-Jewish press. So JNews could be an important conduit of information to British Jews who would respond positively to a Jewish-filtered, critical perspective on Israel.
Can JNews cater to this putative constituency? It’s early days, but it does seem like JNews will publicise the work of Israeli peace activists and campaigners. Indeed, Miri Weingarten has herself been an activist in the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights. Israeli activist groups are often marginalised in the UK both by the Jewish community and by pro-Palestinian campaigners, so anything that can increase their visibility is a positive step.
Yet, there are also more ominous signs that JNews may struggle to break out of the minority of UK Jewish peace activism. Many – but by no means all – of the key Jewish figures in the formation of JNews are involved in groups – such as Independent Jewish Voices and Jews for Justice for Palestinians – that have been the subject of opprobrium within the Jewish community. In particular, Tony Lerman, the chair of JNews, has (disgracefully) come to be treated as something of a pariah within the mainstream Jewish community.
It is likely, therefore, that JNews will be the object of much knee-jerk hostility, simply due to who is involved in it. Finding a way to overcome at least some of the suspicion will be a crucial task.
The Jewish peace camp in the UK needs to reach out to Jews who are more involved in the mainstream Jewish community, and the recruitment of Rabbis Alexandra Wright and Danny Rich as JNews patrons is an important step in this regard. It is also important to reach out to younger Jews and here the lack of Facebook and Twitter on the website is somewhat worrying.
Outreach could also be assisted through broadening the content of the site. Aside from providing an outlet for the Israeli peace camp, JNews needs to pay attention to Palestinian affairs and to be unafraid of criticism of Palestinian injustices as well as Israeli ones. This is not to provide an illusory “balance”, but to reflect the simple fact that Israel is not the only actor of this conflict, and that Palestinians have some agency and concomitant responsibilities. Further, recognising that antisemitism can infect pro-Palestinian discourse would also be welcome.
JNews has the potential to catalyse a British Jewish peace camp. The broader the coalition it can speak to, the more effective it will be; the wider its critical perspective is applied, the greater its moral authority will be.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is heavily covered and commented on in the media. The resulting debates are often characterised by the bitter repetition of fixed positions. To make a difference, JNews needs to try and break out of these stale verbal wars and cultivate a novel and principled form of Jewish discourse on Israel.
I wish it good luck in doing so, but with no little foreboding at difficulty of the task ahead.