JNews will provide a critical Jewish perspective, but one that arises out of deep empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians
Miri Weingarten, Comment is Free, 15 March 2010
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most destabilising conflicts in the world. Yet consumers of media receive confusing messages about what is happening in the region, who is responsible for the regular outbreaks of violence and what could and should be done to reach a comprehensive and just peace.
All too often, the experiences, concerns and needs of ordinary people on the ground are lost in a fog of partisan rhetoric. And the ubiquitous use of a language of international affairs-speak, which glibly repeats such terms and phrases as “security”, “terrorism”, “peace process”, “honest broker” and “confidence-building”, prevents a deeper understanding of the complex forces at work.
There is therefore an urgent need for reliable, real-time information, authoritative and expert commentary, and deeper and more courageous analysis—all of which must be informed by a primary concern for human rights and social justice. JNews – Alternative Jewish Perspectives on Israel and Palestine is being launched today to answer this need.
An initiative of a group of British Jews, JNews will make its output available to the British and international media through its website. It will feature news and stories focusing on the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and on the work of organisations and individuals struggling to protect and promote human rights and create conditions in Israel and Palestine in which social justice can prevail.
JNews will bring to public attention the authentic voices of those directly affected by the conflict and highlight the problems facing migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, the poor and the dispossessed, Arab-Palestinian citizens and the Bedouin. More generally in Israel-Palestine it will focus on the conditions of prisoners and detainees, the status and treatment of women, and the political and civil rights of Palestinians living under occupation and under the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Our expert analysts and commentators are drawn from, among others, the fields of politics, history, law and human rights, and they include British Jews and non-Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Europeans. They will provide the essential background and context without which it is impossible to make sense of what is going on. They will dissect global political developments, analyse attempts to enforce international legal obligations, explain the roles played by Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, and consider the significance of antisemitism and Islamophobia in shaping attitudes to the conflict both in the region and in Britain and other western countries.
At the heart of this initiative is the concern of its Jewish founders that Jewish perspectives on the conflict are too often seen as tribal, defensive, negatively instinctive and counter-productive for Jews, Israelis and Palestinians. Some Jews may identify with Israel’s government, but many don’t. The signs are that growing numbers of British Jews are deeply worried about the path Israel is taking, though they are very unsure as to how to voice those worries and how to become better informed.
A major barrier is the fact that so much of the material that comes from Jewish and Israeli sources is propagandistic, automatically assumes Jewish support for Israeli government policies and, like the trashing of the Goldstone Report and the vicious vilification of Goldstone himself, runs completely counter to the Jewish tradition of open and respectful debate, which is so sorely needed today.
A key theme of JNews’s output will therefore be the provision of information, views and comment from alternative Jewish sources, which will demonstrate that it is perfectly possible maintain a critical Jewish perspective, but one that arises out of deep empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians.
We fundamentally believe that the occupation is wrong and must end. It has had disastrous effects on Palestinians and Israelis. With this in mind we seek to listen to, and make known, the broad and varied range of views of the people directly involved, with a sense of empathy and understanding for the real conditions in which they live.
It would be foolish to think that this initiative can make an immediate impact on attitudes to the conflict. And we do not seek to promote any particular political programme for achieving peace. Widespread feelings of hopelessness and apathy prevail. People are cynical about the prospects of making progress in any negotiations. The sense of powerlessness to affect policy is palpable and many are deeply fearful that the running is being made by those who are determined to engender more polarisation, intolerance and repression, and even to precipitate another war.
Nevertheless, this is precisely the time for pursuing the goals of providing clear-sighted and in-depth explanation, promoting understanding, generating authoritative analysis and supplying the results to the media. After all, the media have a crucial role to play in influencing attitudes and policy agendas and it’s in the interests of Palestinians and Israelis, Jewish communities and the wider British public that media outlets have access to the highest quality information that a Jewish-based initiative can produce.
Miri Weingarten is the director of JNews – Alternative Jewish Perspectives on Israel and Palestine. An Israeli citizen, she has been a key member of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel since 1999 and is now based in London