One suspects that only in the Jewish world could a conference of journalists be deemed to “preserve” a people. Accordingly, the recent Jerusalem-based International Colloquium of the Jewish Press was subtitled “The role of the Jewish press in preserving the Jewish people”.
This odd premise was variously interpreted by the conference speakers. Chaim Herzog, President of the State of Israel, argued that it was a “positive duty” for the Jewish press to constructively criticize Israeli government policy as this would contribute to the moral good of the Jewish people as a whole and, therefore, contribute to its “preservation”. This belief was reinforced by Conor Cruise O’Brien, former editor of The Observer newspaper, who noted that, in his experience, the criticism of the Lebanon War by the Hebrew Press—and especially after the Sabra and Shatilla massacres—ultimately strengthened the State of Israel’s standing in the West.
This argument was countered by Norman Podhoretz, the “neo-conservative” editor of Commentary magazine. In Podhoretz’s opinion, because the “ideological war against Israel is more decisive, ultimately, than the military war”, Jewish criticism of Israeli government policy contributes to this “ideological war” and, therefore, threatens the preservation of the Jewish people. Podhoretz included the Hebrew press in his analysis and felt it was the “moral responsibility” of the Jewish press as a whole to give “ideological support” to the State of Israel.
Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s Foreign Minister, reinforced Podhoretz’s viewpoint by describing the Diaspora Jewish press as “an important element in Israel’s national affairs”. This was underlined by the establishment of an Israel News Service which could help Diaspora Jewry more easily perform its function as the mouthpiece of the Israeli Government Press Office. In fact, this was the underlying reason for a conference which financed more than 400 participants and whose speakers included a sizeable proportion of the “National Unity” cabinet. This emphasis, sadly, gave the lie to Prime Minister Shimon Peres’s innovative call for “new models of thought” in the Jewish world which opened the conference.
Unfortunately, only four participants represented Anglo-Jewry: from the Jewish Quarterly, the Zionist Review and two from the Glasgow Jewish Echo.
Jewish Quarterly Summer 1986