OPINION: Misreporting and misleading: the Jewish community continues to be betrayed by media bias

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OPINION: Misreporting and misleading: the Jewish community continues to be betrayed by media bias

'I long for positive coverage of Israel but I am done with needing the world to accept me as a proud Jew', writes Eddie Hammerman.

Pic: Eddie Hammerman
Pic: Eddie Hammerman

I awoke to a scream. It was Monday, so it could only mean one thing: I had forgotten to put the bins out and Ronit had heard the truck approaching. Just as I was about to race barefoot down the street to catch the truck, Ronit stopped me and announced, “They’re out, they’ve been rescued.”

I turned to my phone, consuming every bit of news and video from Israeli and Jewish news sites, as well as my newly found Telegram channels. We wept.  It was the first bit of good news in a long time. The IDF and  Israeli security services had executed a daring and highly complicated nighttime raid.

It wasn’t quite Entebbe, but it was remarkable. And while we cried with happiness hearing of the safety of two more hostages, I wanted to see what the mainstream media were saying about the glorious freeing of our people from captivity. Looking forward to some positive headlines, I switched to the big news sites where I expected to see some positive news about Israel, and a celebration of the safety of these civilians. Big mistake, huge.

Though I should have known better, I was so disappointed that this wasn’t reflected in the mainstream media reporting. I couldn’t help but to feel betrayed. I was furious at the misreporting of the Gaza hospital explosion near the start of the war, but that felt like journalist Stockholm syndrome, or at worst, crappy journalism.

This was different. More insidious.

But I realise the reason for my recurring surprise stems from my identity as a British Jew. I want to feel accepted, and seeing positive Israel media coverage is part of this yearning. I believed that if we kept our heads down and contribute to British society positively, even the antisemites would eventually be won over by our strong British values. The sad and blindingly obvious reality is that it does not work and never has. My grandfather and family fled from Belgium to Nice and then were deported to Auschwitz where almost all were gassed to death as the world did nothing.

Pic: Credit Steven Fink

As Dara Horn notes, “people love dead Jews… with so much fascination with Jewish deaths, and so little respect for Jewish lives unfolding in the present”.  Perhaps it’s reflected in how the rise of antisemitism is happily covered in mainstream media; a 589% increase in the number of incidents described by the CST as ‘watershed moment for antisemitism in the UK’. Even dead Jews get it ‘in the neck’. Sorry Amy Winehouse.

For some strange reason, we celebrate an outdated negative diaspora narrative in the form of the film ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ (screened as I write – Sunday BBC 2), where Tevye and the Jews of Anatevka are evicted following a pogrom. Tevye’s “friend,” the constable, is kind but complicit. This was an accepted rite of passage for Jews over the millennia.

PM7TRC Fiddler on the Roof (1971) United Artists Poster File Reference # 31386_777THA

I loved ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ but always stopped watching when it got to the pogrom scene and the sad ending. ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker’ was wholesome, but defenceless Jews being terrorised at a wedding celebration probably tapped into my inter-generational Holocaust trauma. Interestingly, it didn’t stop me from taking my beloved VHS copy of Fiddler on the Roof to Israel to show the lucky future Mrs Hammerman, as her official diaspora induction.

I wasn’t happy at Ronit’s response. Not only did she not enjoy my rendition of ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ (and associated jig), as an Israeli, she felt deep unease about how we held this narrative as our core identity. Only now can I fully understand why. With Israel as our homeland, for the first time in two thousand years, we have the option to change our diaspora outlook.

And this starts with doing something traditionally un-British; being a bit more public.

It’s why, when we stand on the streets of Borehamwood and Elstree every week, we still do it in our own British way. We celebrate our strong British Jewishness with Union Jack flags alongside Israeli flags, we sing “Hatikvah” followed by a dignified “God Save the King,” and we do not compromise on our steadfast support of Israel, even when she is under grave local and international attack from all sides – politically, legally, militarily and in the media.

We sing songs of peace and tell the stories of the lives of the hostages, who are our people, not just numbers. We welcome members of Christian church communities and those of all faiths and none from the surrounding areas. Their support is appreciated beyond words and makes us feel less alone. We hug and cry with one another, knowing whatever bullsh*t opinion, coded language bias or horror headline, everyone around us, whatever their political view, is feeling the same.

And for me, I am done with needing the world to accept me as a proud Jew, and get the feeling others are starting to feel the same.

Like a child, we seek a pat on the head from a parent who when approached with a school prize, either ignores us or gives us a slap. And we keep coming back for more hoping to get a different response. A definition of insanity. Drip irrigation. Love me? A camera pill? An appreciative nod? Nobel prizes? Come on, a little well done? What about cherry tomatoes, the USB flash drive, Waze, for crying out loud? You must love avoiding traffic? Enough. It’s time to grow up.

It will always hurt, but know I don’t need the adoration. Maybe through our steadfast actions we will gain something different; perhaps a modicum of respect for standing up for ourselves in Israel, in Britain and around the world and being true to our beliefs.

At the start of the weekly Borehamwood Israel vigils in October, I was worried that interest would tail off. I asked Ronit what would happen if the war extended into winter and no one showed up. She said we would sit with the few vigil co-founders with a flag in the middle of Borehamwood shopping centre, sing songs, cry, and go home.

Last week, 17 vigils in, more people attended than ever before with over two hundred of us joining together for a meaningful 15 minutes. In an uncertain world, it gives me enormous hope and comfort.

As Tevye said, “Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years”. Now we have added new traditions and thanks to Israel we have stronger foundations than ever before.

We. Go. again. Am Yisrael Chai.

  • Eddie Hammerman is a PR expert and co-founder of the Elstree and Borehamwood weekly vigils for the Israeli citizens who remain hostage in Gaza.
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