MJT: So what’s it like to read about Israel in the foreign press?
Benjamin Kerstein: Surreal.
MJT: How so?
Benjamin Kerstein: It rarely bears any resemblance to the country I live in, mainly because it either deals only with the conflict or because the news is produced by people who live in the English-speaking Jerusalem bubble.
MJT: Tell me about the English-speaking Jerusalem bubble.
Benjamin Kerstein: There’s a large population of English speakers in Jerusalem. The people who speak English tend to gather around each other, especially if they’re in the higher reaches of government or the media. They tend to hang out with other English-speaking people. They go to the places where such people congregate, they read English-language newspapers, and they watch English-language television. They have very little contact with the rest of Israel, which is predominantly Hebrew-speaking.
Tel Aviv is quite cosmopolitan, but if you go to the development towns in the south or to the towns in the north and in the Galilee, there are Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking populations there. Journalists have almost no contact with this world. What they portray as Israeli is a corner of a corner of a corner of this country.
So when we read about Israel in the foreign press—especially if we know about the English-speaking bubble in Jerusalem, or if we’ve ever dealt with the media in Jerusalem—we recognize almost instantly the same themes over and over and over again. All you usually get is the view of a closed subculture, which is not even interesting in my opinion.
MJT: A lot of these journalists don’t even socialize with English-speaking Israelis. I know they don’t because I’ve met some of them. I know who they hang out with and how disconnected they are. They hang out with each other and with other foreigners. That strikes me as bizarre because almost all my friends here are Israelis. Likewise, most of my friends in Lebanon are Lebanese.
Benjamin Kerstein: You find this sort of thing everywhere. People with shared interests and a shared language congregate. Hebrew isn’t a supremely difficult language to learn, but if you don’t have to learn it, you won’t. There are people who have lived in Jerusalem for thirty years who haven’t learned Hebrew because they don’t have to. This affects their opinions, it affects their view of the world, and it affects how they write about it.
If you try to get a feel for a distinctively Israeli perspective you won't get it by reading primarily the Anglo papers. In fact, quite often you will read a report in one of the English dailies which only tells half the story – usually only the half which supports whatever bias the reporter or paper want to tell you. A great example of this was last week's 'rape by deception' story.
What the Anglo versions generally won't tell you is that Sabbar Kashur is not the first man or even woman (yes, a woman has been found guilty under the rape by deception) but he was the first Arab. Nor will you be informed that Kashur was not 'found' guilty but plead guilty in a plea bargain arrangement.
He was on trial and the victim, under questioning from Kashur's lawyer admitted to telling the police he physically forced her to have sexual relations with him rather lying to her but because her consent was based on a 'lie' Kashur consequently she could not give 'informed' consent. Furthermore, she felt the police would not take the matter seriously if she admitted he only 'lied' his way into a sexual liaison. Although, under Israel's Basic Law on human rights (1992) anything which degrades or humilates the 'dignity' of a human being is a human rights violation. Now you can argue till the cows come home over whether Israel's Basic Law on human rights is too subjective and broad which makes it ripe for abuse but the fact remains Kashur plea guilty.
Debba by Avner Mandelman and the story begins with an ex-pat Israeli living in Toronto who is sucked into the vortex of Israelity when his father is murdered in Israel. I can feel the sun and smell the orange blossoms.