A senior Israeli foreign press officer made the final stop of his U.S. tour in North Miami Thursday, getting an earful from his Jewish audience who perceive a pro-Palestine sentiment in Mideast news coverage.
Speaking at the Dezer Auto Museum in North Miami, David Baker, senior foreign press coordinator in the Israeli prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, shed some light on the purpose of his role, the difficulties that come with it and the challenges that Israel faces.
“There are pitfalls in the foreign media regarding how they portray us in a negative light—there a lot of misconceptions regarding Israel,” Baker said.
The general consensus in the audience of approximately 100 guests was that most of the press Israel gets is bad press, and more effort is needed to change that.
Mirit Mendelson of Mendelson Global Consulting said the media report what they believe will grab the most attention, not necessarily the holistic aspect of the story.
“The media are sensationalists; they care less about the real stuff,” Mendelson said. “It serves their purpose.”
Mendelson was referring to what she considers an increasingly pro-Palestinian stance in the media.
“Reporters in Israel usually find it easier to convey the most vivid pictures they can,” Baker said. “And the Palestinians seem to have a knack in being able to do that, with quite a bit of distortions.”
Baker, a native of Queens, New York, has served at his current post since 2000—under the past four Israeli prime ministers—and marked his fourth trip to South Florida, home of the second-largest Jewish community in the United States.
“My job is to be the interface between the prime minster’s office and the foreign press,” Baker said. “There are over 400 foreign journalists in Israel—some call it stressful, I call it energetic.”
Baker’s mission on the tour, which began in New York and New Jersey before stops in Boca Raton and North Miami, was to hear residents’ comments on issues confronting Israel and listening to their proposed solutions. The Bnai Zion Foundation sponsored the three-state trip.
Michael Kaplan of Welcome & Bienvenidos Magazine said Israel needs to ingrain “uber-pro Israel views” among its young journalists to counter anti-Israeli coverage.
Baker countered that journalists should never be trained to take one side over another, and that is not the government’s place to dictate.
“We are the printing press, not the mailmen,” Baker said. “We put out a lot of stuff out there but we don’t decide what gets in the story. The press is a free enterprise, they are allowed, should be and will be allowed to report on whatever they want.”
Another topic was the expansion of the Al Jazeera news network to the United States, including the 800 jobs that come with it.
“We work with Al Jazeera, they have an office in Jerusalem,” Baker said. “We are quite put off with most, if not all, of their content, especially the Arabic language part, but we work in an intensive basis with them because people watch it,” he said.
Baker also addressed a concern regarding the polarity between the cultures of Israel and Palestine and the violence that is attributed to it.
“There are gaps between both peoples and there are gaps in the way we perceive things,” Baker said. “Certainly, the Palestinians have spent a great deal of effort injecting terror into equation. We have to look ahead and see what we can do to bring an end to this conflict; it is made harder when you’re dealing with people who have a different take on things, including the readiness to use terror as a weapon.”
On the topic of the settlements in the West Bank, Baker said to have a proper peace process, both sides need to come to the table and be prepared to negotiate—without preconditions.
He added that peace is at the forefront of the Israeli government’s priorities and to allude to anything but that is misguided.
“It’s a central part of our existence and our religion,” Baker said. “We wish peace upon each other, shalom aleichem—we do not wish upon you a long and protracted conflict that is unending.”