In praise of Al Jazeera America — Israeli media can take a lesson

In praise of Al Jazeera America — Israeli media can take a lesson

Al Jazeera. Simply hearing the name would bother me two years ago, like nails on a chalkboard.

In my ethnocentric view, I believed Al Jazeera existed for the sole purpose of promoting anti-Israel propaganda with the utmost criticism of the nation. How could I trust any of their other journalism with their articles containing blatant bias against Israel?

Yet a few months ago Al Jazeera America was introduced. What I discovered in my curiosity of this extension is that Al Jazeera America has spectacular journalism — with the exclusion of select topics, such as Israel.

Generally speaking, the articles are factual, concise, quickly released and, most important, enjoyable to read. The website layout is flawless. The clarity and simplicity is uncanny. The ease of use, links for a section list, social media, trending topics and the top stories and headlines are just plain good.

This realization was astonishing. Lately, my first sources for daily news regarding Israel include The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, and Ynetnews. With the exception of op-eds in the online versions of these sources, the articles are frequently flat out monotonous, dry and even depressing. Rarely do I read an article that captivates me or makes the person of interest relatable.

Rarely do I see major headlines outside of Iran’s nuclear program, current policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speeches by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and rocket fire from Hamas into Israel.

Almost never do I see an in-depth analysis or interview of an Israeli soldier or politician, a victim of terrorism, a businessman, and the like.

Articles that personalize Israel as a nation, its people, and its conflict with its Palestinian counterparts would make the country so much more interesting to read about. With that, maybe people would be more inclined to sympathize with Israel rather than describe its supporters as warmongering, occupiers and many of the other poor connotations the country now holds on such a mass level.

On Nov. 18, the front page of Al Jazeera America had an exclusive titled “The Abu Zubaydah Diaries.” The articles in this exclusive, dated as early as Nov. 5, focus on Abu Zubaydah, a high-ranking member of al-Qaida and current detainee of Guantanamo Bay. Abu Zubaydah has organized horrific terrorist attacks as major as 9/11, and was a powerful influence in the management al-Qaida training camps. While reading these articles, knowing I would hate this man, I also felt intrigued to know about his history — not because of his actions as a terrorist but because he is a person with an interesting story behind him. If that is the impression Al Jazeera America is able to make on me, what impressions are they able to make on the average person with no connection to Israel or the West?

It is frightening to think of how great the effects can be to these readers.

Maybe this is just how they present articles related to the Middle East. But no, articles on American topics such as the newly elected socialist, Kshama Sawant, to Seattle’s city council and the sentencing of an American activist, Jeremy Hammond, are incredibly well written.

The article on Sawant explains in full detail with direct quotes given to Al Jazeera both her background and her desire to raise Seattle’s minimum wage. Hammond is personified so well through his mother’s eyes that you feel connected to him as a person, not a man recently convicted of a crime and serving 10 years in prison.

So what course of action should we as supporters of Israel take here? Should rabbis preach during sermons about media bias against Israel? Sure. Can we strive to have Al Jazeera America banned from television in our country? Well, what about our first amendment rights? Should college and community organizations host events exposing bias against Israel? It may help.

It is our journalism that will make the difference — stories about our experiences, our successes and failures and our reasons for loving Israel.

As a Jew, as an Israeli, as anyone who supports Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, we all need to tell our stories with as much power and emotion as Al Jazeera America told Abu Zubaydah’s, a man who wants nothing more than to destroy America.

We need to show the world why Israel is such an incredible country — not only what Israel does politically. Cultural headlines should share equal weight with Israeli politics. We need elaborate interviews that personalize the issues so that people see Israel as more than a nation with political upheaval.

Israel needs to be seen as the vibrant nation, rich in culture, with a strong set of values, and progressive thinking that makes it so wonderful to live in, visit and support.

(Samuel Hantverk, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, is president of the Pittsburgh-Israel Public Affairs Committee.)