Israel is unable and unwilling to change its unique blend of religion and state, said the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office in an address to Jewish Diaspora journalists in Jerusalem on Sunday.
“While many great democracies around the world can successfully and beautifully separate religion and state, in Israel we can’t,” Eli Groner said. “We can’t and we won’t. We’re a Jewish sovereign nation state, for better and for worse.”
Speaking at the second annual Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, Groner also called on Jewish newspapers to focus less on Israel’s foreign relations and more on what happens inside the country.
“It’s an indisputable fact that Jewish journalists around world spent a disproportionate amount time focusing on Israel’s foreign policy. I implore you: take the lid of the pot, step inside and pay more attention to our domestic policy,” Groner said.
While Diaspora Jews have many different identities, Israeli Jews’ lives are “far more blended,” he explained, adding that Israelis don’t leave their Judaism at the door when they enter their workplaces.
That “blended environment” leads Israelis to view their prime minister as “the leader of the Jewish world”, Groner said. “After many thousands of years of exile, we feel that the State of Israel is the ultimate game-changer and that the way Jewish history was felt up until 1948 is very different from what it felt after 1949.”
Groner said he doesn’t expect Jewish Diaspora journalists to agree with his view. “I don’t ask you to be a bridge between the two worlds, either, because quite frankly, your jobs as journalists is not to be bridges, your job is to be the best journalists you can be.”
However, Groner urged the non-Israeli Jewish press to make efforts to better understand certain nuances about Israeli life.
If foreign journalists better understood how Israel builds its economy and navigates the complicated laws of shabbat they would be better able to inform their readers about what is really going on in Israel, Groner said.
“It’s your job as journalists to understand our DNA, why we do that and to make Israel more explainable to the world,” he concluded.
President Reuven Rivlin also addressed the summit, calling participants to help Israel in fighting anti-Zionism abroad. He also urged the journalists not to focus their reporting only on negative stories but to highlight good things happening in Israel as well.
“If you face anti-Semitism, it is the duty of the State of Israel to stand by you. And when we face anti-Zionism — which is also anti-Semitism — you have a duty to stand with us,” he said.
Rivlin said that he has not been shy to speak about on all forms of hatred and extremism in Israel. The media is always quick to report about the problems the Jewish state faces but hesitates to write about the good things.
“I understand the golden rule, ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’” he said, “but friends, as the voice, eyes, and ears of the Jewish community, I urge you all: be sure you give a voice to those working for a better future. Because the world and the community looks to you.”