Such were the pleasantries that Gary Kenzer, the National USA Director for Honest Reporting, faced while in Northern California this past March, visiting with mostly Jewish groups.
"The week and a half that I was there (Northern California)", Gary related to me, "I must have had 50-60 calls from people blasting me. ‘How dare you do the job you do?'" Though he encouraged all those who called to come to one of his numerous events, naturally most did not.
Remember, Kenzer wasn't in the Middle East or Europe. He was in the US, a country whose people, especially Jews, as a whole support Israel more than in any other. This is continued proof that even here in the US, we must stay vigilant in our support for Israel. Complacency will only lead to more of the above, and not only in very liberal areas like Northern California.
Gary Kenzer has been with Honest Reporting since the summer of 2006. He previously worked as the National Director for Magen David Adom USA (the Israeli version of the Red Cross). He was brought on as the first US director of Honest Reporting, "to take what is a great virtual presence on the Internet and make it come to life for people. The Internet is very one-directional. It doesn't give you the ability to ask questions and to bounce ideas of each other." Honest Reporting wanted someone on the ground, proactively seeking to meet with people.
Kenzer speaks to groups sometimes numbering in the hundreds, 15-20 times per week. His goal is to talk to 1000 people every week, drawing awareness to media bias against Israel. Each time he speaks to a group he leads off with the same message.
"We (Honest Reporting) firmly believe that Israel is not a perfect country, but being perfect is not a pre-requisite for being treated fairly at the hands of the international media. We want to see a time when Israel is treated the same as any country in the world— innocent until proven guilty, not the other way around. Right now it's pretty glaring, and Gaza was a great example. Time after time Israel was guilty until proven innocent."
We were all witnesses to just how glaring the "guilty until proven innocent" mindset was both during and after the Gaza conflict. Two examples that come to mind are the story of the UN school shelling and the story of wanton killing of civilians by IDF soldiers. Both have been proven to be false.
Gary stressed that we should "let the truth set Israel free". We at FLAME couldn't agree more. We know how important it is to not only combat media bias, but also to take proactive steps through educating the public. Our ads, seen by millions across the country, as well as by members of Congress, are truth based.
Honest Reporting recently sent out an email describing a BBC story on a recent attack in Israel involving a Palestinian riding a bulldozer. Naturally, the BBC blamed the attack on the bulldozer rather than on the Palestinian. The final headline on the BBC's website read: "‘New digger attack' in Jerusalem".
As a subscriber to Honest Reporting, I received the email and I dutifully submitted a complaint via the BBC's cumbersome complaint website, doing my best to use truth to fight back against bias.
Every time I submit these complaints I ask myself whether this will prevent future media bias. I tend to think that it won't be enough. Gary agreed with me on this point:
"We blast them with emails, and that's reactionary. What that does is it satisfies the angst and the anger of lots of people. And I've got tell you it does absolutely nothing for correcting the situation. It does zero… We can't continue to think that we can change things long-term if we continue catching people doing things wrong. We are doing a great job of educating people, but nothing is changing. A couple of months down the road, the editor changes, so we are back to the same place we were. We really did nothing for the long-term. We need to have an open door to the media."
Kenzer didn't mean to sound discouraging. In fact, during our entire conversation he was incredibly positive and optimistic about our ability to impart change. What he meant was that Honest Reporting's email campaigns, though effective at holding the media accountable in the short-term, are only fighting half the battle. The other half is getting to the media before the bias can even occur.
I asked Kenzer how Honest Reporting went about providing an "open door" to the media. He described their media facility in Jerusalem, called Media Central. A lot of journalists from around the world now come to Media Central, including some major news personalities. They've seen amazing results, Kenzer says, and there are waiting lists for the day trips they take journalists on. Media Central also holds TGITs (Thank Goodness It's Thursdays) every week, at which journalists have the opportunity to listen to speakers on various political and social issues.
The email campaigns do a great job of tackling media bias for the short-term, and Media Central handles the long-term. Though it may take years to see how far Media Central's work has permeated, the good news, according to Kenzer, is the growing number of journalists interested in hearing the other side of the story. The future looks bright for all of us Israel supporters.
As Gary emphatically told me on a few occasions, "don't look at the cup as half empty, look at it as half full. We can't do anything less than look at the cup as half full".
The international media's bias towards Israel sure can get depressing at times, but Gary is right. As soon as we feel unempowered, we've lost the battle.