By Mika Park
For the Mitzpeh
Aluf Benn, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, spoke at a lecture on Sept. 12 titled “Israel, the U.S., & the Media: Inherent Enemies?” with professor Yoram Peri, director of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, and professor Dana Priest of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
The lecture focused on the role of Haaretz as the mainstream liberal news outlet in Israel under a right-wing government, and comparisons of Israel and the United States’ current relationship between the public, politics and the media.
Peri and Priest asked Benn questions about the effect of Haaretz’s stories, comparisons between Priest’s experience at the Washington Post and Benn’s with Haaretz and treatment of Israeli reporters that write about government opposition, among other topics. The audience was welcomed to ask questions of the speakers at the end of the lecture.
Their conversation examined the criticism Haaretz faces as the most prominent voice to Israeli government opposition, the low rates of trust in news organizations in Israel and the U.S. and the impact of media digitalization.
“When I joined Haaretz it was a small town newspaper in Hebrew,” Benn said. “Now our voice is heard around the globe.”
Benn also spoke to coverage of anti-Semitism, as the U.S. is experiencing a rise in demonstrations of anti-Semitism and white supremacy. He said that Haaretz is prepared to report on news involving anti-Semitism and white supremacy, but there are not reporters specifically assigned to coverage of those topics.
Hanna London, a freshman in letters and sciences, is a subscriber of Haaretz and heard about the lecture via email. She said that the general anti-Israel sentiments from the American left puts her in a difficult position, as a Jew who strongly identifies with liberal politics. Lots of people do not separate support of Israel from opposition to a Palestinian state, she said.
“The more we can talk about it and make the distinction between them, the more room there is for people to form their own, independent opinions,” London said.
She said that the lecture could be conducive to conversations that clarify that pro-Israel beliefs are not mutually exclusive from support for Palestinian interest.
Sam Koralnik, last year’s president of Terps for Israel and a senior government and politics major, said he was interested in hearing Benn’s perspective on Israeli society, but that a lot of what Benn said has been expressed before. However, Koralnik said he liked hearing about Israeli publications from an insider’s viewpoint.
“He offered a different take on different Israeli news outlets, and I found the interaction between sources refreshing,” Koralnik said.
Erran Carmel, a business professor at American University, said he attended the lecture because he has read Haaretz for the past 50 years and wanted to listen to its editor-in-chief. Carmel grew up in Israel and moved to the United States after finishing his military service.
“I feel very connected to the newspaper,” Carmel said. “I’ve seen it evolve.”
When questions were opened to audience members after the lecture, Carmel asked Benn about concerns that Haaretz has leaned too far to the liberal side of the political spectrum. He asked if Haaretz has marginalized itself in political discourse by becoming radical.
Benn sees Haaretz’s increasingly left-leaning views as a response to Israel’s increasingly partisan government.
“Government policy is more radical as well,” Benn said. “We have more to criticize.”
Mattan Berner-Kadish, a junior government and politics major, said he thinks Haaretz is the best source of news coming out of Israel, but agrees that its reputation can have a polarizing effect.
“People see ‘Haaretz’ on the cover and immediately dismiss it as too radical,” Berner-Kadish said.
Peri was surprised by the large amount of students in the audience who read Haaretz regularly.
“How many people read Ha’aretz?” Peri asked the audience. “Oh, more than I thought!”
The lecture was followed by a reception for guests with snacks, desserts, and beverages.