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Where Was All the Commentary to Support an Embattled Israel?

June 10, 2010 By:
John Cohn and Gary Erlbaum
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Last week saw an almost unprecedented global attack on Israel and its right to defend itself with military force. Broadcast, Internet and print media carried a wide variety of reports on Israel's actions to stop a flotilla attempting to run Israel's well-publicized blockade of Gaza.

While Israel's government was initially slow in presenting the story, within hours of the violence that occurred at sea a rapidly growing body of video and written evidence justifying Israel's actions, albeit some critical of the execution, began to come out.

On the other side was widely publicized outrage by governments and organizations directed at Israel -- much of it based on incorrect understanding of, for example, the history of blockades in conflicts, the premeditated violence that greeted Israel's sailors as they came aboard one of the six ships, the terrorist background of that boat's sponsors, and the warnings that had been given to the flotilla's ships and their governments that the boats would be stopped.

Hundreds of articles were written by articulate journalists and others in the United States and Israel. Unfortunately, the Jewish Exponent published none of those. Instead, it published a JTA news story that would have been a breath of fresh air had it been printed in the reflexively anti-Israel The New York Times.

In the Exponent's editorial, what we now know to have been armed mercenaries and martyr wannabees were labeled "pro-Palestinian activists" -- a neutral, if not sympathetic, characterization used by the flotilla's supporters.

Unfortunately for the Israeli soldiers, they came armed with paintball guns. They, too, were prepared to face "activists" -- not the trained terrorists who attacked them as they rappelled onto the ship's deck.

At a time when the flotilla story was front and center in newspapers and news shows -- and in the minds of so many around the region -- the Exponent opinion page dealt with legal and illegal immigration. While this issue is important, it pales in comparison to giving the Philadelphia Jewish community the information needed to understand the real story of the Gaza blockade runners and to thoughtfully advocate on Israel's behalf.

Jews, like most Americans, have opinions on illegal immigration, border security, how to provide and pay for health care, the economy, abortion, violence in cities, gun control and how to educate the next generation of Americans. As the Exponent's "dueling columns" so often show, Philadelphia's Jews -- like their gentile neighbors -- do not always agree on the solutions to these thorny quandaries.

Show us what someone contends is the Jewish approach to one of these issues, and we'll show you a Jew with a differing opinion. As the well-known aphorism goes: "Where there's two Jews, three are opinions."

We would hope that we could all agree on the need to strengthen our community and confront the problems we face with changing demographics, so well outlined in the recent community population survey. And we would hope that we would also agree on our desire to see a strong and secure Israel, genuinely at peace with its neighbors, although we may sometimes differ on how best to achieve that.

Toward that end, the Jewish Exponent has the opportunity to perform a unique role. Philadelphians have numerous forums where they can debate and become informed about the pressing issues that confront our region and country. But that is not altogether true for issues that particularly affect the Jewish community.

If we are to survive as a viable Jewish community, the Exponent -- our community's only newspaper -- needs to remember where it came from. An "exponent" is defined as "one that expounds or interprets. One that speaks for, represents or advocates." In this critical moment in our people's history, the Jewish Exponent must not be neutral.

It must be our community's and Israel's advocate as it expounds and interprets. If there were to come a day where there was no organized Jewish community in Philadelphia, it would also be the day when there would be no need for the Exponent.

John Cohn is a professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and writes frequently about Israel and the Middle East. Gary Erlbaum is a longtime communal leader who currently serves on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel.


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