Why we covered Breaking the Silence

Why we covered Breaking the Silence

Explaining our decision to publish piece on controversial organization

Gabe Kahn is the editor of The New Jersey Jewish News.

In our last issue of NJJN, we published an article titled, “Picture worth thousands of complicated words: Breaking the Silence photos remind me that my Zionism includes recognition of Palestinian oppression.” The piece, labeled Reporter’s Notebook, was written by contributing writer Michele Alperin. It was a first-person account of her visit to a photo exhibit at Princeton University by Breaking the Silence, an organization that says it strives to tell the true stories of “veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” 

It would be an understatement to say we received feedback. Although some praised Alperin’s effort, the vast majority were critical, decrying the article, the reporter, this editor, and anyone who works for or supports NJJN. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, better known as CAMERA, an organization that promotes accurate and balanced media coverage of the Middle East, included us in an email blast, telling its subscribers that NJJN “promotes” an anti-Israel organization. In one reader’s letter, the writer alleged that my “ilk was in charge of the innocent Jews who marched quietly to their brutal murders during WWII.” 

I’ll sum up the majority of the complaints (see Letters to the Editor on page 12 to read some of the responses):

• Breaking the Silence is nothing less than anti-Israel propaganda, and several of its statements have been found to be inaccurate, information which was not included in the article.

• Breaking the Silence is financed by organizations and foreign governments that hate Israel. 

• The article was not listed as an Opinion piece, and therefore it was presented as fact.

• NJJN should have included a disclaimer noting that we did not endorse it. 

• A Jewish newspaper has no place printing an article criticizing Israel, and certainly not to that extent.

To be clear, NJJN is a pro-Israel publication, and I’m proud to say the vast majority of our stories on the Jewish state are solidly in its favor. We’re also mindful to include diverse voices in our op-eds. That means we publish opinion pieces from the political left and the political right. It also means we sometimes publish views that are critical of certain policies of the Israeli government; it’s part of our role to inform readers of divergent points of view and allow for those views to be expressed. 

Presenting the Breaking the Silence piece as a “Reporter’s Notebook” conveys that the article is a personal perspective as opposed to a reported article that seeks to provide balance, based on outside sources, witnesses, experts, etc. In essence, a Reporter’s Notebook is an opinion piece written by a reporter instead of a columnist.

For those who would have preferred a disclaimer, it’s not our policy to direct readers on which opinions to endorse or disavow. 

Further, we consider our publication to be a combination of two parts: “Jewish,” in which we have a responsibility to connect the entire Jewish community, both socially and intellectually, and promote dialogue and understanding; and “News,” which strives to inform our readers about issues of relevance to them. Alperin’s piece was well-written, timely, and based on a perspective that, although upsetting for some readers, is reflective of a significant portion of Jews, here and in Israel. The issues raised, however controversial, are real; we want our readers to be exposed to reality.

I fully respect the viewpoint of those who criticized the piece. I hope they come to respect the mission of a Jewish community newspaper to present a wide range of viewpoints, whether or not it agrees with them. It’s what freedom of the press is all about.

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