Frustrated by the images of Israel appearing in the media through six weeks of violent confrontations between Israeli soldiers and rioting Palestinians, more than 100 Jews met at a Newport Beach synagogue Sunday to discuss coverage of events in the Middle East.
There, members of the Young Leaders group of the Jewish Federation of Orange County heard speakers defend and castigate the media for the attention given to disturbances in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where stone-throwing Palestinian demonstrators have been met with harsh countermeasures from Israeli authorities.
At least 36 Palestinians have died in the disturbances, hundreds of others have been injured by gunfire or beatings and as many as 300,000 at a time have been restricted to their homes under curfews.
The territories, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, were captured by Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967. Prior to the war, Gaza was held by Egypt and the West Bank was part of Jordan.
The unrest in the territories has caused divisions among Jews both here and in Israel, where on Saturday an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 Jewish citizens in Tel Aviv demonstrated to protest the strict security measures imposed by the government.
While not disputing the accuracy of the reportage from the Middle East, many of those meeting at Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach complained of disproportionate media attention on Israeli policy and the hardships of the Palestinians.
"You don't read about the other half (of the problems)--the Arab half," said Joseph Kandel, 28, of Huntington Beach. Kandel said Israeli policy in the occupied territories--which now includes the beating of suspected troublemakers--was made necessary by the perilous position of the Jewish state.
"I don't think it's a human rights issue for Palestinians," Kandel said. "I think it's an issue of survival for the Jewish people."
Kandel said he considered news coverage of the disturbances "very slanted" against Israel.
Ruth Snyder, director of the Santa Monica-based Committee on Media Accountability, said the group compiled statistics showing that major newspapers, including The Times, have given greater coverage to unrest in the Israeli-occupied territories than they have to what she said were comparable events worldwide, such as the fighting between the Indian army and Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka.
The conflict in Sri Lanka has claimed more lives than the Palestinian unrest, but Snyder contended that from the fall of 1987 through January, 1988, The Times devoted only 584 column inches to the matter, while it gave 1,258 column inches to West Bank and Gaza stories.
Snyder focused most of her comments on The Times, the only major Southern California newspaper with a news bureau in Jerusalem. But she noted that the New York Times gave 704 column inches to news stories on the Sri Lanka conflict but devoted 1,492 column inches to coverage of the troubled Israeli-occupied territories.
Snyder complained that many correspondents assigned to cover conflicts in the Middle East speak neither Hebrew nor Arabic and often lack a background in the history of the area.
Snyder said that through its news coverage, The Times was advancing an editorial opinion favoring Palestinian rights.
"Our big complaint is not that (The Times has) an opinion . . . (but that) they promote their opinion on the front page," Snyder said.
Another speaker, however, said Snyder's group was trying to "blame the messenger" for the news coming from Israel and the occupied territories.
Mark I. Pinsky, a staff writer for The Times' Orange County Edition who covers religion and was invited to speak as a member of the news media, said Jews distressed with news stories from Israel should complain to the Israeli leaders responsible for their government's policy, rather than to journalists who report it.
Pinsky, who said he was not speaking on behalf of The Times, disputed assertions that news executives had any agenda to advance through their coverage of events. He told the group that correspondents--and television crews in particular--are inclined to go wherever they sense a breaking story.
The meeting was held as part of an effort to improve leadership skills for Jewish adults. One observer, however, was a Palestinian immigrant, and he said the exchange of views he witnessed had been positive.
"As a Palestinian, I want to see the Jewish point of view," said Nabil Dajani, 50. "I want to see how we can reconcile our differences."
Dajani said he immigrated to the United States from Jerusalem in 1966, when the city's eastern half was in Jordanian hands.
The heightened tensions in the Middle East, Dajani said, might be a precursor to peace between Arabs and Israelis.