Israeli journalists speak at YJCC about their craft

Israeli journalists speak at YJCC about their craft

The news is big business in Israel. Most families gather around the television at 8 each night for the newscast.

“It’s just an addiction,” said Liron Karass, the youth shlicha (emissary from Israel) at the Bergen County YJCC in Washington Township.

So Karass helped organize a talk Monday evening, “The Front Lines of Israel,” by two Israeli journalists, Yaron Brener and Miri Yehuda. Brener has been a photojournalist for eight and a half years, the last six for Yediot Achronot, a daily newspaper published in Tel Aviv. ( is the online English-language version.) Yehuda is an award-winning freelance television news producer for foreign networks, such as NBC. The pair gave more than 50 people a behind-the-scenes look at modern journalism in Israel.

Miri Yehuda answers questions at the YJCC Monday night. Lloyd de Vries

“When I’m working, when I have my journalism hat on, I have no opinion at all,” Yehuda said, when asked whether Israeli journalists have a bias to the left or right. But news organizations have their own points of view, she added.

“Everybody has an agenda,” Yehuda said. “You’re free to choose who you work for,” just as consumers are free to choose where to shop – or where to get their news, she added. “You need to check out the media outlets.”

The program started with a presentation by Brener of his photographs. The subjects included suicide bombings, corruption trials, murders, preparation for Jewish holidays, Christian pilgrims, and even concerts by Iggy Pop and Lady Gaga.

“I have no idea who she is, actually,” Brener acknowledged, but photographing the concert was a “nice vacation for me.”

The pair are giving six talks in New Jersey this week. The one at the YJCC, co-sponsored by the Y, the Kehillah Partnership, and UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Israel Program Center, was the third in the series.

Both are based in Tel Aviv, but do stories anywhere in the country.

Brener says when he wants pictures of Israeli Jews celebrating a holiday, he goes to Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox community east of Tel Aviv; the residents of Tel Aviv aren’t that colorfully observant. And “when we have no other mission [assignment], we go to the beach” for photographs, he said, after showing a “winter scene” from Israel of a couple lying on a beach in bathing suits.

“Every day, we get up and wait for something to explode,” Brener said, adding that journalists in Israel have become blasé about rocket attacks from Gaza because they’re everyday occurrences.

Nevertheless, Brener choked up a little when he showed a picture he’d taken of five coffins wrapped in Israeli flags. He said that it’s hard to shoot such photographs – “I’m a soldier, too” – and noted that photojournalists use long lenses at funerals, so they don’t intrude on the mourners.

Yaron Brener talks about his career as a photojournalist in Israel.

One of Brener’s favorite photos is of Kadima party leader Ehud Olmert shortly after he became prime minister in 2006. The press photographers were restricted to an area on the floor, so the picture looks up, and there’s a recessed light over Olmert’s head that looks almost like a halo.

The photograph got modest play then, but a few years later, when Olmert was indicted on corruption charges, the photograph was used with captions to the effect of “He’s no angel.”

Brener also showed before and after pictures of a young man accused of running over and killing a young girl. When arrested, the man was clean-shaven and bareheaded. When his trial began, he had a long beard and a kippah.

Brener said it’s not unusual for those arrested to appear in court as more visibly observant, hoping the judge will be more lenient to them. The joke among Israeli journalists, Brener said, is that “when you go to jail, you get handcuffed, a gold suit, and a kippah.”

Yehuda conducted the question-and-answer session, although some of the attendees seemed more interested in expressing their own opinions, asking why Israel doesn’t do a better job in the propaganda war against Arabs or whether the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza had accomplished anything.

Yehuda and Brener pointed out that they’re journalists, not policymakers. Yehuda later told The Jewish Standard that she had been more political at this talk than the two they’d given earlier in the week, but at all the talks, people said they are worried about how Israel is portrayed by the international press.

Brener said he uses digital cameras. “Of course. I work for the Internet. I need to shoot it yesterday.”

When asked what brand of cameras he uses, Brener reluctantly answered “Nikon,” but added, “It’s not the camera, I’m happy to say; it’s me.”

He brings to assignments two cameras, a laptop computer, flashes, and an aircard (a device that plugs into either a camera or a laptop to access the Internet wirelessly), all on his motorcycle. He carries a pager so he can be sent quickly to photograph stories.

Brener told the Standard that he’s been threatened and had his cameras broken “so many times” while covering stories, but not at terror or military incidents. There he feels insulated.

“Israel is a very comfortable place to cover a conflict,” Yehuda said. “You can go home, spend half a day at the beach, then go back to the craziness.”

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