Hmmm: Netayahu gov't plans "Christian Media Summit" in Jerusalem

Does the Israeli government really need a “Christian Media Summit” for religious broadcasters and journalists? The affinity between the evangelical Right in the US and the state of Israel has remained strong for decades. Perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu’s taking no chances, or maybe he sees an opening to further his negotiating stance on peace talks ahead of Jared Kushner’s full-court press. Ha’aretz calls this the first official event that aims at this specific segment of the primarily American media:

Reflecting its desire for closer ties with the Christian evangelical right in the United States, the Israeli government has embarked on a campaign to cultivate influential journalists who serve this community.

Hoping to explain the country and its often-controversial policies to this new target audience, the government is sponsoring and subsidizing a first-of-its-kind “Christian Media Summit” in Jerusalem. About 140 reporters, editors and publishers, representing roughly 70 media outlets, have been invited to the four-day conference, which will be held in mid-October. The government will be paying for the room and board of all the participants, according to information provided by the sponsors.

The conference is being sponsored by the Government Press Office (which operates under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs. Participants are scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, among other dignitaries, during their visit.

In one sense, it’s a no-brainer. Yes, evangelicals already support Israel, and journalists from this segment of the industry are inclined to that direction, too. The purpose is less to woo them than to arm them with the information needed to report favorably on Netanyahu’s policies and actions. The resources and sessions noted by Ha’aretz’ Judy Maltz make that purpose clear — “Reporter’s Notebook for Covering Israel and the Middle East,” “Resources for Telling the Israeli Story,””Israel and the Fight Against Radical Islam,” and so on. The conference will also include a trip to at least one major settlement, and a museum that focuses on Christian Zionists.

It’s also not an entirely original idea, although the focus of it may be. The late Shimon Peres put on several annual Israeli Presidential Conferences under the banner Tomorrow, two of which I covered under similar arrangements. However, these were more straightforwardly conferences with a broader mandate than what Ha’aretz’ Maltz reports here. They mainly consisted of debates across the entire spectrum of both Israeli politics and policies, with a special emphasis on strategies for peace. Netanyahu participated in those as well, but it’s safe to say based on the celebrities that participated in them that it wasn’t aimed at American evangelicals.

On the other hand, this might get a little touchy for both sides. Private organizations already conduct tours and conferences for Western journalists for these same purposes (and presumably on both sides of these policy issues). Having the government as a sponsor might create an appearance of being co-opted for the journalists, and Netanyahu’s direct efforts to connect with American conservatives could have some political blowback at home. Remember that the center of Israeli politics is significantly leftward of the center in American politics, and Netanyahu has to play a careful game to keep his parliamentary base as broad as possible. There is also at least some suspicion about the motives of American evangelicals’ support for Zionism too (being apocalyptic rather than solely about a Jewish homeland), which could create at least a little bit of trouble for Netanyahu, too.

The first such summit will take place in October, if this goes off according to plan. We’ll certainly hear plenty about it if it does, and see whether Netanyahu gets his “good ambassadors” as a result.

Addendum: To be a little more clear, the only real problem for the journalists involved would be if they didn’t fully disclose the arrangements. The aim appears to be working with people already inclined to support these policies. The issues of disclosure aren’t much different than it would be from working with private organizations.