EXPERIENCING Israel’s latest election campaign, having dinner on election eve with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and touring three border regions alongside security and intelligence experts, were among the “invaluable” highlights for eight senior Australian journalists on a NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) Study Mission to Israel last month, led by its CEO Vic Alhadeff.
The group spoke to an audience of 300 at the Sydney Jewish Museum on October 17, sharing vivid reflections from visiting the Western Wall during Shabbat to touring bomb shelters in playgrounds in Sderot near the Gaza border.
Channel Nine federal political reporter Chris O’Keefe said “overwhelmingly, my experience at Yad Vashem was something that got me right here [pointing to his heart]”.
“Standing with Phil as we walked through an exhibition about the Warsaw Ghetto, and him saying to me ‘my dad was in that ghetto’, just floored me … I have not been able to stop thinking about it.”
SBS managing director James Taylor described the week in Israel as “genuinely one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life”.
Noting the media often views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region in a binary form, Taylor said the trip “gave me a three-dimensional, high definition, vivid, more nuanced view of the place”.
Radio 2GB newsreader Amie Meehan felt shocked to discover shrines honouring suicide bombers when visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, but was heartened by examples of Israeli and Palestinian intelligence officials working together.
“To describe the situation there as complex is to simplify the issue,” Meehan said, adding she also gained an appreciation for the Australian Jewish community’s concerns about safety, saying “until now I’d never really understood it”.
The journalists also shared the lighter side of their Israeli experience. Taylor said his doctor recently told him “your blood is now five per cent hummus”, while Nine Network group executive editor James Chessell was thrilled to discover Israel “is like the land where nobody has heard of the term ‘no comment'”.
Other participants of the mission, made possible by the JCA Haberman Kulawicz Wolanski Fund, were Inquirer editor Georgina Windsor, the Daily Telegraph day editor Brad Clifton, Channel 7 senior news reporter Natasha Squarey, and news editor at Sky News Australia Kaycie Bradford.
Alhadeff said he felt “encouraged” to hear how much the journalists learned, and how that would inform their reporting.