Cardiologist Uri Ben-Zur is fed up with the media's images of Israelis soldiers as the bullies of the Middle East. The Tel Aviv native, currently an attending physician at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center, recalls how several months ago his cousin Amit was patrolling in the Gaza as part of the Israeli Defense Forces army reserve when a gang of Palestinians suddenly started throwing rocks - or what looked like rocks.
"One of the rocks turned out to be a grenade," Ben-Zur said. "Fortunately one of his buddies saw it and knocked him out of the way. His father was not so lucky; many years ago when he was in the army he also had an encounter with a grenade and was badly burned."
Stories like this, however, never seem to make it onto CNN, said Ben-Zur. Angered by the mainstream media's portrayal of his country, he has joined with other Los Angeles area physicians to create the nonprofit organization Spirit of Israel. Its aim: to promote a more accurate and balanced portrayal of the situation in the Middle East and encourage active support from Jews worldwide.
"One of the problems a lot of Israelis see is that there is a very big gap between what we see on the Israeli news media and what other news media reports," Ben-Zur said. "It's almost as if they are talking about two different things.
"What blew me apart was a month and a half ago with the three Israeli soldiers captured by the Hezbollah. You tune in to Israeli television and they are interviewing the mother of one of the soldiers saying she wished he had been killed instead of captured, because of the Hezbollah's terrible way of dealing with hostages. But you turn on CNN and instead they're showing another Arab killed by Israeli soldiers. What they don't show is what it's like to be in a two- or three-soldier group facing thousands of Palestinians throwing rocks. They're vastly outnumbered, but that's not what is shown. It's just so biased."
Ben-Zur's budding organization hosted its first event at the Universal City Hilton Dec. 4 with keynote speaker Yuval Rotem, the Israel's consul general in Los Angeles. Rotem agrees with the doctors and others who see a lack of action on behalf of the Jewish state.
"These doctors have a great concern, and rightly so, about what is taking place in the Middle East," Rotem said. "There is a big gap between the degree of concern [from American Jews] and the degree of action, especially compared to what the other side is doing. Look at how many rallies are being initiated by [pro-Palestinians] and then go to every Jewish agency and ask what they have been doing in the last 10 weeks and how much of it is devoted to Israel."
Rotem said that, in addition to making their support for Israel more visible, Jewish agencies need to reactivate the push for peace in the Middle East.
"We need to revive the dialogue between Israel and American Jews, especially now when people are casting doubt on the peace process," he said. "There is a need to share with [Americans] the problems we are facing."
Ben-Zur hopes that Spirit of Israel will be a conduit for such dialogues. Already the organization is planning their next event, with the speaker still unconfirmed at press time but rumored to be a higher-up in the Israeli government. Spirit of Israel organizers are also working on construction of a Web site with up-to-the-minute information on the situation in Israel and what American Jews can do to help.
"Israel's neighbors are the worst enemies to have because there is no way to negotiate with them. They don't see negotiation as a sign of strength," Ben-Zur notes. "Israel has 5 million Jews, and the only thing they have going for them is the Jews around the world to support them. If we as American Jews don't do anything about this problem, who is going to do it?
"For me, Israel is an insurance card like no other. Jews here have to realize that for the 52 years there has been an Israel, there has been no Holocaust, no Spanish Inquisition," he added. "If some crazy government decides to target Jews, no other country but Israel is going to police that. People don't realize they need Israel more than Israel needs them."
For more information about Spirit of Israel events, call (818) 789-9928.