Nathan Guttman Speaks to Jewish Community

[Archived from August 14, 2009]

[by Stephanie Doctrow]

More than 50 people filled Adath Jeshurun’s Switow Chapel to hear Israeli journalist Nathan Guttman speak before the community Erev Tisha B’av service on July 29.

Guttman, the Washington Bureau Chief for the Jewish Daily Forward and a Washington correspondent for Israel’s Channel 1 News, has more than two decades of experience reporting on the Middle East peace process and U.S./ Israel relations. Drawing on his knowledge of current affairs, Guttman explained how he believes the elections of President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will affect foreign relations and how he predicts the Arab/ Israel conflict will progress in the coming years.

Guttman cited a recent Jerusalem Post poll that said only six percent of Jews in Israel believe President Obama supports Israel. “Six months into the administration, it’s clear things aren’t working out well,” Guttman said.

Guttman attributed this negative attitude to the recent winds of change affecting both the Israeli and the United States governments. He said the Obama administration is shifting its foreign policy from President Bush’s “good guys/bad guys” mentality towards the more realistic approach of working with everyone, including addressing some fragile relationships in Arab nations. Meanwhile, Guttman said the Israelis and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right wing coalition government believe the peace process with the Palestinians is going nowhere. Today, Israelis feel safer from terror, so they feel it is more important to focus their energy on the real threat from Iran.

Guttman said the current priority clash between the United States and Israel is unfortunate, but won’t threaten the historic relationship between them. “Relationships aren’t supposed to be rosy all the time,” he added.

The current tension between the two countries arises from the proposed two-state solution, he contends, with disagreements over the meaning of a settlement freeze and Israeli national pride, which leads it to resist pressure by other nations.

“This is a story of miscommunication and mistaken calculations,” Guttman said.

He believes the Obama and Netanyahu governments will have to learn to compromise in order to make progress, but the relationship between the two nations is unshakeable. Guttman pointed out that the United States is Israel’s main ally in preventing a nuclear Iran and continues to provide $2.8 billion in military aid each year to Israel despite its own financial issues.

In an interview before his presentation, Guttman said the mainstream media does not devote a lot of coverage to Israel or the Middle East, so people are not as informed as they should be on the nuances of the situation. Because so many major media outlets no longer maintain bureaus in Israel, Guttman said most media coverage of the Middle East focuses on specific events instead of in-depth pieces exploring the conflict.

“It’s hard to sum up in a one-and-a-half-minute segment on the nightly news,” he said. “You can’t convey the complexity of the issues.”

People in the United States often feel the need to speak in one voice regarding Israel, Guttman said. He added that people forget Israel is a democratic society where people argue about everything, and that different opinions don’t necessarily mean lack of national support.

“People are surprised to know what a vibrant and lively political conversation takes place in Israel,” he said.

Guttman said as an Israeli journalist covering complex, controversial issues, he makes a point of talking to people across the spectrum and incorporating as many views as possible into his articles. He said there will always be people who criticize his work, but he does his job by sticking to the facts.

“I don’t write opinion pieces,” he said, “I write news.”

At the beginning of his presentation, Guttman said he had been to Louisville two years ago for another speaking engagement and was impressed with the commitment and knowledge of the local Jewish community regarding Israel.

The best way to create more support for Israel is partnering with Israeli communities to build personal relationships, Guttman said. He also advocated visiting Israel whenever the opportunity arises. “Understanding is better than just giving money,” Guttman said.

Through Partnership with Israel, the Louisville Jewish community actively promotes building those personal relationships with the Western Galilee. Since the program’s inception in 1997, Louisville has been part of the Central Area Consortium of communities in the Midwestern United States, and has benefited from numerous programs and exchanges in the areas of medicine, art, education and business with Akko, the Western Galilee Hospital and the other communities in the region.

Guttman’s program in Louisville was co-sponsored by Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel and Temple Shalom, with support from the Jewish Community of Louisville.

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