Zuckerman to Israel: CNN is insignificant

JERUSALEM — Israelis do not realize that, compared with other American news organizations, CNN is "insignificant," Mortimer Zuckerman, the new chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Sunday.

"Many of you here just watch CNN and think that represents the way the media represents Israel. It does not. Many of the Israeli politicians I've spoken to speak of the 'CNN effect' and are really astonished to realize how insignificant CNN is," Zuckerman told a Jerusalem press conference at the start of a Presidents Conference solidarity trip.

He said the prominence of CNN should not be overrated, and began ticking off American TV ratings. "I know that's what you watch here, but CNN reaches 288,000 viewers, while the three major TV networks have an audience of 45 million, and the three major news weeklies over 11 million," he said.

He criticized what he termed the international media's "moral equivalence, where the arsonist is compared to the firefighter" and said that the media hold Israel up to a especially high moral standard, which places the country under an abnormally high level of scrutiny and criticism.

Publisher, editor-in-chief and columnist of U.S. News & World Report, as well as the publisher of the New York Daily News, Zuckerman said American news coverage of the situation does not necessarily represent the complete situation on the ground. "When you watch the pictures on U.S. television of the violence in Israel all crammed together in 60 or 100 seconds at most, you think the whole country is up in flames" Zuckerman said.

The Bush administration is "extremely supportive of the state of Israel," outgoing conference chairman Ronald Lauder said, noting that the U.S. government is taking a "wait-and-see attitude" on the "so-called cease-fire."

In the meantime, President Bush will not issue an invitation to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the White House until he implements an unconditional and complete cessation of violence, Malcolm Hoenlein, conference executive vice chairman said.

Pledging the group's solidarity with Israel, Hoenlein said, "We will be visible not only with words in Washington, but by our presence here in the state of Israel."

The conference leaders all pointed to a full-page ad they co-sponsored with the state of Israel Bonds in last Friday's New York Times headlined: "We are going to Israel this summer." The ad, which calls on American Jewry to "join us," is signed by every Jewish community in the United States, including the Reform movement, which, in a highly controversial move, canceled all of its youth trips to Israel this summer earlier this month.

Asked about the impact of the Reform movement's decision, Zuckerman said: "That move really provoked everybody to make clear we are all committed to nourishing, encouraging and participating in visits to Israel."

He confessed, however, that the decision in fact caused "widespread dismay" among U.S. Jewry and caused it to "refocus on the whole issue of visits to Israel."

"There should be no triumph for terrorists," Zuckerman said.

"This intifada is a war not just against Israel, but a war against the Jewish people," Hoenlein said.

Hoenlein, who said the conference is working on a plan to bring 1,000 rabbis to Israel in August, in addition to a group of 60 congressmen who have already committed themselves to visiting, added that this crucial time is a "test of solidarity" for diaspora Jewry.