Israel Project trying to keep international media honest

When international TV news agencies run a story on Gaza, they usually feature two minutes of oppressed Palestinians besieged by mean Israeli invaders.

It’s Marcus Sheff’s job to make sure they tack on 25 seconds about the rain of missiles on Sderot, the Negev town hit hard by Hamas’ war on Israel.

As executive director of the Israel Project, Sheff helps tell Sderot’s — and Israel’s — story to the world. Too often, Sheff asserts, that story isn’t told.

Sheff and the Israel Project work with hundreds of foreign correspondents covering the Middle East from Israel.

“We strive for balance,” he said, “Journalists live on information. It’s their lifeblood, and we can offer that. They know ours is honest and sourced.”

Founded six years ago and based in Washington, D.C., and Jerusalem, the Israel Project helps journalists get the information they need to accurately tell Israel’s side of the story.

The organization gained attention by sponsoring helicopter tours for journalists. There’s nothing like a bird’s-eye view of Israel to illustrate the dangers the country faces on all sides.

Yet it’s what Sheff does on the ground that matters most. When a terrorist murdered eight students at Jerusalem’s Mercaz Harav yeshiva this month, the Israel Project was on scene in minutes, issuing the first press release to 15,000 journalists.

“The mission is to impact the media,” said Sheff, who was in the Bay Area recently to raise funds for the Israel Project.

The Israel Project not only collaborates with American and European news agencies, it also works with leading Arab media as well. Sheff’s Arabic-speaking colleagues regularly appear on Arab TV networks such as al Aribiya. Sheff himself is a frequent guest on al Jazeera’s English language network.

“Reaching out to the Arab world is critical,” he said. “The Arab world needs to hear moderate Israeli voices.”

Advocates for Israel complain global media is biased against the Jewish state. But Sheff says the Israel Project is “not in the business of complaining about the media.”

“There’s a truism that a reporter presented with good information is likely to use this information,” he added. “We’re not asking for a total revolution in the way news is reported. We’re asking for a level playing field.”

That’s why he insists stories about the Israeli military operating in Gaza should include Israel’s reasons for doing so.

With Sderot under attack, the Israel Project opened a satellite office there. When visiting that office, Sheff often has to duck for cover when the missile alarm sounds. But he said his experience is nothing compared to that of Sderot residents. After years of bombardment, they have learned to take short showers, lest they miss hearing the siren.

“This is a community in crisis,” Sheff noted. “Seventy-six percent of adolescents have post-traumatic stress, 56 percent of adults suffer anxiety. Twelve dead, 450 injured. Not a day goes by we’re not working directly with the press in Sderot.”

Whether or not some journalists are biased, Sheff stresses the positive. For example, he saluted the world’s press for showing images of Palestinians celebrating after the Mercav Harav killings.

He also gives much credit to his multilingual Israeli staff, which he said works hard to deliver accurate data to the media.

But at the end of the day, Sheff is an Israeli. He goes home to his family and wonders about his country’s safety.

“People are really tough,” he said of his fellow Israelis. “They get on, but it scars them, and the more [terrorism] goes on the more it scars. People shouldn’t have to be hardy and resolved. They should be entitled to peace and quiet, and live their lives unthreatened by terrorists whose raison d’etre is to see as much blood as possible flowing in the streets of Israel.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.