By: Fern Sidman
Russian born oligarch and Israeli billionaire, Dr. Alexander Maskevich, has recently announced his intention to create a pro-Israel international news network, similar to Al Jazeera and the BBC. Speaking at the United Israel Appeal’s annual conference of Jewish leaders in Washington last week, Dr. Mashkevich, who is president of the organization, said of the network, “‘It won’t be a propaganda channel, but will simply tell the truth. The most important thing is to represent Israel on an international level, with real information.”
Also serving as president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, Mashkevich told the gathering that the network would offer programs in English, French, Arabic and Spanish, focusing on news only. Some 200 Jewish community leaders and key philanthropists attended the UIA conference which focused on attempts to deal with the adverse effects of the global de-legitimization campaign against Israel. Referencing South African Judge Richard Goldstein who authored the eponymous report on purported Israeli war crimes during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Dr. Mashkevich opined, “Every day that passes we lose the battle for Israel’s image. I am sure that Goldstone is a decent person, who didn’t want to damage Israel consciously and intentionally, but if everything he gets from the media every day is anti-Israel propaganda, I assume it’s hard to make the right decisions.”
Dr. Mashkevich, a native of Kyrgyzstan who became a billionaire through investments in Kazakhstan during the era of former Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, admitted that founding such a channel would not be simple, because of its high costs, but said that he plans to officially present it in Israel in a few months. His fortune is estimated at some $3.7 billion and through his extensive network of contacts, Dr. Mashkevich plans to recruit other philanthropists and senior businesspeople for the mission. “The international de-legitimization has become a huge risk for Israel,” he said, adding that, “I think this idea should be implemented. I already spoke about it several years ago with Israeli government officials and with influential people in the Jewish world, and everyone agrees that such a channel is necessary. It’s unthinkable that Israel has no television network like the channels operated by countries such as the United States, Britain and Russia.”
While the channel is still in the rudimentary stages and as of yet has no specific target date for the launching, Dr. Mashkevich promised, “We’ll purchase talents from all other channels. From BBC, CNN – everyone.” He hinted that, “In about three to four months we’ll hold a presentation in Israel, as we are preparing a work program, adding that the channel “does not require something out of nothing, as there are existing models we can work according to.”
Also present at the conference was Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, who offered his analysis of the incessant anti-Israel incitement of the international media. “It’s time for us to stop complaining about how bad Israel’s PR. It’s not just Israel that’s in danger – but all of us. The entire Jewish people are under attack, and this is about the future of all the Jewish people.” He added that, “Those who undermine Israel’s right to self-defense – hurt the entire Jewish people’s right to self-defense. We are not talking about a situation like in 1967, but like in 1947 – about the entire Jewish people’s right to exist. If we unite, others will join us too. So we must launch a well-coordinated campaign. It’s unthinkable that according to research we’ve conducted, the European governments are more committed to Israel than the public opinion in those countries. These are the enemies rising to destroy us – from the inside and the outside.”
Mr. Hoenlein revealed that he has already held several meetings in a bid to strike a collaboration with media organizations and Israeli governmental bodies. Firm in his belief that a news network similar to Al Jazeera is vital, he added that, “people are influenced by it” and that it’s impact will have far reaching effects.
The impetus behind Dr. Maskevich’s campaign to salvage Israel’s international image is deeply rooted in the experiences he faced as a child growing up in Kyrgyzstan, which helped to shape his Jewish identity. “In Soviet Russia people would never let me forget I was a Jew, not for one day,” he said, adding that his parents, who fled the Nazis afforded him, “a proud Jewish education”. Vividly recalling his formative years, Dr. Mashkevich intoned, “I still remember as a child, how difficult it was for me to get to the synagogue, which was far away and crowded.” Since then, he built seven synagogues in different countries naming each of them “Beit Rachel” after his mother, and has donated 17 Torah scrolls. He also personally participates in the bringing in of each new Torah scroll.
“I feel the persecution of Jews on my skin. We can’t just be indifferent. Every year the situation gets worse, and we monitor it. People tend to think that the American Congress members know the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it’s not true. All their information comes from the media. Seventy percent of what the international media reports in terms of the conflict is of an anti-Israel nature. We check the ‘anti-Semitism index’ in 27 countries, and there is definitely a rise in anti-Semitism, which I believe is a direct result of what the media reports”, Dr. Mashkevich ruefully observed.
One of the first to comment on Dr. Mashkevich’s announcement of the formation of a pro-Israel news channel is Dr. Phyllis Chesler, Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies at the City University of New York and pro-Israel advocate. In her article of April 8th that appeared on David Horowitz’s “NewsRealBlog” web site, Dr. Chesler said, “I have been calling for something like this for seven years. I hope that Mr. Mashkevich and his advisors understand that this new channel must be far better than Al-Jazeera, not only in terms of truth-telling but in other ways as well”.
Adding that “Al-Jazeera broadcasts only in Arabic and English, and is only now preparing to broadcast in Turkish and Urdu”, Dr. Chesler said, “The ‘Jewish Al-Jazeera’ must appear in many more languages simultaneously: Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Kurdish, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Bengali, Pashto, the Indonesian and Malaysian languages, as well as in all the European, East European, and former Soviet languages. Why? Because all the Big Lies and blood libels about Israel and the Jews are being told 24/7 in every language on earth. I wrote about this in 2003, in my book The New Anti-Semitism.”
Offering a sober assessment of the reality that Israel faces, Dr. Chesler said, “Even as I write, the Left is busily trying to “spin” the half-hearted Goldstone recantation to their own advantage. They insist that Israel engaged in overkill, that it used disproportionate force, that it is “guilty” of something, of everything; mainly, it is guilty because it dares to exist and presumes it has the right to defend itself.”