podcast playback

Ruth Marks Eglash: Journalists in Israel face ‘battle of narratives’

JI’s senior correspondent and author of new book, ‘Parallel Lines,’ discusses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the difficulties of maintaining objectivity as a journalist living in Israel within the country’s current political climate

Ariel Jerozolimski

Ruth Marks Eglash

Ruth Marks Eglash, Jewish Insider’s senior correspondent, has spent the majority of her career reporting on Israel — she previously worked as chief of communications for Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. and the U.N. Gilad Erdan, and before that worked for eight years as the deputy bureau chief for the Washington Post in Jerusalem. Earlier in her career, she  worked for The Jerusalem Post as deputy managing editor and social welfare reporter. She most recently penned her debut novel, Parallel Lines, which tells the coming-of-age story of three teenagers from varying backgrounds living in Jerusalem amid the country’s continuous conflicts.

Eglash joined JI’s podcast this week to discuss her new book, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the difficulties of maintaining objectivity as a journalist living in Israel within the country’s current political climate.

Below are excerpts from the conversation.

On Parallel Lines: “I’ve been covering hard news from Israel for more than 20 years, and there’s so many restrictions on the media, on journalism, and I had all these stories that I collected up over the years…that I wasn’t able to put into news stories. You know, the side stories, the experiences that I had going out into the field, talking to Israelis, talking to Palestinians, talking to ordinary people as well as politicians, and I felt like I needed an outlet for it… On the other side, I was feeling increasingly frustrated with the challenges faced by the media in covering the conflicts here, not just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also the conflicts within Israeli society. It’s increasingly harder and harder, and I know it probably is the same in the United States as society has become more polarized, the news is dismissed as biased or fake or one-sided, and I felt like I needed a place where I could write from all sides, from all angles, and that’s essentially what I did in Parallel Lines.

“Essentially, this book is set in Jerusalem and it has three main female protagonists: Tamara is an Israeli, a secular Israeli, Nour is a Palestinian Muslim, and Rivki is an ultra-Orthodox, Haredi Jew, and they all live less than a mile from one another in the northern parts, or northern suburbs, of Jerusalem, and yet they never meet…Each one of the women in the book are 16 years old, and I really wanted to capture what it’s like for young people growing up in a city that’s always under conflict, always in the spotlight, always has these tensions going on around them, and that is the essence of the novel.”

On the nature of Israel’s current political unrest: “These protests [against the government’s judicial reform proposals], they haven’t really ebbed and flowed, they’ve been pretty stable, pretty regular, every single week. Last week, we saw a spontaneous protest after the police chief in Tel Aviv said that he was standing down. Today we’re seeing a response to legislation that passed its initial reading in the Knesset. But there is a, you know, a core of people, and I would say ordinary people who are very scared…So I mean, there’s very heightened tension here. You know, there’s obviously a political situation that has arisen through the political turmoil in the Knesset, the makeup of the electoral system, that allows for small groups to kind of dictate the agenda, and that is really what’s led us to this point. ”

On trying to stay neutral as a journalist living in Israel’s current political climate: “Israel is such a small country, everyone is involved in this…Even in my own house, there is tension on this issue where, you know, amongst my children who are now an age, exactly at the age, where they want to be involved in politics, and they want to go to the protests or they don’t want to go to the protests, and they think the protests are really bad and disruptive, and they get upset with them. So there is a tension really in a micro level that really brings it into every household. And I feel as a journalist, it’s very difficult to stay away, or, you know, people just keep asking me, ‘Why aren’t you coming to the protests?’ or people assume that I would be, maybe because I worked for the Washington Post, that I would be automatically against the government, and I try as best as I can not to express an opinion, but it does look very worrying, for me, about how divided society is on this issue. It’s worrying.”

On the challenges of covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the media: “It’s very, very challenging to cover Israel. And, you know, especially when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s such a conflict of narratives. It’s true that every few months there’s an operation or flare-up in violence, or there’s clashes, or however you want to term it, but in terms of covering Israel, it’s really a battle, the majority of the time, it’s a battle of narratives. And when journalists come in, it’s very difficult for them to, first of all, wade through the narratives, listen to both sides trying to convince them, and also it’s very hard to not become part of the story. And I think, in a way, journalists have become part of the story…I don’t know if there’s a way of reporting accurately. I think that the truths and the facts are very, very subjective for both sides, and I think that there needs to just be, I mean, I think the best way of doing it is just to try and be fair. Just to try and be fair.”

Bonus lightning round: Favorite Yiddish word or phrase? “I’m half-Sefardi, I’m not big on Yiddish phrases, but I can say ‘oy vey,’ I guess.” Favorite Sefardic dish? “[My] favorite Sephardic dish would have to be… I don’t know. I don’t know, I’m trying to think of what my grandmother used to make. I guess her spicy chicken.” Favorite place in Israel? “I will say my favorite place in Israel is probably the Old City of Jerusalem.”

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