Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | August 15, 2008

Whose agenda is it anyway?

I’ve been following the latest brouhaha in the Anglo-Israeli blogosphere with some interest. Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN) is sponsoring the upcoming International Jewish Bloggers Convention, due to take place next Wednesday in Jerusalem, and debates are raging about everything from the convention’s target audience to the list of scheduled panelists. Adding fuel to the fire was an article that appeared in the Anglophile section of last Friday’s Haaretz, where the journalist in question seemed more interested in writing a divisive, sensationalist piece that served only to highlight the differences between various local bloggers and create controversy, using predictable quotes and selective background information to reinforce stereotypes.

And he succeeded. The Haaretz article has been used, predictably, as a springboard to attack those bloggers quoted as not being supportive of the conference. Frankly, I have a difficult time understanding what all the hype is about. The NBN agenda is not everyone’s agenda. I may be a Jewish blogger, but only because I’m a blogger who happens to be Jewish. I don’t necessarily blog about Jewish issues, and in the rare instances that I do, it’s most probably because the issue at hand has something to do with Israel. I don’t consider myself to be an aliyah blogger by any stretch of the imagination, and don’t feel anything more than a nominal connection to the realm of the blogosphere known as the Jblogosphere. I’m not interested in the Jewish blogosphere, and while I’m sure I have Jewish readers out there, I don’t consider the Jblogosphere to be my target audience. I never have. When I blog about Israel, it’s to present some aspect of Israeli life to those who don’t know about Israel, not to those who do.

From everything I’ve been reading on the local blogs though, there are definitely people who have a problem with that. At least one blogger has expressed disappointment over Lisa Goldman‘s stance on the conference, based on her quotes in the Haaretz article. Aside from the fact that the journalist obviously selected quotes designed to garner attention (and let’s face it – everyone knows that this is what journalists do), I fail to see the problem of Lisa not being interested in a conference that’s specifically geared towards Jewish blogging. Not everyone who moves here chooses to focus on the aliyah experience. I’ve been here for 17 years and came on my own. Aliyah issues aren’t on my radar, unless they involve my friends, and even then, they’re just someone else’s (often amusing) stories. Like Lisa, I’m far more interested in issues that all Israelis are facing than the issues faced by new immigrants. And also like Lisa, I would much prefer a convention for Israeli bloggers (I can think of at least three blogs written in English by non-Jewish Israelis) than a convention that’s strictly for Jewish bloggers. I’m just not interested.

As bloggers, we all have our own opinions and agendas. If we didn’t, we probably wouldn’t have begun to blog in the first place. My agenda is me – my thoughts, my opinions, my experiences – I don’t think that’s too unreasonable. NBN also has its own agenda, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. What is wrong is when people are bashed for their agendas, or more accurately, for having agendas that don’t mesh with the party line. One commenter (who seems to be connected with the convention’s organization) on the aforementioned blog stated “as to ONE of the agendas of this convention… this convention is hosted by NBN, and what of? They have an agenda, just like most bloggers have. If you don’t like it, then don’t make Aliyah.” So, if I don’t agree with NBN’s agenda, I shouldn’t be in Israel? Rather harsh, no? If this comment is representative of the convention agenda, it looks like I’m better off not attending. Somehow, I don’t think I’d be very welcome.



  1. interesting as always, and glad to see a post!! 🙂 It seems to me that it’s almost impossible not to get categorized in your neck of the desert. I don’t think it’s a given that a person’s religious background, choice of residency, country of origin, etc., is a constant motivation for their views or ideas about which they choose to blog. It seems that being a foreign born, jewish, english language blogger in Israel necessitates being branded in all sorts of categories: religious vs secular, right-wing or left-wing… I would think that if I actually ever got a blog off the ground, I’d want to be uncategorized. Just nrg (energy!). Just as your blog is simply Liza writing about the stuff that makes her fingers tingle.

    Just my take on it, mind you. I’m a LONG way from your “on the ground”.

  2. […] bookmarks tagged divisive Whose agenda is it anyway? saved by 4 others     tamjee13 bookmarked on 08/15/08 | […]

  3. I am, as usual, impressed by your passion and totally touched by your friendship and support.

    Re. the whole controversy: to be honest, I found it sad before my morning coffee and merely amusing afterward. All these people getting so wound up over such a minor issue! Really, who cares?

    The comments are not terribly interesting (except when CK calls me a Sweetie – love you too, babe 😉 ).

    But Steve’s comment – “… this convention is hosted by NBN, and what of [it]? They have an agenda, just like most bloggers have. If you don’t like it, then don’t make Aliyah. ” – was a gobsmacker. So only people who support NBN are, according to Steve, welcome to immigrate? Bizarre.

    For those of us who, um, immigrated to Israel because we like it here; and who learned Hebrew and found jobs, friends and apartments on our own, without taking subsidies and handouts from NGO’s, I think Steve’s statement is, um, well, come to think of it, it’s hilarious – because it comes from someone who’s active in an organization that supposedly promotes aliyah. For everyone, right? 😛

  4. Everything has been “corporatized”, including aliyah and, of course, Nefesh B’Nefesh has an agenda to promote, ie theirs. (Looking at your tags, I don’t remember the last time I heard someone use the word “hasbara”.)

    Like that bad joke about when a Jew from America or a Jew from Brazil makes aliyah they stop being Jewish and become American or Brazilian, what bothers me is that somewhere along the way we stopped being a nation of immigrants and became an immigration of nations. I think we are so much the poorer because of it. (I realize this is oversimplifying and perhaps whitewashing the history of Israeli immigration-G*d knows Israel has never been homogeneous, but what nation is, really?)

  5. Interesting post.

    I have criticized those who suggest the conference organizers have a right-wing agenda. Simply because it is blatantly false, and I empathize with the organizers, having myself organized the JIBs and being maligned for it.

    Despite this, I also have very little interest (anymore) in a JBlogosphere. I am more interested in networking with pro-Israel bloggers, Jewish or otherwise.

  6. I’m with you; I blog. I live here. Paid my dues and pay my fair share of taxes. My target audience is not Jewish and an NBN “Jewish blogger conference” doesn’t attract me. That’s it.


  7. nrg: There’s definitely something to what you’re saying, though I think this is true mostly for the foreign language Israeli blogs, as opposed to the Hebrew language blogs, which are mostly “normal”. I’ve been writing less and less political pieces and trying to slip into non-Israel-specific categories such as writing, mommy blogging, etc, almost trying to turn myself into a blogger who happens to be in Israel. That being said, I can’t imagine that I’ll ever be able to get away from the labels I’ve either taken on or been given by others.

    Lisa: You’re right about it being a minor issue. We’ve talked about this so many times – the way certain people are always attacked for their beliefs, and how the attacks are almost always perpetrated by certain groups. It’s just sad and frustrating, and Steve’s comment simply feeds into that same situation, whereas if we don’t believe in certain things, we shouldn’t be living here. I’m not sure hilarious is the word I’d use, given that he’s probably not the only one who feels that way.

    More responses to come…

  8. Interesting…I’m going to this conference despite the fact that I truly despise (and I mean that) Nefesh B’Nefesh. I feel that they don’t give people the information they need before they come here, and their support of “divided aliyah” where the spouse continues to work in the US is very very bad. I won’t even discuss the salary of the director….

  9. Jennifer: I agree. I think that immigrant communities today tend to be more insular than ever, evidenced by the fact that you have so many immigrant enclaves around the country, and in some of these communities, the assimilation rates with regard to mainstream Israeli society are probably quite low.

    In some instances, this is definitely due to socioeconomic issues, government manipulations, etc, but in others, it comes as a result of people actively choosing to join these communities. I came here to live in Israel among Israelis, not to live in an English-speaking community, and my life is so much richer for having made that choice.

    Aussie Dave: I’m not sure that the organizers specifically opted for a right-wing agenda as I wasn’t privy to their planning meetings. I do believe that they’re catering more towards a specific target audience of religious Jews, many of whom, have right-wing leanings. None of the bloggers on the panels are known as leaning to the left – the closest they come are a few bloggers like Benji (What War Zone) and Gila (My Shrapnel), who don’t tend to make a point of mentioning any political leanings (Yael from Oleh Girl will be the first to admit that she’s become considerably more right wing than she was when she arrived, and this comes out in her blog every so often).

    Perhaps they didn’t plan for a right wing, religious agenda, but if this is so, knowing that the situation could be rather delicate, perhaps they should have worked harder for some sort of balance. I already know that two of the bloggers they sent to the US to return on the NBN flight are right wing, religious men. It would be interesting to know who the others are. As for the entertainment, they could have used Benji Lovitt instead of someone who goes by the name “Frum Satire” and whose content tends to “describe nuances within the orthodox Jewish community”.

    Lisa wasn’t complaining about the convention, merely expressing why she wasn’t interested in attending. She and I have discussed the convention at length, and based on everything we’ve read, whether it be the schedule or stuff from other blogs, we both came to our own conclusions that this wasn’t a convention for us. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s not a whole lot than anyone can say to convince me that this convention will somehow be balanced, as everything I’ve seen and heard until now tells me otherwise.

  10. Okay, I am one of the nerds who is looking forward to the conference…well…apart from meeting the various people who will tell me that the only reason I am on a panel is because I am not observant and not right wing.


    But apart from that, am really looking forward to meeting blogosphere friends.

  11. Oh–and probably also because I not here via NBN–so I am a token one of those as well…

  12. Liza,

    I was not privy to any planning meetings either but after contacting the organizers, I learned that other left-leaning bloggers (such as Dov Bear) were invited to be panelists, but could not make it.

    Your point about Frum Satire is well made. I think Benji is hilarious, and should have been the comedy act.

    I see this as a pro-aliya blogging conference and an opportunity to meet other bloggers. Nothing more than that. But I guess that isn’t for everyone either.

  13. The only blogger’s conference I want to attend is the one I hold in my kitchen every Friday afternoon. It isn’t restricted to Jews, Israelis, religious, secular, left-wingers, right-wingers, heterosexuals, English-speakers, bloggers (!), or even humans. It is restricted to people who can make it to Tel Aviv, climb up 42 steps, and tolerate at least one dog and her human.

  14. Savtadotty’s conference is definitely the best. And it has the best soup. And good pickles, when I remember to bring them. 🙂

  15. Stefanella: Sounds okay to me. What I want to know is why others seem to have a problem with it.

    Safranit: They actually promote having one spouse continue to work in the US?? That’s horrible on so many levels! How will someone ever assimilate that way, learn Hebrew, etc? And for the spouse that remains in Israel with the kids, it has to be equally difficult, having to do everything on their own. Maybe it makes financial sense for some, but it’s awful for the family unit.

    Gila: Looking forward to the conference doesn’t make you a nerd. I can understand why people would look forward to it – I just don’t happen to be one of them.

    I think they asked you to be on a panel because you’re personable and you write well, and you’ve managed to attract a large following in a rather short amount of time, with lots of commenters. The fact that you’re not observant, not right wing, and not an NBN alum also helps because it provides balance, but those aren’t the primary reasons. Maybe they’re hoping you’ll really balance things out by coming in your “Tel Avivit whore of Babylon” outfit. 😉

    Aussie Dave: I’m not saying they didn’t try to be more balanced, rather that they don’t seem to have actually achieved a sense of balance. And that’s fine. I’m sure demographics reveal that most of the people coming on aliyah from North America are religious people who lean to the right, and I’d venture a guess that quite a few Jewish bloggers who actively consider themselves to be part of the Jblogosphere fall into a similar category. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way things are.

    I’m in favor of aliyah, but it’s not one of my big issues, and I never set out to be a member of the Jblogosphere. I’ve got friends who are going to the convention, even friends who are going to be panelists. I’m sure it will be a success, and I know that it will be great fun for people to meet the bloggers behind the blogs. While there are a few Jbloggers I wouldn’t mind meeting, it would be Jbloggers who live in Israel and write a lot of life-in-Israel entries and a lot of parenting entries. I’m completely out of touch with regard to the Jblogosphere as an entity. I feel much more in touch with the English-language Israeli blogosphere, and while there’s obviously some overlapping, they’re definitely not the same thing.

    While you may not have intended for your final sentence to sound offensive, I found it to be so. I find it very problematic that you and others seem to be perturbed that some Jewish bloggers aren’t interested in attending this convention, and I find it more than a little disturbing that the reaction has been so harsh, as though we were personally attacking the participants. I think it’s great to meet other bloggers, and I’ve even made some good friendships with people I’ve met through blogging. I’d rather meet bloggers whose blogs I read, though, or bloggers who focus on subjects that I’m actively interested in, like writing, mommy blogging, etc. I’m not going to be automatically excited to meet bloggers simply because they’re Jewish, even though I’ve never heard of them or read their blog, unless the blogger in question has some sort of unique twist, like they’re the only Jewish blogger in Chad, blogging about their experiences in that context.

    People are acting as though individuals like Lisa and me are actively rejecting the convention, and are taking that rejection personally. Maybe on some level it is a rejection, but it’s a rejection because the convention doesn’t reflect our interests, not because we think it’s a bad convention or think it shouldn’t be held. It’s a great idea to have a convention for Jewish bloggers, but not all Jewish bloggers have common interests and experiences. Set up a convention for Jewish mommy bloggers and I’ll be one of the first people to sign up. With very little exception, I don’t blog about Jewish issues unless they’re directly related to Israel. I have friends in the Jblogosphere, but I don’t feel the need to attend a convention in order to see them, and I have almost no familiarity with most of the bloggers who will be in attendance.

    What I’m curious about is why some bloggers and other individuals have such a problem accepting that some Jewish bloggers simply aren’t interested in attending this convention. It’s not a reflection on the participants themselves, but on where we are in our own lives, and how we relate or don’t relate to the agenda. And Dave, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to single you out on this, especially as you’re not the only blogger to have brought up this angle. It’s just that you’re the one who’s taken the time to come here and discuss these things (which I think is great, even where we disagree).

  16. savtadotty: That definitely sounds like the best convention of all. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with that affable little pooch? She’s quite the charmer!

    Gila: I don’t like pickles. What else have you got to tempt me with? 😀

  17. Hi Liza –

    Well, you are certainly passionate about the issue 🙂

    I too, made aliya 17 years ago before the idea of Nefesh B’Nefesh. Didnt get financial help from anyone, didn’t get any help with the beauracracy, and did it the “old fashioned way.”

    I think this issue has gotten waaaay out of control on many levels. So they organized a bloggers conference? Is it all encompassing on the macro level of Israel’ diverse population? Is it all encompassing on a macro level of the “Jewish” blogosphere? No. There isn’t perfect representation. But they tried (or so it seems). And on the bright side, it’s open to all.

    Are the panels a perfect representation of the JBlogosphere? No, but then again, NbN is allowed to decide who’s on which panel since they are hosting the event.

    When Haaretz hosts an event, I won’t be the slightest bit surprised about who they put on their panels, either. It’s a free world — anyone can organize anything — there’s no copywrite on the “JBlogosphere”.

    The bottom line is — I read all sorts of blogs. I like interacting with bloggers. I’m pro-aliya. And that’s me. I’m looking forward to meeting all these people at the conference, and personally would have been very happy to meet Lisa G. as well.

    Well – that’s my take. Hope to see everyone there!



  18. Jameel: You’re absolutely right, though to be honest, I still have my niggling suspicions about how hard NBN tried for balance. That being said, I don’t have a problem with that – NBN’s convention, NBN’s agenda. My problem is more with the reactions to Lisa’s comments in the Haaretz article and the way that some people seem shocked and personally affronted by them, and by the fact that some Jewish bloggers (myself included) just aren’t interested in attending, either because of what they’ve heard or read, or simply because it’s not something they feel connected to.

    I think it’s great that you’re going to the convention and that you feel connected to the Jblogosphere. I just don’t understand why some people seem to have a real problem with the fact that not everyone feels that way. Not to sound like a bad 60s folk song, but why can’t these folks just live and let live?

    For what it’s worth, if I was attending the convention, I’d certainly go out of my way to find and meet you…

    17 years, eh? Maybe we were on the same “aliyah” flight. 😉

  19. BTW–on a completely unrelated matter…I am going to have a CAR!!!!! As of TOMORROW!!!!

    I can come visit you and the Little One now!


  20. Liza,

    My main issue was not with Lisa as much as it was with Failed Messiah who accused the conference organizers of deceit. I took special exception to this because I know what it is like to put in hard work organizing something, only to be maligned for it. And while I said I was disappointed with Lisa’s stance (as Ha’aretz reported it), I in no way attacked her personally (if you read the comments to my post you would see I was very clear about that).

    If Lisa says this is just a matter of not being interested in a Jewish bloggers conference, then of course that is understandable. I just saw her comments in light of the “left vs right” theme of the Ha’aretz article.

    And don’t worry. I do not feel singled out. In any event, I am a grown boy, and can take criticism as well as dishing it out.

  21. as to ONE of the agendas of this convention… this convention is hosted by NBN, and what of? They have an agenda, just like most bloggers have. If you don’t like it, then don’t make Aliyah

    As the author of that comment, I will assume you misunderstood my statement, as perhaps you weren’t familiar with the statement it was made in response to.

    The statement was referring to NBN’s agenda of promoting Aliyah – which certain bloggers found offensive as apparently either they don’t believe in Aliyah , or don’t believe that promoting Aliyah should have been included in the convention agenda, or perhaps it is personal against NBN, or just the “establishment” in general.

    So, in context, if you don’t like the agenda of making Aliyah (with or without NBN), then don’t make Aliyah. No one is forcing it on you.

    And Aliyah is only one of the agendas of the convention.

    It is that simple. And that is all I said.

    Please don’t interpret it, or read into it, any more than what I said.

    Thank you.

  22. Gila: Woohoo! Let me know when to turn on the kettle and break out the good cookies!

    Aussie Dave: I’m inclined to agree with you regard to Failed Messiah, especially after reading his quotes in the article and his comments on your blog (and I also think that you did a great job with the JIBs).

    As for Lisa’s stance, I think at this point, we can probably all agree that the Haaretz article was hardly impressive and managed to create a political controversy where a simple story promoting the convention would have sufficed (clearly, the journalist in question had his own agenda as well – I’m beginning to hate that word…). When I first saw it, I told Lisa I had a feeling that people were going to go after her for the way her comments came across, and apparently, I was right.

    For what it’s worth, I read the comments to your post, and you did make that distinction. What set me off was the paragraph that you wrote in your original entry:

    I am particularly disappointed in the attitude of fellow anglo-Israel blogger Lisa Goldman, who claims no interest in the conference since she’s “more interested in the complexities of Israeli life than in blogging about aliyah-related themes,” and “would have preferred a conference for Israeli bloggers where Arabs could participate.” She also throws in the “politically slanted” argument. Besides the apparent condescension, Lisa also claims she doesn’t “like agenda blogging.” Sorry, Lisa, but I am calling BS on that. What you do is agenda blogging (your agenda being to promote Arab-Israeli dialog). What you meant is you “don’t like blogging for an agenda that does not fit mine.”

    I can certainly understand that you drew conclusions based on the quotes that Lisa herself gave, but I didn’t like your assumptions about her agenda, because it simply isn’t the truth. True, Lisa is interested in dialog and bridge building, but it’s certainly not her agenda. If anything, I’d say that her blog’s agenda (aside from promoting herself and her writing, of course) is showing parts of Israel that outsiders might not necessarily be familiar with. If we were to discuss it in journalistic terms – human interest pieces. Sometimes the stories involve Arabs and sometimes they don’t.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Lisa get singled out for unprovoked attacks or jibes by other local bloggers whenever they have a go at the left, or maybe they simply have a go at her because she’s a public figure and it’s easy. While she’s an adult who’s chosen to put herself out there and can obviously take care of herself, as her friend, I get frustrated by the unprovoked and unjustified attacks, especially since she’s rarely, if ever, gone out of her way to publicly attack people she disagrees with politically. I saw your post (or at least the paragraph I pasted in above) as yet another dig (though perhaps not unprovoked, given that it was in response to that dreadful article), and it bothered me.

    Truly, it really is just a matter of not being interested in a Jewish bloggers conference, and it’s a shame that the Haaretz article distorted things so badly.

    And as far as you not feeling singled out, etc, I’m glad. I still felt that it was important to let you know, though.

  23. Liza,

    Just so you know, Lisa and I get on in real life. There is absolutely no antipathy there on either side (at least I hope so!). My comments about Lisa’s comments were set off from the whole tone of the article, as well as this:

    Furthermore, she said the conference “seems to be politically slanted,” with a preponderance of bloggers who represent right-wing or center-right views

    So I saw Lisa as criticizing the conference as having a “right-wing, religious” agenda. I have always seen Lisa’s agenda as promoting peaceful coexistence – which is a nice agenda to have – but if I am wrong about that then I have no problem admitting that.

    Imagine how you felt when you felt Lisa was being unjustifiably attacked. Well, that is how I felt when I saw the conference was being unjustifiably attacked. And I saw Lisa’s comments as part of this. Of course, I think you are correct when you say the Ha’aretz reporter had an agenda, and this likely made Lisa’s comments to be more than they were.

  24. Being currently based in Israel (well, in Palestine, but I commute :-)) but having, hmm, a number of disagreements with the Nefesh B’Nefesh agenda, I find myself completely disinterested in this conference.
    I am, however, interested in the debate about the narrow-mindedness of the organisers: If you don’t agree in advance with what we say/do/thing/preach, don’t come. More than a convention, it sounds more like a 3rd world political party meeting: everyone nods at what the Chief says. Way to have interesting conversations…

    I find this quite, quite sad. For I have been discovering that there is a wide diversity of opinions within the Israeli and the Jewish blogosphere (which significantly but not fully overlap).

    Alienating phenomenal people such as Lisa Goldman or Liza Rosenberg is just plain STUPID. And it’s really the conference and the participants’ loss.

    I am starting to consider going to the NBN convention, after all. Could be fun. And I’d probably be introducing some diversity in what otherwise seems to be an ultra-homogenous crowd. 🙂

  25. Steve: Perhaps I misunderstood your statement because you didn’t make yourself clear in your original comment, and I think we both realize that I’m not the only one who “misunderstood”.

    In my opinion, aliyah is not something that has to be facilitated by NBN. Looking at their website, they seem to cater towards the religious Zionist community, and if one aspect of NBN’s agenda is to encourage aliyah to settlements over the Green Line, that’s definitely something that I disagree with. I was offended by your implication that if one doesn’t subscribe to the NBN path for promoting aliyah, then one shouldn’t make aliyah.

    I also happen to find your supposition above regarding what “certain bloggers” found offensive to be disturbing and nonsensical, to say the least. None of the people in question have a problem with aliyah – we’ve made aliyah. The problem lies in the way that NBN carries out its agenda. And, while that agenda works for some people, it doesn’t work for us. There’s nothing against aliyah and nothing personal against NBN. I’m not even sure what “establishment” you’re referring to, or what you’re implying with that comment.

    One can be in favor of aliyah and not be in favor of NBN’s agenda, and if you disagree with that statement, then I daresay that the problem does not lie with us, but rather with you and others who share that opinion.

  26. With regard to the last paragraph of your last comment, Liza, I am prompted to de-lurk and leave a comment.

    There are some of us who are Jewish, live in Israel and blog and you would never know it. Not from what we blog about, or how we write or even what we do IRL. However, should you meet us IRL, you’d never know that we blog — unless we told you.

    To the subject in hand: I am “in favor of aliyah and not … in favor of NBN’s agenda”. Ergo, this is clearly not a convention for me. I made aliyah already — what’s to discuss? But is there a convention for me to attend? I’m a blogger who lives in Israel. Is there a structure of “how to blog and still be Israeli?” Of course not.

    I made aliyah many years ago, without NbN (before it was even a twinkle of an idea, actually), for my own Zionistic reasons, and with all good intent.

    Doesn’t mean that Zionism is everything about my life, though, although god knows it took me long enough to figure that out. Doesn’t mean that I can only write about being Jewish, and a Zionist, and living in Israel. I don’t publicly identify on the blog as an Anglo-Israeli, simply because it’s not an issue about which i wish to engage — but that in and of itself doesn’t make me any less of a Zionist.

    [BTW, if you’re inspired to go read my blog, i should warn you — there’s some X-rated stuff in there. Perverted Zionism — the new movement for Aliyah? Who’s with me? :-)]

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