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A conversation with Eetta Prince-Gibson, editor-in-chief of 'The Jerusalem Report'

by simone August 31 2008
Interview

Eetta Prince-GibsonEetta Prince-Gibson, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report first showed up in Israel as a fresh-faced high school graduate some 30 years ago. After serving in the IDF during the Yom Kippur War, Prince-Gibson made her home in Jerusalem, leaving only to pursue a Master's Degree in Social Work at Yeshiva University. A married mother of two, Prince-Gibson also holds a BSW from and is currently working on a PhD in Political Psychology at Hebrew University. She lives in Jerusalem's Abu Tor neighborhood.

Without getting into politics and various nationalist agendas too much, what do you see as the big issues facing the cultural future of Jerusalem? How can we keep the young people from moving away? How can we ensure that the city maintains at least a minimal critical mass of vibrant and creative movers and shakers? The first thing we need to do is recognize Jerusalem's diversity as an advantage, as something we celebrate and not something we fight against. This means educating our children from the beginning, from kindergarten, to appreciate this diversity. I used to take my own children shopping for the four species before Succot and to kasher our dishes for Pesach in Mea Shearim so that they had an opportunity to enjoy different parts of the city.

I don't know if this is realistic in the sense that we are in a battle as to how we want the future of the city to look. On the other hand, the reason people are leaving is not so much because of the Charedim. It's because of housing and because of jobs. But even people that don't leave feel a down factor. They aren't pleased, they aren't enjoying the city's diversity. We need to listen to what people are saying, to the reasons they are listing on surveys as to why they are leaving. We need to provide jobs, schools, reasonable housing, and we need to invest in getting people to love the city. Jerusalem is depressed, and I think that's probably our biggest problem right now (apart from our problems with the Palestinians). There's a sense that we are living in a backwater here and things are only going to get worse. People feel that they can tolerate it now, but they don't hold out much hope for the future. As a mother of teenage children who may not choose to live here when they grow up, it's depressing, and it's something we need to battle.

Both The Jerusalem Post and The Jerusalem Report have brand names with the word Jerusalem as an identifying element, but when it comes to how that word defines the jurisdiction of both publications, it's more of a symbol of all of Israel and all of the Jewish world than a specific city. You, on the other hand, came to this position following a stint as the editor of the Post's local In Jerusalem section. How does the tension between local and more cosmopolitan issues inform your work, and do you feel that it's possible to keep a global audience interested with content only focused on Jerusalem-specific cultural matters? At the same time that I am editor of The Jerusalem Report, I am also a resident of the city. As a Jerusalem resident, I think we suffer from a deficit of democracy here precisely because Jerusalem often becomes a symbol that everyone uses in terms of the conflict in Israel. People forget that we are also a functioning city that needs to deal with the prosaic needs any city faces; garbage removal, proper planning, etc. Everyone is so busy talking about Jerusalem as a symbol that they forget that it's also a real city with real people and real daily needs.

At the same time, because Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, municipal issues aren't just municipal issues. Even something as simple as planning a road can become an international issue here. I think that if we love Jerusalem and recognize that the world has a vested interest in the future of Jerusalem and think of how much the city really could be an example of creative solutions, the world will really be interested in what we are doing here.

We could provide examples to other divided cities. There are ideas that have been produced by think tanks and NGOs for years as to how people can maintain their different identities and yet have a cohesive city. These are ideas that could be implemented across the world. For example, I travel to Belfast or Berlin or Brussels. These are all cities that live with divisions, and they could learn from us the way we learn from them. It could be a fascinating experiment and a very positive thing for Jerusalem, but I don't think this is the direction our leaders are taking us, which brings us back to the whole idea of the residents of the city and the people who ostensibly care about the city, but treat it as a symbol rather than a living, breathing, organic city.

Regarding keeping an international audience interested in Jerusalem-specific cultural matters, I don't think it's possible. People are not interested in just culture. There's room in these types of publications for local news, local and international news do not have to be mutually exclusive, but if you're trying to attract an international audience, you need to touch upon more than culture. I guess that depends on how you define culture. If you're talking about a culture of peace, or a culture of accommodation, then international audiences will be interested; if you're speaking of a narrow definition of culture, then I would have to say no. I personally look forward to a time when international audiences will be a little less interested in Jerusalem news because life here will be a little more normal.

Prince-Gibson in action

You are a vocal champion of gender equality. What kind of obstacles have you faced as a woman in the community of Israel-based media leadership, and how would you assess the level of gender equality in the Israeli media world today? First of all, I'm the only woman who heads a major news outlet. My friend Bambi Sheleg heads Eretz Acheret, but that's not a news magazine - it's a magazine of ideas and events. So women have a long way to go. I don't think there's gender equality in the Israeli media world. It's the same in many of the established professions in Israel. There's an old-boys club atmosphere in these professions and that hasn't changed.

What I feel I struggle the most with is bringing a gender perspective to my work. Not a feminist perspective in the narrow sense. In my opinion, gender means something broader. It means diversity. I think that it matters who is writing an article. I believe in standpoint. Who you are affects what you write and the way we can offer a broader perspective is by providing a real variety of viewpoints. This doesn't just mean hiring more women commentators - it means hiring people of all ages, genders and religious perspectives. With my own staff, I try very hard to hire different kinds of people in terms of experience and viewpoints so that we are divided not just between men and women but between young and old, right and left, etc. In Jerusalem especially, I think it's important to embrace multiculturalism and diversity, and that's what I see as important as a gender issue. Yes, I believe in advancing women, but I also believe in advancing other people with different perspectives - Arabs, Charedim, mizrahim, people with disabilities.

The Jerusalem Report got started as a kind of mutiny from The Jerusalem Post in 1989, only to eventually be bought by The Jerusalem Post ten years later, a move which did not sit well with many Report stalwarts. For the past nine years, the offices of both publications have even been in the same building, and now your publication's budget is even controlled by David Horovitz, the Report's former publisher
who now serves as editor-in-chief at the Post. You yourself rose the ranks to your current position through your work as a section editor at the Post. What kind of effect does all of this drama and begrudged cross-breeding have on the decisions you make as an editor, and what measures do you take to ensure that your publication maintains an identity distinct from the Post's identity? The drama is very much a phony drama. It happened years and years ago. The current owners own a variety of publications. We are absolutely editorially independent. Lots of news outlets have different publications that often compete against each other. While it's true that David Horovitz is responsible for our overall budget, we are still in charge of the daily breakdowns and we are completely editorially independent.

I don't take any steps to ensure that my publication maintains a distinct identity, because there is no threat to my independence. We work collegially, we take advantage of one another's resources, we consult and help each other as colleagues. There are people at the Post whose opinions I value deeply, and I consult them from time to time, but we respect each other's independence. We do not participate in each other's editorial meetings by design so that we don't influence one another.

The drama is old history that might be titillating to outsiders but doesn't affect me. What affects me are the cutbacks that are affecting all media outlets, and that's the struggle that I want to focus on. I really believe that as a news magazine, we do have a chance to survive this crisis because we provide in-depth reporting - we take a step back and write longer articles that contextualize the issues. That's what we're focused on right now - that's the drama we're dealing with, trying to keep creating quality work despite cutbacks. I'm really proud of my staff who's helping me do this.

Sometimes we walk around thinking about Jerusalem in one way, and then something will happen - a cab ride, attending an exhibit, a conversation with a neighbor, whatever - that will yank us into a new headspace. Can you share with our readers any experiences that happened to you recently that made you look at our city in a fresh way? I wouldn't exactly say this made me think of something in a fresh way, but a recent incident reminded me of something I forget on a day to day basis. A bunch of teenagers had a big party at the top of the hill in Abu Tor, overlooking the Old City, and it made me think about how neat that was, the combination of being young and Israeli and very cool while overlooking this ancient city. But the two things weren't seen in contrast or as a juxtaposition, they were totally melded together. These were totally modern kids living in an ancient city and using that city to draw on, as part of their modernity. I don't drive past the Old City walls everyday thinking, "Oh wow. I live in an ancient city." But when the kids did that, it reminded me to think about the fact that I do live in an ancient city as well as a modern one, and that fact does effect my actions in some way.

Photos of Eetta Prince-Gibson at her office (top) and working in the field (above) courtesy of Ariel Jerozolimski for The Jerusalem Post. 

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