Groups say press has misconstrued conflicts in Kashmir, Gaza Strip
By Jonathan Jones, STAFF WRITER
FREMONT — In a conference room at the back of the Golden Peacock Banquet Hall on a recent Tuesday evening, a group of about 20, mostly Jews and Hindus, discussed strategies for dealing with the media.
Midway through the workshop, David L. Bernstein, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Jewish Committee, asked the Hindus in attendance how they’d respond to a suggestion in the media that the caste system is a discriminatory aspect of Hinduism.
India had made a lot of progress in terms of caste discrimination, one man suggested.
Caste is not religious, said another.
It is outlawed in India, said someone else.
Finally, a Jewish man raised his hand and offered a suggestion: "India is the largest democracy in the world. In India, people of all castes are allowed to vote."
"A Jew has represented your viewpoint," said Bernstein, adding, "We’re not there to answer their questions. Answer their questions in as few words as possible and then transition into your message points."
Sponsored by the American Jewish Committee and the Hindu American Foundation, the workshop represented two faces of minority groups who share a common frustration over what they see as distorted media coverage of issues such as Kashmir or the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as newsroom policies on whether to use "militant" versus "terrorist," or "occupied territories" versus "administered territories" in their reporting.
Although billed as a way of combating biased coverage of both Hindus and Jews in the media, much of the workshop involved Bernstein presenting his interpretation of how the media work and teaching public relations techniques used by pro-Israeli groups that could be used just as effectively by Hindu groups.
Bernstein said he hopes workshops like this one would help bring Americans, Israelis and Indians together by promoting "the world’s first democracy with the world’s largest democracy and the only
democracy in the Middle East."
Taking a page from pro-Israeli public relations methods, Bernstein suggested those in attendance reach out to the media to help educate editors and reporters.
And when advocating for a cause, he also recommended that people use words such as "peace," "security" and "shared democratic values."
He also suggested that advocates should not spend a lot of time talking to the media about the historical context of current conflicts.
"Don’t talk about history," Bernstein said. "They’re not going to care about what happened in 1948 — and that goes for both India and Israel."
Mihir Meghani, a Fremont resident and president of the Hindu American Foundation, said the workshop was helpful in bringing Hindu and Jewish communities together to educate and share their experiences in conveying viewpoints more effectively in the media.
He said members of the Hindu American Foundation have come across frequent errors in media coverage of Hinduism, citing press accounts of the Hindu perspective on cows, holy books, karma, dowry and bride burning.
"It’s important for both communities to educate other Americans about their culture, religion and history," Meghani said. "That is the only way to erase stereotypes and reach the vast number of Americans who will not come in contact with Hindus and Jews on a daily basis."
Staff writer Jonathan Jones covers religious, ethnic and cultural issues. He can be reached at (510) 353-7005 or [email protected]