Communication is key is breaking down misconceptions

  • AboveBoardShaunZagnoev (3)
Early in its existence, the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) recognised the need to add a public relations component to its day-to-day functioning. As the Jewish community’s representative spokesbody, it could not always keep a low profile, but sometimes needed to take a public stand on issues affecting it.
by SHAUN ZAGNOEV | Jul 19, 2018

It also needed to build bridges and establish channels of communication with other constituencies and institutions, one of the most significant of which was the media.

Over time, the importance of the Board’s public relations function has only increased, and in today’s information-driven, media-dominated environment, it is all but indispensable.

The public relations role of the SAJBD is carried out by a communications department, headed by Charisse Zeifert. The purpose of the department is to educate the public about the Jewish community and its history and culture, publicise the good work Jews are doing in the wider society and, wherever necessary, respond to anti-Jewish attacks in the media.

Of late, it has raised awareness about the recent serious incidents of anti-Semitism that have taken place in the country. We have been called upon over the years to respond to the anti-Israel bias which, unfortunately, permeates so much of what is being said and written on that subject.

Relationship-building with media professionals is critical to the success of the department. During her visit to Durban last week, Charisse met with nearly a dozen local editors and journalists, in the process building on the impressive network of important contacts that she has put together over the years. Through such contacts, we are able to respond timeously to offensive media items, while also finding ways in which to promote the many positive aspects of what being a Jewish South African is all about.

Such regular meetings further provide valuable opportunities to find common ground and break down misconceptions about one another.

Contrary to what some people might feel, the average media worker is not reflexively hostile to Jews, Judaism or even Israel. As Charisse has consistently found, there is a genuine willingness to listen, learn and understand, and as far as possible, to strive to be balanced and accurate when commenting and reporting on the issues in question.

The SAJBD is now widely regarded as being the address to which the media turns when they are looking for Jewish comment on the issues of the day, not just relating to the Middle East or anti-Semitism, but also on topics of broader public concern, such as the proposed anti-hate crime legislation and problems of racism in South African society in general.

Sometimes our input is sought on more practical, mundane questions, such as what the Jewish view is on what to do about the growing shortage of space for burials or sex education in schools.

It all enables us, as a community, to be part of the national debate, rather than being perceived as being just another special interest lobby that only speaks out when its own interests are threatened.

  • Listen to Charisse Zeifert on Jewish Board Talk, 101.9 ChaiFM every Friday 12:00 to 13:00.


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