Daniel Pomerantz. Credit: Courtesy.
Daniel Pomerantz. Credit: Courtesy.

For RealityCheck CEO Daniel Pomerantz, Jewish identity is a work in progress

The former head of HonestReporting has practiced law, launched “Playboy” in Israel and exposed anti-Israel media bias.

After 12 years practicing transactional law, Daniel Pomerantz launched Playboy magazine in Israel, followed by six-and-a-half years at the pro-Israel media watchdog HonestReporting, where he served as CEO. In his latest venture, as CEO of the research firm RealityCheck, he is conducting studies on Holocaust education.

It’s been an unusual career path, to say the least.

“As a lawyer, I felt like I was doing a really good job of helping other people do amazing things. I was helping people run their businesses. I was helping artists grow their careers. I was helping big corporations do interesting business deals,” the 47-year-old told JNS.

But he felt increasingly like he was on the sidelines watching others do things. “I had this desire growing in me to do something meaningful myself,” he said.

A graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, Pomerantz first thought about making aliyah to Israel upon arriving at an Israeli foreign ministry conference on international law, where he said he felt very much at home.

“My transition out of law was also my transition into moving to Israel. The two kind of happened together,” he said.

He felt the need to make aliyah so profoundly that he knew he could trust it.

Pomerantz grew up culturally Jewish in Chicago, attending a Conservative synagogue. He said he found it constraining to be bound by ideas of what Jews can and cannot be stateside, but in Israel, things were more open and free. “I could really just explore what it means to be myself in Israel,” he said.

He connected more with Jewish ritual in Jerusalem, and when he lived in Tel Aviv, he found himself doing less of that and feeling more a part of a Jewish community and people. (He has told reporters that bringing Playboy to the country made him feel a part of Israeli cultural life and like he was connecting Israel with the world.)

“I think that’s an important message to everyone who feels conflicted about being Jewish. If you’re Jewish you’re Jewish—whether you want to be or not, whether you like it or not, and whether you do anything or not,” he told JNS.

By embracing one’s omnipresent Jewish identity, one can define personally what it means to be Jewish, according to Pomerantz.

‘There’s been a strong movement away from truth’

Jewish identity for Pomerantz meant six-and-a-half years at HonestReporting—the final three as CEO—tracking and exposing misconceptions, inaccuracies and outright lies and delusions that journalists report about Israel.

The way he sees it, Israel and Judaism afforded him an entry point through which to make the world more truthful.

“There’s been a strong movement away from truth. A lot of people have started to define reality based on their opinion or based on their feelings, rather than based on what’s real,” he said. “When that phenomenon impacts Jewish communities and Israel, I feel the need to stand up and do something about it.”

Pomerantz brings the same instincts to his new role at the helm of RealityCheck.

The organization’s mission is to equip the public with tools to more deeply understand their own opinions. “Our goal is not to tell anyone what to believe. It’s to help people understand their own opinions in a way that fosters greater nuance, and depth and insight. When we do this, it turns arguments into conversations,” he said.

Especially among young people, who can be very skeptical, there is a growing hunger for research and data, he said.

The three-month-old RealityCheck employs three staff members, including Pomerantz, who hopes to grow “at a measured pace,” hiring strategically. The organization is already partnering with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and recently, Pomerantz spoke to Harvard University students.

“We’re finding that the work we’re doing, by its nature, is so compelling that it just attracts interest in talented people, international organizations and students,” he said. “Many of the people who might traditionally shy away from the topic of Israel or Jewish communities find themselves not only comfortable but attracted by the approach that we’re taking.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion

The next big project for RealityCheck will be a study on how countries—as opposed to individual companies and institutions—approach diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), Pomerantz told JNS.

Doing so will improve understanding of how Israel, the United States, European countries, Canada and others compare on the matter, which will make it easier to respond to reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that call Israel an “apartheid” regime, according to Pomerantz.

He thinks the lens of DEI—which ironically, the anti-Israel left has embraced, he said—will inform about how the fundamental aspects of apartheid are present in different countries.

“I believe what we’ll find is that Israel may not be perfect or may not be the top in the world on all these measures, but it’s going to be in the same category as other modern Western liberal democracies,” he said.

The study will address everything from Iranian hijab laws to the plight of women in Afghanistan, and Islamophobia and sexual orientation, noted Pomerantz. He thinks it will be telling to frame criticism of Israel in the same context as that of the United States or the European Union without equating Israel and Nazi Germany.

“We can engage with Israel in a way that’s honest and not harmful to anyone,” he said.

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