In Talia Dekel-Fleissig’s experience, foreign militaries are more receptive to learning about Israel’s security challenges than are journalists.
Dekel-Fleissig, 38, the new CEO of the Jerusalem Press Club, which turned 10 this year, arrived in Israel by way of Canada and New Zealand, where her father built a polling empire “out of spite.”
When she made aliyah at age 17, she was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces’ liaison unit, which maintains contact with the United Nations and other foreign forces that operate under regional security arrangements.
She spent a year on the Israeli-Egyptian border, liaising with the Egyptian army and the international peacekeeping force Multinational Force and Observers. As an officer, she was part of the unit that created content for IDF liaisons working with foreign armies.
“Foreign militaries get the security challenges more than journalists. It’s much more obvious to them than civilians,” she told JNS. “Security challenges are more immediately obvious to foreign military personnel than to journalists, who are civilians at the end of the day.”
Working with those journalist-civilians, many of whom are not known for their love of Israel, is a main part of her job now.
Breaking down barriers
“We want to be valuable. We want to offer journalists story ideas, resources and a 360-degree view of Israel,” Dekel-Fleissig told JNS of her five-employee office. She had overseen strategy as the nonprofit’s vice president and helped negotiate a reciprocal membership agreement with the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in 2020, before becoming CEO in February 2023.
“Our staff is Israeli, has worked in related fields, and we can get to sources that the journalists themselves might not necessarily get access to,” she said.
That lack of access is often the result of well-earned suspicion of foreign reporters.
“It’s not that surprising that somebody might not necessarily want to speak to certain outlets after they’ve covered stories in a certain way,” Dekel-Fleissig said. “Part of our job is to break down the barriers and to help facilitate better connections between journalists and their sources.”
The club has a brick-and-mortar space, including a restaurant open to reporters through prior reservation, which the club requires post-pandemic. It guides foreign journalists in Israel by connecting them with Israeli officials, representatives of civil society, and economic and cultural leaders, and by holding webinars, briefings and other programs to help reporters understand better one of the world’s most complicated regions and conflicts.
A wandering Jewish family
Born in Regina, Saskatchewan, in Canada to Israeli parents, Dekel-Fleissig and her family moved to London, Ontario, before her father, an academic, took a job at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.
He was supposed to do public-opinion polling, but then the university closed its polling section. “Out of spite, he built his own polling empire,” Dekel-Fleissig said of her father, Gabriel Dekel.
The business that he grew out of his garage, DigiPoll, was the New Zealand version of the Pew Research Center, she said.
“When I was a kid, I remember coming in and people were making their coffee in my kitchen,” she said of her father’s staff. “It was very strange, but it was also very interesting to see.”
Dekel-Fleissing was the only Jew in her school of the six years she lived in Hamilton, New Zealand, and one of very few Jews in the whole city. “My parents had a habit of moving to very small communities. So straight away, I found myself looking for Jewish connections,” she told JNS.
She grew up in a secular but traditional Zionist household. Dekel-Fleissing found her Jewish grounding in Habonim Dror, which she describes as “super-left Socialists,” and the religious Zionist youth movement Bnei Akiva.
“When I started going to Bnei Akiva, I brought a little bit back home with me,” she said. “It was important for my parents that I maintained my Jewish identity abroad, which is not an easy thing to do in the middle of New Zealand, where we didn’t even have a synagogue.”
After moving in 2003 to Israel—where she now lives with her husband and three sons—Dekel-Fleissing worked with the Egyptian army, and others, during her military service. She then cut her teeth learning to report and interview people at The Jerusalem Post on the Internet desk in the early days of online news and as social media became more prominent.
It was freeing to be clear of IDF bureaucracy, she told JNS, and she also began studying political science and the Middle East at Hebrew University, and subsequently earned a master’s in conflict resolution at Tel Aviv University. She worked at The Israel Project, a now-defunct nonprofit that worked with the same sort of audience with which she now interacts at the press club.
“I think our end goal is the same in that we all love Israel and want to see Israel given a fair shake in the media,” she said. “But our strategies are quite different.”
A wide range of issues
The club helps foreign reporters on their day-to-day needs, largely focused on politics, defense and society. But Dekel-Fleissig and her staff are also trying to bring more attention to antisemitism in the media and to connect reporters to areas of strength for Israel—from climate change innovation to cybersecurity to health care and business.
“We’re taking climate on more because it’s something that’s affecting the whole world, and if JPC can do more to help spread the word about what Israel is doing in that field and strengthen those innovations, I think we can do something better for everybody,” she said.
Particularly during divisive times, the press club introduces journalists to Israel’s diversity and perspectives on both sides of the story. Journalists who are true to their values ought to report all the sides of the story, and helping reporters understand the broader context, rather than propaganda, is good for the club, too, according to Dekel-Fleissig.
“If you’re only given one side of the story, it’s not genuine and not a true reflection of the way things are,” she said. “You’ll be more likely to not consider us a valuable source. So we have to stay true to the truth.”
Even lifelong Israeli citizens can struggle to understand domestic Israeli policy these days, particularly those related to the judiciary. International reporters in Israel are often confused and “don’t necessarily know what’s going on, because we as Israelis don’t necessarily know what’s going on.”
“If we don’t have our own house in order, it’s hard to explain what this all means,” she added.
But the Jerusalem Press Club resists pressures that are directed at organizations like it to take political sides. The club sticks to its role, which is to provide journalists access to sources, including government officials, scholars and other members of society, who can explain their views on judicial reform and its surrounding controversies, Dekel-Fleissig told JNS.
“You have to work with everybody. You can’t pick and choose whom you’re working with based on history, because then you won’t make a change,” she said.
Making changes has become more difficult for the club in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, when large, in-person events aren’t as feasible, and there is more limited capacity and staffing. The new environment is what brought Dekel-Fleissig to the United States last month to make the rounds, connect with donors and try to secure the club’s financial stability.
Uri Dromi, a former spokesman for Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres founded the club in 2013 and ran it until earlier this year, when Dekel-Fleissig took over the reins. She is reassessing its future—what she calls “JPC 2.0.”
“We have a new audience to work with. It’s not even the next generation. It’s the next, next generation, because these journalists are younger than me now,” she said. “I love to say I’m a young leader, but I’m literally old news.”
Dekel-Fleissig is proud of the club’s prior work, but she is also paying attention to the things that supporters in the Jewish community think Israel is missing in the media.
Her U.S. tour has left her optimistic “not just in terms of financial support but in terms of real love for Israel and real concern for where the country is headed.”
“It has given me a lot to think about,” she said.
Dekel-Fleissig hopes to bring international reporters to Israel to cover specific events, like the critics who would come annually to cover the Jerusalem Film Festival. “You would see the impact in articles later, when they report about Israel and learn about different communities,” she said.
For now, the club is offering virtual tours with drone footage of the Israeli borders with Syria and Lebanon, which is “incredibly difficult to achieve, because you need to get permission from five or six different security authorities,” she said.
What she’s doing, Dekel-Fleissig figures, is “bringing Israel to people’s offices anywhere, whether it’s in New York or Washington or London or Brussels.”
“But, if I had $100,000, I probably wouldn’t invest in another tour,” she admitted. “I would first go back to the issue of capacity building because we are a very tiny—but mighty—team.”