She says her challenge is “to bring the unexpected into the room. It isn’t just a job for me,” she reiterates. “CAMERA offered the opportunity to combine the development aspect with the intellectual and educational component. It was my dream job. I couldn’t have described what I wanted to do any better than what CAMERA offered.”
Andrea Levin, CAMERA’s Boston-based executive director, says of Baker that “in the time she’s been with us, she’s really made a mark. She has great instincts for organizing, for getting outstanding speakers, for recruiting people. She has a wonderful way with people, and those are attributes that are really important for the kind of thing she’s doing. She has made CAMERA’s presence known in Chicago.”
The city is important to the organization’s mission, Levin says, because of its large Jewish community and location in the center of the country. “It’s a community that is very steadfast for Israel and receptive to our focus on the battle of ideas. An active community, a committed community is very important to us,” she says.
Baker has been instrumental in solidifying this base, Levin says. “She really understands the issues and is a very thoughtful person, very astute. In addition to her work in programming and development, she brings a lot of intelligence and knowledge. Just in a period of a year, she has really strengthened our base. It has been a vibrant community for us but she has really galvanized it. She has a tremendously infectious personality and is having a really positive, strong impact.”
As Baker often says of herself, Levin reiterates: “She cares.”
One of CAMERA’s slogans is “Public perception shapes public policy,” and Baker says that in the Chicago area the organization tries to fulfill its mission in a number of ways.
For an example of CAMERA’s work, Baker gives this one: “Rashid Khalidi (Palestinian-American historian and author) wrote an op ed in the (Chicago) Tribune. It created a large blowback from the community. People were very disturbed. We commented and wrote an analysis of his op ed. In our archives we followed him in many of his op eds that have appeared and you can see the thread – where he has repeated himself, where he is different. We were very careful and thorough and everything we do is backed up.”
Media-monitoring and corrections can be found on the organization’s detailed, ever-changing website (www.camera.org).
The Tribune, long a target of pro-Israel activists, now seldom draws their ire, Baker says. “They’ll have an occasional op ed that our letter writers draw attention to, but in the years since I’ve been involved, it really hasn’t been bad. It used to be more so.”
She is not so sanguine about other media outlets, including National Public Radio, The New York Times on occasion, Los Angeles Times, the BBC, the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz and many others.
“Israel is bashed terribly,” she says. “There’s so much bad press, illegitimate press, wrongful press. You can be critical of Israel but you have to wade through the lies, the myths and falsehoods that are out there first.”
Another example: “National Geographic has consistently shown photos of poor Arabs shlepping water on their backs while Israelis languish at their pools,” she says. “But Israel has offered the technology for water desalination and they don’t want it. (National Geographic) has been called on the carpet for that” but has not changed its anti-Israel focus, she says.
Most people, including some within the Jewish community, know little about Israel and its achievements, Baker says. “It’s not just the wrongful reporting, it’s the omissions, the bad PR, the news that isn’t reported. Israel isn’t great at PR and they’re not getting better at it, so we have to assume that role.”
CAMERA’s highly focused mission is not always well understood, she says, and adds that that’s also the case with other organizations whose goals are tightly targeted.
“AIPAC might be criticized because they didn’t support this or that. But that’s not their mission. Their mission is to benefit the relationship between the United States and Israel. It’s a singular mission and they do it well,” she says.
Similarly, “we have a mission as well. Our job is to read the newspapers, listen to major radio stations, significant films, books, speeches that have been made that make statements that are false. Our job is to look at those and correct them so they don’t become part of a narrative that’s not true. Our mission is to correct false information.”
To critics who contend that organizations like AIPAC and CAMERA only want to offer positive news of Israel and perhaps even stifle legitimate criticism, Baker comes back to the idea of the mission.
“With the three or four (major) speakers I bring in per season, I’m not going to bring in a critic of Israel,” she says. “I haven’t brought them in to tell me what Israel is doing wrong, but it might come up in the Q&A (session). Nobody is going to put a muzzle on anybody for asking a question. We want to pinpoint a certain issue, but that doesn’t mean people won’t bring up other issues in panel discussions or questions.”