CAMERA “does its homework,” Baker stresses, when seeking corrections or clarifications in press coverage. “We have a good staff of research analysts and we focus on some very major issues. It’s amazing the corrections we’ve gotten if we call these people out on the carpet, no matter if they’re (New York Times columnist) Tom Friedman or anybody else. Right now the Arab narrative is digging into our basic historical heritage. It’s a battle, such a battle.”
In tandem with correcting inaccurate reporting, Baker says she and CAMERA also strive to bring to light positive aspects of Israel.
“I like to get programs out on Israel’s achievements because people don’t know about them. They have nowhere to read this,” she says. One recent speaker, Daryl Temkin, director of the Israel Education Institute, talked about Israel’s contributions in the solar energy field, noting that South Carolina has some 20 joint projects with Israel in the works.
“I passed that on to someone in Illinois’ environmental agency, and I might bring (Temkin) in to speak to a group of businessmen,” Baker says in demonstrating how she works her cross-connections in various communities to the benefit of the Jewish state. “Most people don’t have a clue what benefit to humanity Israel brings,” she says.
CAMERA is known for its members’ letter-writing prowess, and top letter-writers are honored each year at a national event. But Baker says that writing letters isn’t enough – the organization’s mission must go forward on a more up close and personal level. That’s why she concentrates so heavily on programming and emphasizes the organization’s ties to other non-profits.
“One of my goals is for CAMERA to supply talking points for a lot of organizations. When organizations need validation on a point, they will come to CAMERA and check it out,” she says. She has reached out to organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and Jewish National Fund and has joined with StandWithUs, a pro-Israel education and advocacy organization with a message closely related to CAMERA’s, to co-sponsor events. She maintains close ties to AIPAC and the two organizations sometimes suggest speakers for each other.
Other Jewish organizations are not as tuned in to CAMERA as one might expect, Baker says. “As I go along, I’m finding there are certain groups you would think very likely candidates (to join with) CAMERA, but they don’t really know what CAMERA is, what we do,” she says.
Two programs that Baker is hoping to bring to Chicago eventually both involve college students. The CAMERA College Activist Program offers stipends to students who help to combat anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
“They engage in programming where they feel they can address anti-Israel bias or educate people about Israel in a positive way,” she says. That might involve anything from showing an Israeli film at the campus film society to bringing in a speaker to providing pro-Israel campus groups with the materials they need. The national office directs the program and supports the students’ efforts.
A separate program, CAMERA fellows, Baker calls “more literary oriented. We’ll designate a ‘fellow’ on campus who will write and report on Jewish activity, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish activity on campus,” monitoring campus newspapers as well as local media.
The program includes a mission to Israel where students tour the country, meet journalists, politicians and government officials and, Baker says, “hone their literary skills.” They too receive a stipend for their work on campus.
There are roughly 25 students in each program nationwide. Neither exists in Chicago yet but Baker hopes to institute one or both in the future and has been talking with DePaul University about it. “We’re expanding and hoping to put another 25 on” throughout the country, she says, noting that attempts to delegitimize Israel and to spread the BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions) movement against Israel are strong on many campuses.
A big part of Baker’s job, and one she is especially enthusiastic about, involves programming and educational events. She has organized a program of speakers from the Hartman Institute at Anshe Emet Synagogue for the last eight years and last year was responsible for CAMERA co-sponsoring a film, “Unmasked: Judeophobia, the Threat to Civilization,” at the synagogue.
“There were about 500 people there. It was a great success, with a dinner beforehand. People love that. You always have to make sure there’s food,” she says with a chuckle, but then adds, more seriously, that it’s important to make each event “a fun experience. There’s a lot of competition out there.”
The Chicago events are geared to many different types of audiences, she says. “I’m pretty much on my own to create what I feel speaks well here and resounds in a strong way in Chicago. I might do a lunch for 20 people at the East Bank Club and bring in a speaker – that’s a different demographic than I would have at a synagogue gathering. I work speakers hard – they do at least two events a day.”