A press club in West Jerusalem?
For decades, Jerusalem had no dedicated space for foreign journalists and the de facto center of the international press was the American Colony Hotel across the street from Orient House, which in turn served as the Palestine Liberation Organization headquarters during the 1980s and ’90s.
“If you came to Jerusalem, especially for a short visit, the first place you went was the American Colony. There you met colleagues, you rubbed shoulders with the U.N., and it wasn’t exactly filled with the pro-Israeli atmosphere, to put it mildly,” Uri Dromi, director of the Jerusalem Press Club, said. During the intifadas, in fact, journalists often swapped tips and rubbed shoulders with Palestinian leaders at the hotel’s Cellar Bar. Today the Touro Restaurant, in the same building as the Jerusalem Press Club, is giving the American Colony a run for the money.
“The attitude was, ‘Why don’t they just leave us alone?’ ” Dromi said. “But I always thought it was a blessing. If the press is interested in Israel, there’s something we can do about it. I asked Palestinian journalists and people who worked for Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya if they would come to a press club in West Jerusalem.
“And the response was, ‘Sure, if the food is good and the company is good and you have a good broadcasting infrastructure, what do I care?’ “
Today, the Jerusalem Press Club boasts a list of more than 400 dues-paying members at its site, a short stroll from the King David Hotel and next to the windmill in Yemin Moshe. In addition, newsmakers are increasingly booking the club to provide media briefings and press conferences for resident and visiting journalists.
“You know the test is when people renew,” Dromi said. “We are celebrating two years since our launch with a great renewal rate and our first international conference.
“I’m not working for the government,” he continued. “I’m working for Israel in the broadest sense.”