“60 Minutes” & the Temple Mount
The following represents a compilation of three pieces by David Bar-Illan which originally appeared (in slightly different form) in November and December of last year in the Jerusalem Post, together with a Postscript which appears here for the first time. David Bar-Illan is Editorials Editor of the Post; his previous contributions to COMMENTARY include “Israel, the Hostages, and the Networks” (September 1985).
November 23, 1990
“You and your friends won’t like what you’ll see on my program in a couple of weeks,” said Mike Wallace to an American acquaintance in Jerusalem the other day, talking about the forthcoming CBS-TV 60 Minutes program on the Temple Mount riot. Wallace is, of course, one of American television’s most enduring celebrities, and 60 Minutes, the documentary-style weekly newsmagazine program of which he is the star, has been one of the most popular television entertainment shows for years.
Familiar with Wallace’s biases, the American visitor would have gone into catatonic shock had a Wallace program—especially one produced in Jerusalem—been anything but a hatchet job in which Israel was the unregenerate villain.
Wallace is different from run-of-the-mill Israel-bashers. The anti-Israel bias of most reporters is part of a media trendiness which began soon after the Six-Day War (not, as many would like to believe, with the Lebanon war or the intifada) and seems to be driven by a pseudo-idealistic compulsion to be on the side of the underdog—a role Israel relinquished by winning in 1967.
Most of these reporters do not see the Palestinian movement as an avant-garde of an Arab world bent on Israel’s destruction, or as part of an Islamic movement of Khomeinist ferocity, but as an uprising of the downtrodden against a “foreign occupation.” Yet while they side with the Palestinians against Israel, many of them tend simultaneously—and ostentatiously—to support the Soviet Jewry movement and to inveigh passionately against anti-Semitism.
Not so Mike Wallace. Like many professed liberals, he seems so awed by dictators that he often acts as a public-relations huckster for strongmen. It may, of course, be simply a matter of expediency. Reporters curry favor with totalitarians in order to have access to their countries and receive preferential treatment over the competition. That is what happened in Beirut in 1982. Western correspondents knew that their sources of information—if not their lives—depended on their being nice to the PLO.1
In Wallace’s case, however, kowtowing to tyrants has become a trademark. When he first went to Syria in 1975, he missed no opportunity to lionize Syria’s “cool, strong, austere, and independent” leader, Hafez al-Assad, whose “unrelenting aim is to retrieve the rich farmland of the Golan taken from him by the Israelis” (emphasis added).
Wallace also gave a clean bill of health to Assad’s treatment of Syria’s 4,500 Jews, a passport to respectability Syria’s representatives use even now, fifteen years later, at the UN. He was particularly delighted to show that the Jews of Syria—though suffering from some travel restrictions—were quick to declare on camera that if they could only join the Syrian army they would be eager to fight against Israel.
Wallace produced this program soon after a Jewish woman, Lili Abadi, and her two small children were murdered and dismembered in Damascus following the reading of an anti-Jewish tract in a mosque. As every child knew, any Jew expressing anything but adoration for the Assad regime would have been risking his own and his family’s life. A very similar interview, in which an Iraqi Jew praised Saddam Hussein and blamed Israel for all evil on earth, was recently shown on television screens throughout the world. Not having Mike Wallace around, the Iraqi propaganda ministry had to produce this one all by itself.
An analogous situation on a much grander scale enticed Wallace to the Soviet Union. From 1980 on, Leonid Brezhnev claimed that no Jews wanted to leave the Soviet Union. But pesky Jewish organizations in New York and that intolerably intransigent government in Israel kept insisting that 400,000 of them, risking jobs, jail, and family safety, had applied for visas to Israel. Again Wallace knew whom to believe: standing in front of the Kremlin, he announced, with an arrogance only celebrated TV know-nothings can muster, that all the Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet Union had done so and the rest were getting along just fine.
Then came the turn of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In a program whose tone was egregious even for him, Wallace portrayed the “Jewish lobby” as an insidious, all-powerful, multiheaded Washington Svengali manipulating the U.S. Congress and administration. Any Congressman who voted against arms sales to Arab countries, implied Wallace, had been bought by Jewish money. The only difference between that program and the neo-Nazi tracts which accuse “the Jews” of controlling Washington, Wall Street, and everything else was that Wallace did not blame the Jews for controlling the media. He knows better.
In 1989 Wallace interviewed Yasir Arafat, treating him with the kind of deference the media reserve nowadays only for Saddam Hussein. Had he treated American—let alone Israeli—politicians this way, he would have been drummed out of the profession. The toughest question he could come up with was what Arafat thought of Israeli leaders David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Shamir. Not surprisingly, Arafat, who could not have had a better straight man if he had paid for one, came across as a reasonable man dedicated to peace and justice.
Israel will survive Wallace’s desperate efforts to prove that Jews—whether in the USSR, Syria, Washington, or Israel—are not his favorite people. But one wonders what other business would continue to celebrate a “professional” whose observations have been proven as totally wrong as Wallace’s. And one wonders, too, how many lives have been put in jeopardy because Mike Wallace and his colleagues instilled in the hearts of millions a faith in the truth of totalitarians.
December 7, 1990
One of the numerous reasons television cannot be considered a news medium is that it does not permit legitimate rebuttal. It is unthinkable, for instance, that CBS-TV would screen a highly professional, Jerusalem-made documentary on the Temple Mount riot to refute the exercise in disinformation on the subject aired by 60 Minutes on December 2, 1990.
Only the printed press is expected to allow rebuttals, at least in the form of letters to the editor. I believe a legitimate answer deserves to be published with the same prominence as the original charge. Hence the following letter by Mike Wallace, sent in response to my piece on him:
To the Jerusalem Post:
I’d be a fool not to respond to David Bar-Illan’s contemptible, biased, and inaccurate attack on me in . . . the Jerusalem Post of November 23.
Not that he lacks the license to criticize me; a reporter who broadcasts on controversial issues fully understands that criticism comes with the territory. It is Mr. Bar-Illan’s tone and especially his statement that “lives have been put in jeopardy” because of my reportage and that of my colleagues, that stirs my contempt for him. Seldom have I read a piece more filled with tendentious and frothing invective than Mr. Bar-Illan’s.
He says, in a wildly inaccurate statement, that I “gave a clean bill of health to [Hafez al-] Assad’s treatment of Syria’s 4,500 Jews.” Let me quote from my 1975 piece:
It is perfectly apparent that the Syrian Jewish community is kept under close surveillance. . . . Jews cannot emigrate, they cannot leave the country temporarily, except for emergencies, and then only with great difficulty. They must carry cards which identify them as Jews. They must notify the authorities when they travel inside Syria. . . .
And finally, I quoted a non-Jewish Syrian friend as telling me: “Life for Jews here is no paradise, but it’s not much better for us.”
Let’s move to my reportage of Yasir Arafat. In 1979 in Beirut, we had the following exchange:
Wallace: Tell me something. We hear that there are Palestinians fighting alongside President Idi Amin in Uganda. Is that true?
Arafat: For training mission. It is a training mission, and not more. It was from five years till now we have this mission.
W: Why, if you are—have such a feeling for human rights, why would you have a Palestinian training mission with Idi Amin?
A: It is a—it’s a fi—it is to help him for training his—his army.
W: The butcher Amin you help, and you talk about human rights?
A: I am not helping him as—only helping. . . .
W: You are helping to train his people. You—you admit it.
A: I am helping the—the—the Ugandan people. Idi Amin is not interfering in any other country.
W: Is he a man you respect, admire?
A: At least he is beside the Palestinians.
W: So, you’ll take help from wherever it comes?
A: He—he is not aggressor—aggressive?
W: He is not aggressive against his own people?
A: Against the Palestinians.
W: You are proud of your relationship with Idi Amin?
On the subject of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Mr. Bar-Illan says I implied—not “charged,” but “implied”—that “Any Congressman who voted against arms sales to Arab countries had been bought by Jewish money.” He then goes on to liken me to a neo-Nazi. All this because 60 Minutes reported accurately and dispassionately that AIPAC supports candidates for Congress who are sympathetic to Israel and tries to defeat those who they think are not. The close of our AIPAC piece in 1988 said this:
This past week, three major Jewish organizations took issue with AIPAC. The leaders of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith asserted in a letter to the president of AIPAC that “AIPAC does not speak for the consensus of the organized Jewish community.”
On 60 Minutes, which is in its 23rd year on CBS and remains far and away the most watched and among the respected news series on American television, we pride ourselves that we cannot be tabbed as liberal or conservative, pro- or anti- any country.
Let me set something straight for those doubters who have from time to time ascribed what they label my “biased reporting” on Israel to their perception of me as “a self-hating Jew.” I am proud of my heritage and I practice my Judaism in a personal and private manner. I am as committed to Israel’s integrity and safety as any Zionist. I come from a family of Zionists and have made my own contributions over many years to various Israeli projects and causes, none of them political. That, of course, has nothing to do with my reportage.
[signed] Mike Wallace
Unfortunately, Wallace’s letter reinforces every charge I made against him, not least because he evades two of my main accusations.
Unable to rebut my imputation that he acted like a public-relations agent for Arafat in a 1989 interview, Wallace—with a deftness worthy of a professional card shark—responds by quoting an interview conducted ten years earlier, in 1979. At that time, of course, Arafat was not yet the darling of salon liberals nor the great hope of the White House, and it took little courage to treat him as if he were an Israeli politician.
A second charge, which Wallace ignores altogether, is that in 1987, when 400,000 Soviet Jews, risking their lives and livelihoods, had requested Israeli visas, he stood in front of the Kremlin and declared that, with few exceptions, the 1.5 million Jews of the USSR, whose story was “largely untold,” were happy there and did not want to leave. Within two years this proved to be one of the greatest journalistic gaffes of the century, surpassed only by a prominent New York Times reporter’s prediction in 1975 that the Khmer Rouge assumption of power in Cambodia would bring “for most a better life” (they slaughtered some two millions civilians soon after).
At the time of Wallace’s broadcast, the Soviet authorities were refusing not only Jewish emigration, but travel for desperately sick individuals who needed treatment in the West. To many Americans his program served to confirm the Soviet claim that Soviet Jews were content, and Western efforts on their behalf were ridiculous. (How many lives were thus jeopardized?) To make his point, Wallace chose to interview the most notorious “court Jews” in the USSR, Samuel Zivs and Mikhail Milschstein, despised by all self-respecting Jews and representing solely the authorities. He even stooped to portraying the Jewish autonomous region of Birobidzhan, that monumental insult to the intelligence constructed by Stalin—where there are no Jewish schools and no study of Hebrew, and where Jews are incessantly pressured to disappear as an ethnic group—as a viable alternative for those who wish to live a Jewish life. In his one interview with a refusenik, the mathematician Victor Brailovsky, he omitted the facts of Brailovsky’s imprisonment, five-year exile, fifteen-year unemployment, and ceaseless harassment by the KGB.
What Wallace does try to refute is my charge regarding his attack on AIPAC, the “Jewish lobby,” an attack which served as a precursor for Patrick J. Buchanan and others who see “the Jews” controlling Washington.
Wallace cites part of a letter from three Jewish organizations asserting that AIPAC does not represent the Jewish consensus. What he fails to mention is that the quote from the letter, taken out of context, referred to a specific issue, not to AIPAC as such. He also forgets that the Anti-Defamation League, vehemently protesting his show, called this quote “entirely incorrect,” and that the largest Jewish organization, Hadassah—hardly noted for fire-eating militancy—demanded to know “why CBS promotes the ugly notion that Congressmen who vote against certain arms sales to Arab states have been bought by Jewish money.”
Wallace also tackles my charge that he whitewashed Assad, citing what he said on camera about travel restrictions on Syrian Jews. Of course, there was nothing to rebut: I mentioned Wallace’s reference to these travel restrictions in my article. But this lonely negative note about Assad was more than offset by the consistent obsequiousness with which he treated that champion butcher. The following is an example:
Wallace: You invite Jewish former Syrians to come back and visit their families, or American Jews to come here, go to the Jewish quarter, be with their friends, relatives, in perfect safety, and no reprisals against Syrian Jews who may have either emigrated in the old days or escaped recently?
Poor Assad. Pressed against the wall by these tough no-nonsense questions, he had to confess that, yes, he was a benevolent humanitarian who treated his Jews with boundless kindness. But Wallace would not let go. He knows about Jews. “But Jews are Jews [!],” he somberly perorates to the camera,
and Israel’s guns are only 40 miles away. Most governments, even our own, as with the Japanese in World War II, would consider these people potentially dangerous to national security. Apparently President Assad does not, though they are watched more carefully than others . . . Why? Most here would point to Israel as the reason. But it is getting better under President Assad—for all Syrians, and for Syrian Jews among them. To deny this is to deny what we have seen. [Emphasis added]
No wonder Syrian diplomats cite Wallace as objective American evidence of their kindness, generosity, and brotherly feelings for Jews.
If I thought it would do any good, I would suggest that Wallace view a documentary entitled In the Shadows, premiered in Toronto last month, which portrays Syria as what it is: a country where arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions are commonplace. Wallace may even want to take pride in his contributions to the world’s relative inattention to this vileness. But I doubt anything can change his mind.
The reason for Wallace’s bias may be hidden in the last paragraph of his letter. In it, Wallace gratuitously protests that he is not a self-hating Jew. But, deeming it totally irrelevant, I never mentioned his Jewishness. Qualified professionals will have to diagnose his compulsion to protest so much, and his concomitant need to kowtow to sworn enemies of Jews.
After studying the transcripts of these programs, the only good thing I can say about them is that his show on the Temple Mount riot is worse. In this show, swallowing the Arab line without reservation, Wallace revises history by reversing the sequence of events. There can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who has seen the available professional and amateur films that no live ammunition was fired at Arabs on the Mount before they rioted. But Wallace, basing himself on nothing but Palestinian testimony, concludes that before the Arabs “went into a frenzy” the police shot Arabs down. More on this next week.
December 14, 1990
Thirty years or so after the Holocaust, revisionist historians began trying to “prove” that it had never taken place. Television being a medium of instant history, it took Mike Wallace only a few weeks to rewrite the history of the Temple Mount riot.
It is all too easy to pick on Wallace’s conduct surrounding the production of the 60 Minutes program on the Temple Mount as indicative of bias, tendentiousness, and willfulness. His main production consultant in Jerusalem was a Palestinian journalist, David Kuttab, an avid PLO supporter and propagandist; Wallace sought no Israeli’s advice. His associates told a Jerusalem municipal spokeswoman that they were planning to present the Palestinian side of the story.
In a phone conversation, Wallace claimed he could not get Israeli officials to respond to Arab allegations. In fact, he and his staff rejected all government offers of cooperation. He insisted to the government press office that he wanted to interview only police officers, though he knew that the ongoing police investigation prohibited such testimonies. He also ignored a videotape containing clear evidence that during the fifteen-minute rock barrage on the worshippers’ plaza at the Western Wall, not a single policeman was on the Wall—which disproves the Arab claim that the rioters were aiming the rocks at the police, not the worshippers.
It is tempting, too, to puzzle over Wallace’s televised thanks to Michael Emery of the Village Voice for “tapes and background information.” In fact, the Wallace program can be described as a filmed production of the November 13, 1990 story in the Village Voice, one of the most virulently anti-Israel newspapers in America. The paper’s purportedly thorough, blow-by-blow description of the event, accompanied by an egregiously faulty and misleading illustration of the Temple Mount-Western Wall site, is simply the unadorned Palestinian version of the riot.
It is also easy to wonder about Wallace’s total, blind faith in the evidence of Palestinians on this particular event. When Yasir Arafat shows a drawing of an old coin and claims it is the expansion map of Israel, when the PLO’s Foreign Minister Farouk Kaddoumi declares it was Mrs. Klinghoffer who killed her crippled husband and pushed him and his wheelchair off the deck of the Achille Lauro, and when the PLO’s Abu Abbas claims that his gunmen killed 500 Israeli officers in their attack on the Tel Aviv beaches, Wallace and his colleagues dismiss the stories as embarrassing Arabian-Nights fantasies. Yet when three of the most respected men in Israel, the members of the Zamir Commission appointed by the Israeli government to investigate the Temple Mount riots, are called “liars” by an Arab health worker, Wallace obviously believes her and seeks no Israeli rebuttal.
Wallace deftly employs the usual tricks of tendentious journalism. To present the Arab side, he takes a “typical” rioter, a cultured, Western-educated blond boy of thirteen, son of PLO-affiliated Sari Nusseibeh, who came “to defend the Temple Mount” that fateful day. Is there a viewer who would not rage at police who would shoot at this sweet little boy? Others representing the Palestinian side are a doctor, a woman photographer, a wounded child, and that injured health worker in the hospital. The message is clear: Israel’s targets were women and children. Somehow, Wallace forgot PLO chieftain Faisal Husseini, who must have been there only to defend Nusseibeh’s boy, and 3,000 other rampaging men and women.
The Israelis, on the other hand, are represented by an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, who to most Americans must look like a Neanderthal throwback, and by two officials. One is Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who, in a breach of television ethics, is shown as if he had been interviewed for the program when in fact only file footage of his appearance on the day of the riot was used. The other is the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, whose words are used out of context in an ugly exercise of disinformation—about which more later.
One wonders why Wallace did not interview Israeli witnesses, like a little thirteen-year-old girl, almost as cute as Jamal Nusseibeh, whose American accent is even better. Footage of interviews with Israeli witnesses taken immediately after the riot was available, and it was easy enough to trace them. Wallace claims that he strenuously tried to get the names of the Jewish injured and could not. It took me one phone call to get the list of the eight who were treated at the Hadassah hospital, including addresses and phone and identity-card numbers. Surely, Wallace’s legmen are at least as efficient as I am.
(Inadvertently, Wallace’s witnesses confirm a central Israeli contention: that the riot was premeditated, that the 3,000 rioters—who, one must assume, were not all soft-spoken thirteen-year-old boys—had brought rocks and boulders in “rubbish buckets” to the Mount, and that they were led by ringleaders, “sheiks going around with loudspeakers,” as little Nusseibeh described them. Young Nusseibeh, of course, assures Wallace that the Arabs were only going to respond if attacked. Considering that in the past three years Palestinian Arabs have initiated rock-throwing in over 60,000 reported incidents, this would have been indeed a commendable first.)
But it is foolish to expect Mike Wallace to be content with the standard tricks of bash-Israel productions. Wallace is a man with a mission, which justifies much greater enormities. His main purpose is twofold: to prove that the Israeli police provoked the riot, and that they used live ammunition before the rioters threw rocks at the worshippers. First he asserts that the rioting, which caused several police injuries and the torching of the police post on the Temple Mount, began only when a tear-gas canister exploded out of the blue. “Some of the women,” volunteers Wallace, “feared that signaled the approach of the radical Jewish group.” (How does he know?)
But just in case some viewers might think that the muffled sound of a tear-gas canister does not quite justify a major riot, Wallace uses Mayor Teddy Kollek to reinforce this provocation thesis.
Wallace: The Israeli government . . . tried to persuade the world that this was an unprovoked riot by the Palestinians.
Kollek: We have an ideological government, and I think wherever you have ideological governments you run into trouble.
What Wallace does not tell his viewers is that this Kollek reply was not given as an answer to his question. It was part of a long exchange during the interview in which Kollek, as is his wont, expressed his blunt opinion of the government. To splice it out of context and create the impression that Kollek agreed the riot was provoked is a blatant inversion of the truth and beyond the pale even by television’s loose standards. After seeing the program, Kollek, whose declared confidence in the Zamir Commission’s integrity is never mentioned in the show, protested to CBS. Complaining that he was deliberately used by Wallace, Kollek charged that in rushing to assign blame, Wallace edited the truth.
Wallace’s second undertaking is to prove that the rioters threw rocks at the Western Wall worshippers only after they were mowed down by live police ammunition. None of his witnesses says so. Only Wallace himself asserts that what made the mob stone the worshippers was seeing comrades shot down by the police. For this, too, he uses a spliced bit of Kollek, this time in an even more underhanded manner.
Kollek: [There was] a great number of young men running against [the police], with chains in their hands, and sticks in their hands, and they felt threatened.
Wallace: And, as a result?
Kollek: As a result they acted as you know they acted.
Wallace: They shot.
The only trouble with this exchange is that Kollek was referring to the police shooting after they had been chased away from the Temple Mount by the mob; after they had witnessed the fifteen-minute barrage of rocks against the worshippers’ plaza at the Western Wall; after they had lost contact with the two policeman in the police post and feared for their lives; and after they had returned to face the raging mob on the Temple Mount by forcing their way through the Mugrabi gate. Wallace simply placed this Kollek segment before describing these events, and followed Kollek’s description with his own:
Seeing people shot down by the Israelis on the Temple Mount drove the Palestinians into a frenzy, and once all the Israeli police had retreated off the Temple Mount, the young Palestinians were able . . . to let loose a barrage of stones at the Wall.
Which, aside from being a prevarication, is also ludicrous. Had the police used live ammunition, the mob would have behaved exactly the way it did a half-hour later when the police did use live ammunition: it would have dispersed in panic. Nor would the police have retreated—“frightened,” as little Jamal Nusseibeh put it—had they felt free to shoot live bullets into the crowd.
In responding to criticism, Wallace hastens to point out that his program has been on top of the charts for 23 years.
It is indeed the best written, directed, and produced newsmagazine on American TV. Which is why CBS—more interested in Nielsen ratings than in the truth—cavalierly and haughtily dismisses all reasoned criticism of the program. It will undoubtedly do so again. But it may be useful to remember that one of the most celebrated journalists of his time was Walter Duranty of the New York Times, a Pulitzer-prize-winning foreign correspondent who in the early 30’s fed the American public instantly-rewritten history of the famine in the Ukraine. By persuading the world that the Soviet denial of the famine was true, Duranty’s fairy tales cost thousands if not millions of lives.
That favorable press in the West encourages dictators to believe thay can get away with murder is a given—proved again most recently by Saddam Hussein. By reinforcing the Arab claim that those who died on the Temple Mount were martyred defenders of holy places, mowed down by savage, unprovoked Israeli police (King Hussein of Jordan has already claimed thay died when “the Israelis came to blow up the mosques”), Mike Wallace helps inflame millions of Muslims against Israel. More than any of his colleagues, he is a fitting heir to Duranty.
The very day my analysis of Wallace’s Temple Mount program was published in the Jerusalem Post, the newspaper received by fax a letter of close to 2,000 words from Barry Lando of 60 Minutes, the producer of that particular segment. Since the show is not seen in Israel, the Post decided it had had enough of Wallace. Yet Lando’s letter, like Wallace’s reply to my first article, reveals as much about the mental processes of TV types (Lando has been with 60 Minutes for 22 years) as do the shows themselves. Although the letter is too long to be published here in full, I will try to summarize and answer the main points it raises.
Lando’s first objection is to my description of the PLO propagandist David Kuttab as his main production consultant. Kuttab was merely “one of the individuals—Jewish and Palestinian—who worked for us,” says Lando; but he names no one else. I have no doubt CBS did also consult some Jewish members of the B’Tselem organization—a far-Left, human-rights group which works closely with parallel Palestinian groups like Al Hak. Their “advice” no more represents the Israeli viewpoint than Ramsey Clark’s or C. Vernon Mason’s represents the American.
Lando also insists that when he told a Jerusalem municipal spokeswoman that 60 Minutes was planning to present “the Palestinian side of the story,” he did not mean the Temple Mount story, which originally he had not intended to do, but rather the Palestinian side of the whole “Jerusalem story.” This may be the first time a CBS official has admitted in writing (and with refreshing candor) that 60 Minutes came to Israel not to report a news story but to present the Arab side. Indeed, when Mike Wallace interviewed Teddy Kollek he did not tell him the show was about the Temple Mount. It was supposed to be about Jerusalem in general. Much of the interview with Kollek (never shown, of course) was devoted to questions about housing, voting patterns, and problems of coexistence. If there is such a thing as a television code of ethics, one assumes it must say something about interviewing under false pretenses.
False pretenses obtained also in the exploitation of Binyamin Netanyahu. In explaining why they chose the thirteen-year-old English-speaking Nusseibeh boy as the hero of the show and as the quintessential Temple Mount “rioter” (though no thirteen-year-old, let alone a frail one, could toss a heavy rock over the Western Wall from the Temple Mount), Lando writes: “Television does like to interview articulate English speakers like Jamal Nusseibeh, just as we tend to go for articulate English-speaking Israelis like Kollek and Netanyahu.” But in fact 60 Minutes never interviewed Netanyahu, nor did it ask a single Israeli to answer the many charges made by the Arabs in the show. Netanyahu offered to be interviewed, but Lando and company never bothered to return phone calls from the Foreign Ministry. In a breach of television rules, they used two-month-old file footage of a Netanyahu press conference, without identifying it as such.
Thus, to the viewer, who is led to believe that Netanyahu was interviewed for the program, the Deputy Foreign Minister seems to be arrogantly evading Arab allegations. For example, after the whole event has been described as an Israeli provocation, in which the police needlessly shot nurses, children, and other innocent defenders of the holy places, and after Arab wounded have been shown in hospital beds, Netanyahu appears on screen with a rhetorical flourish which cannot but be construed as a callous, offensive non sequitur: “Who is the international community supporting, the Muslim fanatics, the supporters of Saddam Hussein? It makes no sense.”
One wonders, too, why, if television is indeed partial to articulate English-speakers, CBS chose as the only Jewish witness to the event an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who speaks not one word of English. There were hundreds of easily traceable American-born Jewish witnesses at the Wall.
In his letter Lando repeats Wallace’s allegation that they could not get a list of the Jewish injured. As I stated in my December 14 article, I got the list, with all personal details, by making one phone call. Lando says he has no idea “what tape Bar-Illan is talking about” which shows the fifteen-minute barrage of stones onto the worshippers’ plaza at the Western Wall, with no policemen present anywhere near the stones’ trajectory. The tape was offered to Mike Wallace in the El Al King David lounge. He said he was not interested.
Lando is also very upset that I question the veracity of the health worker interviewed in the hospital. To reinforce her credibility, Lando writes:
Her case was written up by the Palestinian human-rights groups who looked into the events of October 8. Mr. Bar-Illan, I would imagine, might dismiss them as hopelessly biased. But her case was also highlighted by the Israeli B’Tselem group which took the Zamir Commission to task for failing to mention the nurse’s testimony in their report.
But the nurse’s testimony was mentioned in the Zamir Commission report:
To our great regret those who gave the depositions appearing in the B’Tselem report did not see fit to appear before the Commission for interrogation under oath.
However, the Commission met and conversed with one of these deponents, Ms. Fatima Abu Hadar, who had been wounded during the events on the Temple Mount. This occurred during a visit by the Commission to Al-Mukased Hospital. It should be noted that this deponent did not appear to be in a state of health which would warrant her submission to interrogation.
I wonder what makes Lando think I would dismiss Arab human-rights groups as hopelessly biased. Just because they have an unblemished record of prevarication and exaggeration? Because they have never condemned the 350 unspeakably brutal assassinations of Arab “collaborators,” including the mutilation murders of children and pregnant women? Because one of their associates, Joost Hiltermann, has justified these murders in the Nation?
Lando also denies my claim that Kollek’s assertion, that “wherever you have ideological governments you run into trouble,” was not a direct reply to Wallace’s statement, “The Israeli government tried to persuade the world this was an unprovoked riot by the Palestinians.” Kollek was abroad when I wrote this; his spokesman told me the sentence had been uttered in the course of a long discussion and that Kollek in no way intended to cast doubt on the Zamir Commission, whose integrity, as he made clear to Wallace, Kollek considers unimpeachable. Kollek now says the sentence might not have been spliced from a later part of the exchange but was a first sentence in a long answer, the rest of which was omitted. Either way, it was taken out of context. (Kollek’s unfortunate penchant for shocking foreigners with outrageous statements against Israeli governments is well known. To his credit, he has been almost as nasty about governments of his own Labor party.)
But what Lando does not bother to include in his 2,000 words is an answer to my main accusation: that in order to prove their contention that the police killed “demonstrators” before any rocks were thrown onto the worshippers’ plaza of the Western Wall, Wallace placed Teddy Kollek’s description of what the police did after reentering the Temple Mount as if it all happened before the mob began throwing stones over the Wall. This is tantamount to fraud.
Lando’s letter, together with a letter by the executive producer of 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt, to a friend, of which he has sent me a copy, suggests that CBS may really believe that, as Hewitt puts it, “like the busybodies of the New York Times and the Washington Post who published the Pentagon papers,” CBS somehow discovered a “coverup” of an unprovoked massacre by Israel’s police. To prove this coverup, Hewitt accuses the Israel government press office of declining “to answer embarrassing questions.” But the only thing the press office could not satisfy was CBS’s request to interview members of the Zamir Commission. With sub-judice laws stricter in Israel than in America, members of the Commission could not talk to CBS during the police investigation; 60 Minutes refused to wait until it was over.
But CBS’s perception that there was a coverup is not the point. Its methods are. To sell its version of the events—remarkably similar to that of the Islamic High Council’s and the Village Voice‘s—CBS-TV used methods comparable to old Soviet propaganda films. (Today’s Soviet television, it should be noted, is much fairer to Israel than the Western networks.) The use of such methods cannot be defended by Hewitt’s jibe that he receives as many complaints from the M.T Mehdis and the Clovis Maksouds of this world as he does from Jews.
This sort of “objectivity,” this evenhandedness between a democratic and a totalitarian society, reminds me of a BBC broadcast during the Six-Day War of 1967. The commentator related the Arab claim that Tel Aviv, Beersheba, and Haifa had been destroyed, and the Israeli announcement of an Egyptian rout in the desert. “The truth,” he then intoned with arrogant superiority, “is probably somewhere in the middle. Let us not forget that both combatants are Semites.”
Lando ends his letter by referring to my argument that “by reinforcing the Arab claim that those who died on the Temple Mount were martyred defenders of a holy place mowed down by unprovoked Israeli police, Wallace helps inflame millions of Muslims against Israel.” Sarcastically, he writes:
Bar-Illan does not have to worry about the Palestinians learning too much about our broadcast. The reports of our broadcast from the United States were prohibited by the Israeli censor from being published in the Palestinian press.
With Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian radio and television—not to mention the Jerusalem Post—accessible to Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, it was probably foolish and futile of the Israeli censor to do that. But his concern was more than justified. For what CBS did was to give an American stamp of approval to an Islamic fundamentalist blood libel, to the myth that the Jews were the provocateurs on the Temple Mount, that what happened there was a massacre initiated by the Israeli police. To Arabs this means that the Arab deaths, as King Hussein has said, resulted from an Israeli attempt to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount.
Innocent Jewish victims of Islamic knifers have paid with their lives for this lie. But we can hardly expect Wallace and his colleagues to think about such matters when making a sensational television show.
1 For documentation, see Kenneth R. Timmerman, “How the PLO Terrorized Journalists in Beirut,” COMMENTARY, January 1983.