Readers will recall that a few months back the Monitor had words of uncharacteristic praise for Mike Wallace, who had just conducted an interview with Yasir Arafat that was far more skeptical than the fawning media treatment usually accorded the Palestinian leader.
Alas, the Monitor must report that the “60 Minutes” mainstay has reverted to his familiar pro-Palestinian stance with alarming alacrity. As if to make up for that momentary lapse with Arafat in Ramallah, Wallace has been doing the PLO proud on a recent round of radio talk-show appearances and, most strikingly, during a media forum at Washington’s Brookings Institution.
It was at the latter event that Wallace’s animosity toward Israel was made transparently clear, and more than once. First, the forum’s co-moderator, Stephen Hess of Brookings, brought up an interview Wallace had done with the late Menachem Begin. (Co-moderator Marvin Kalb of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center at least offered a theoretical defense of Begin, though he was quick to point out that he himself did not necessarily agree with it.)
Hess: You asked [Begin] whether he, thirty years ago, was not the Yasir Arafat of today.
Wallace: That’s correct.
Hess: And what did he say?
Wallace: ….He was stunned and angry at me. But the fact of the matter is that Menachem Begin and the people of the Stern Gang were terrorists back then in their efforts to find themselves a free Israel. It infuriated him to be compared with Yasir Arafat, but if you look into the history of what Menachem Begin did, it is not, to some degree, dissimilar.
Kalb: Let me pick that up. It’s kind of interesting you raise the point. Begin took action … against the people who were governing the land he wanted. Arafat took action by hijacking airplanes … filled with people who had nothing to do with the land that he wanted for a Palestine. So it seems to me that one could argue – I wouldn’t, but one could argue ? that the question is totally unfair and ahistorical.
Wallace: He made his point and let’s move ahead. [Laughter]
Having airily dismissed Kalb’s observations without even a perfunctory rebuttal, Wallace settled in for some relatively innocuous chit-chat. And then came a question from an audience member about how, in the wake of Sept. 11, American journalists were coping with the pressure of balancing patriotism with objectivity. Though the questioner mentioned neither Israel nor the Palestinians, here’s how Wallace chose to respond (Marvin Kalb, to his credit, again attempted to interject some balance):
Wallace: I will say, for instance, would it be unpatriotic if I were to do a story about the Palestinians, let’s say, and say about the Palestinians, hey, you know something?….these people who are blowing themselves up have spent the last 30 years…living in refugee camps, living in abominable conditions. Even some of the, and there’s fear of this in Israel now, some of the Palestinians who live inside Israel itself are treated as second or third class citizens. Whether it’s schools, tours, roads, etc. This is well known….When you go to, I was in Ramallah to talk to Arafat two months ago. When you realize that they cannot go from one Arab place to another in the West Bank ?
Kalb: They can go.
Wallace: They can go? They can go, Marvin, but they cannot go the way you that even you and I might be able to go. They are stopped, they are searched, they are regarded as guilty until proved innocent. It is impossible – it is impossible – I know that this is absolutely true. The Israelis have seen to it that there is no real body of Palestine, so to speak, there is not sufficient ability to go from one, from Jenin to Bethlehem to Ramallah to whatever.
All I’m suggesting is that a suicide bomber is giving up his or her life to a certain degree because of brain wash – to a certain degree because – And if you – We tried to tell those stories, we tried to tell that story…. I do not believe, I don’t think that we fully understand here in America, and particularly in the Palestinian/ Israeli business, we don’t understand the situation over there sufficiently.
(Continued Next Week)
Jason Maoz can be reached at email@example.com