Wallace: ….I became a self-hating Jews to the Israelis for a while.
King: Self-hating Jew, yes. I know you have known Arafat for 25 years. What do you make of him…?
Wallace: You know something, Larry, I came to – I came to admire Arafat beginning back in 1977 in Egypt and then in Lebanon on a couple of occasions, and then went to Tunis with him and then even to Gaza. As far as – and then finally Ramallah, I guess, a month or six weeks ago. He has made mistakes along the way as all of us do….
A little later in the interview, Wallace made the following rather startling confession when King asked him whether it’s tough for a Jewish reporter to be objective about Israel.
Wallace: It shouldn’t be if you’re a professional reporter…. I was fortunate enough as a young, much younger reporter back in the 50’s, I met a man by the name of Fayez Sayegh who was a Palestinian, and he was really a Palestinian to his roots, and he helped to let the scales fall from my eyes about the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, between Arabs and Jews. And you take on quite a chore when you go against your own religion, go against what you learn, what I learned from my folks growing up, but if you are a professional reporter, you do it [italics added].
Wallace provided a little more detail about this Palestinian who “helped to let the scales from my eyes” in his 1984 memoir “Close Encounters.” The book was co-written with Gary Paul Gates and its chapters alternated between Wallace’s first-person reminiscences and Gates’s third-person narrative. Here’s Gates on the evolution of Wallace’s thinking and the lasting influence Sayegh was to have on it:
“As a Jew growing up in America, [Wallace] had been taught to believe that the gospel according to Israel was almost as sacred as the Torah itself. Yet the more deeply he delved into the savage desert politics of the Middle East, the more he came to recognize that the Israeli view of the region’s past, present and future was not the only defensible position.
“This shift to a more balanced perception of Israel’s historic dispute with its Arab neighbors was gradual and evolved over many years. In the course of that time, Wallace made a dozen or so trips to the Middle East, where he interviewed almost every major leader…. But no interview on the subject had was more important, in terms of its effect on Wallace’s own thinking, than one he conducted in New York back in 1957. For that was his first serious encounter with a spokesman for the Palestinian cause and it left an enduring impression on him.
“The individual who impressed him so greatly was an Arab scholar named Fayez Sayegh whom Wallace had first met when he was a guest on [Wallace’s program] ‘Night Beat’ ….Wallace was so impressed and stimulated by Sayegh that he invited him home to dinner the following week, a social courtesy he seldom extended to guests on the program. The two men talked for several hours that night, first over dinner, then over coffee; or to be more accurate, Wallace listened as Sayegh elaborated on the tragic dilemma of the Middle East from a Palestinian point of view.”
We’ll have more on Wallace, his Jewishness and his views on the Middle East next week. In the meantime, keep those e-mails, faxes and letters coming with nominations for the Monitor’s “Friends List,” which will appear at the end of the month.