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Mike Wallace: A Ham-And-Cheese On Yom Kippur Kind Of Jew


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This week the Monitor concludes its extended look at the anti-Israel proclivities of “60 Minutes” stalwart Mike Wallace. As we’ve noted in our earlier installments, Wallace has always displayed a palpable ambivalence – some would say that’s too charitable a word – when dealing with Jewish issues, never more so than when he downplayed the plight of Soviet Jewry in the 1980′s and Syrian Jewry in the 1970′s.(By the way, the contretemps over Wallace’s reporting from Syria yielded a wonderful anecdote thanks to a delicious little dig delivered to Wallace’s boss, Don Hewitt, by Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, who served in the mid-70′s as president of the American Jewish Congress.

(Hertzberg and several other AJC officials, incensed at Wallace and “60 Minutes” for what they considered an out-and- out whitewash of Syrian anti-Semitism, paid a visit to Hewitt’s office. As they were being introduced, Hertzberg dryly remarked, “Hewitt? Hewitt? I imagine there’s a Horowitz under there somewhere.”

(Hewitt was taken aback, and Wallace later expressed his dismay at Hertzberg’s unexpected temerity, but Hertzberg was on to something: Hewitt’s paternal grandfather had indeed changed the family name, from Hurwitz to Hewitt, in the early 1900′s.)

We’ve already seen how Wallace’s tough-guy persona melts away in the presence of murderous thugs like Syria’s Hafez Assad and the PLO’s Yasir Arafat. But there was one more Arab dictator who could make Wallace swoon like a silly little schoolgirl.

Writing in his memoir Close Encounters of a 1978 interview with Anwar Sadat, Wallace gushed that he “had become an unabashed admirer of” the Egyptian president. “I respected him as a statesman, a leader of his people, and in my personal dealings with him (and this was our third interview in less than a year), he came across as an honest and sensitive man who was endowed with considerable charm and a fine sense of humor.”

Now, Sadat may have been a tad more cultivated than your run-of-the-mill Third World despot, but a despot he was - a dictatorial ruler who did not hesitate to arrest and jail his political opponents, a one-man junta who never won an honestly contested election in his life. Slap Sadat into a Chilean army uniform and call him Pinochet, and you can bet Wallace would view him with nothing but distaste and condescension. But Sadat was a strongman of the Arab variety, in whose presence Wallace’s spine and kneecaps couldn’t help but turn to guava jelly.

One last thing about Wallace. The Washington Post’s Lloyd Grove reported last September that Wallace was spotted ordering a ham sandwich on Yom Kippur at a popular Capitol Hill restaurant. When Grove asked him about it, Wallace nonchalantly confirmed that, yes, “I had a cheddar and ham sandwich.”

Pressed further by Grove, Wallace turned smarmy: “I am a Reform Jew,” he said. “The best thing I can do is serve my master.”

Ordinarily the Monitor wouldn’t bother with the level of religious observance on the part of journalists, but Wallace seems to have this curious need to publicly flaunt his disregard of Yom Kippur. Let’s turn back to Wallace’s memoir Close Encounters, where he recounts a September 1967 meeting with Leonard Garment, a close associate of Richard Nixon, who was then just beginning to put together his ultimately successful 1968 presidential campaign.

“Perhaps,” wrote Wallace, “I should mention that it was not just any day in September but Yom Kippur, and although both Len Garment and I are Jewish, it did not deter us from breaking forbidden bread together while our more pious brethren observed the traditional rites of prayer and fasting.”

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Any further questions?

Next Week: The Monitor’s “Friends” List - reporters and columnists who refuse to be swayed by Palestinian propaganda.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com  

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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