Forward Thinking

Tel Aviv = Titanic or Pompeii or Sodom?

By Gal Beckerman

How many clichés is it possible to stuff into one soft feature about Tel Aviv?

That was my thought as I was watching Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes segment on the city, which included, in the first three minutes, these good, old chestnuts: “dancing on the Titanic,” “the last days of Pompeii,” and “later-day Sodom.”

Were there any new ways to express this extraordinarily tired idea? How about this stinker? “There are more synagogues than bars in this city of the Jews, and remember Tel Aviv isn’t far from where Moses came down with those commandments…”

There is so much to say about this segment, but my fingers hurt too much from pounding my fist against the wall while I was watching to catalog all the ways in which it ignored reality.

There are basic reporting errors here. The piece is framed as an exploration of the political apathy of the bronzed and beautiful citizens of Tel Aviv (all of them apparently working at start-ups by day and dancing on tables doing vodka shots at night). So how can you tell this story without letting any complicating factors seep in? For one thing, only interview people that give it to you. So the two main people Simon spoke with, who take up most of the face time are Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv, and Gideon Levy, the Haaretz writer best known for his searing and unrelenting portraits of Palestinian suffering. Both in their own ways offer confirmation that the city is indeed Titanic/Pompeii/Sodom.

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CBS's 'Strategic Terror Attack'

By Nathan Guttman

Michael Oren

A controversial report aired by CBS News has pitted Israel’s top envoy to the United States against the network’s flagship news show and now has the Jewish community up in arms.

The report by senior “60 Minutes” correspondent Bob Simon, sought to explore the plight of Christian Palestinians, a dwindling population caught between the hardship of Israeli occupation and the pressure from rising Islamic extremism. But even as the story was in the process of being reported, the loaded issue became even more explosive. Israeli officials tried to fight what they viewed as an unbalanced report, and CBS’s reporter fought back against what he viewed as inappropriate intervention by the Israelis. The result on air was a lengthy discussion dedicated not to the issue of Palestinian Christians, but to the conduct of Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to Washington.

“When we decided to do the story last year, we did not realize it would become so controversial,” Bob Simon stated at the opening of his report. An account provided to the Forward by an Israeli official involved in the events confirmed that controversy ran throughout the entire year of preparation. Israelis first heard of Simon’s intent to produce a story on Palestinian Christians more than six months ago. For Israel, a damning story about its treatment of Christians in the Holy Land could dampen relations with Christians across the world and complicate Israeli public diplomacy efforts aimed at portraying the Jewish State as the only haven of religious freedom in the Middle East.

An official discussing the issue likened the danger of such a report to a “strategic terror attack” against Israeli diplomacy.

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Israel and Iran: What '60 Minutes' Didn't Tell You

By J.J. Goldberg

Leslie Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview Sunday night with former Mossad chief Meir Dagan (transcript) gave important exposure to his views on the folly of attacking Iran. However, she got two things very wrong, both of which weakened the strength of his case against a military strike. The bottom line is, she let you think Dagan is a lone voice. In fact, it’s Bibi Netanyahu who’s nearly alone on this. The trouble is, Bibi’s the one who gets to make the decision. That’s why Dagan and nearly every other military or intelligence chief is speaking out against him: They’re scared of him.

Stahl suggested as though it were credible that Dagan was pushed out of the Mossad, supposedly because of the messy assassination of Hamas arms procurer Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010 — and hence that his campaign against the Netanyahu-Barak war talk is a petty act of revenge. In fact, Dagan was supposed to retire in late 2009 at the mandatory age of 65, but Netanyahu asked him to stay on for another year and he ended up retiring on schedule in January 2011.

More seriously misleading is her assertion early on that it’s “unheard of for someone who held such a high-classified position to speak out publicly.” That makes it sound like he’s a lone voice in the wilderness. In fact, as I’ve written before, Dagan’s views have been publicly echoed by every single ex-Mossad or Israel Defense Forces chief going back to 1996, with the single exception of super-hawk (and Netanyahu ally) Moshe Yaalon. Now, that is unheard of.

Even more astonishing, the current heads of the IDF and Mossad, Benny Gantz and Tamir Pardo, have now gone public resisting Netanyahu’s war push. Even Dagan didn’t dare to do that. That’s beyond unheard-of.

Here’s the roll-call:

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Cantor on Why Jews Vote Dem: To Repair the World

By J.J. Goldberg

Eric Cantor on “60 Minutes” Sunday night, grilled by Leslie Stahl on why most Jews are Democrats, unthinkingly digs himself into a hole and then tries pathetically to get out of it. He starts by saying it’s been “the bane of my existence for a long time,” being a serious, devoted member of a community that’s basically Democratic.

But what is it that makes most Jews Democrats, Stahl asks again. Now Cantor steps in it: It’s because Judaism places a high priority on concern for the less fortunate, which leads them to…um, never mind.

“It’s Tikun Olam. That is a concept in Judaism which means repair the world – and it’s a very charitable concept. And it’s that way in the Christian faith and others as well, that you give back. And clearly there is the ability to characterize all the social programs that exist at the federal level as reflecting that need to repair the world and to help those who can’t help themselves.”

Whoops, says Cantor’s facial expression, did I just say that? Can I leave yet? Stahl, meanwhile, is pouncing. “I know,” she says, “but you’ve taken a lot of criticism from American Jews for being a Republican. I mean, you go out and look at what’s said about you…”

Cantor comes back with a quick recitation of America’s fine charitable tradition and the right of middle class people to keep what they earn, but he’s toast. Watch:

Here is the full “60 Minutes” segment.

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