Deconstruction Zone: Farewell…
Feb 8, 2016 | Yehonathan Tommer
My first interview for AIR lasted barely ten minutes. That was in 1978, shortly after the Camp David Agreement was signed in Washington in September by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The big payoff was a peace agreement with Egypt in exchange for the pullout of Israeli forces from the whole of the Sinai Peninsula occupied by the IDF in the June 1967 “Six Day” War.
Those were heady days, brightened by hope for subsequent peace agreements with each of Israel’s neighbours. I’d lined up an interview with Hebrew University Middle East specialist Professor Amnon Cohen to talk about the ramifications of peace with Egypt for Israel’s bilateral ties, and for the whole region. I entered his study feeling pretty nervous about the questions I’d prepared and worried about my poor Hebrew and the possibility that the tape recorder (yes, that’s what we worked with in those days) wouldn’t credibly record quotable quotes. I hurled at him each of my prepared questions without pressing him to qualify or elaborate on his answers. I thanked him for his time and got up to leave. “That’s it, so short!” he exclaimed incredulously. “Haven’t you got any more questions to ask me?”
I reported for almost 40 years from Israel as a part time freelancer, stringing for print media in Australia, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, New Zealand and Canada. During this time I interviewed numerous senior Israeli politicians and high profile personalities invited to these countries.
As a rule, the interviews were well-received by my editors, while my published reports did not generate controversy. There were exceptions – like my interview in February 2005 for the AIR with Israel’s eighth president Moshe Katsav (who is currently serving a humiliating prison sentence on criminal charges, convicted of rape and other indecent acts against female subordinates during his earlier Ministerial positions.)
Katsav was due in Melbourne early March 2005. My deadline required me to file the report by Friday, February 18, so that it would appear in the March issue due out at the end of February, ahead of Katsav’s arrival in Melbourne. The interview, though, was set for the last week of February making it technically impossible to include it in the March edition. These considerations apparently were not fully brought to the attention of Katsav’s staff before the fated day of the ill-timed interview – and they were very annoyed when informed that the interview would have to appear in the April edition, after the President’s Australia visit. A presidential official telephoned the editor in Melbourne demanding a formal letter of apology – which I was instructed to draft for approval.
On another occasion, Hebrew University Professor Robert Wistrich, an acclaimed world expert on contemporary antisemitism who passed away last year, rejected my copy of a recorded interview we held in December 2007 (conducted on the irregular condition that he read and correct my copy before I filed it). He claimed it was filled with inaccuracies, misrepresenting his position and could not agree to its publication.
The interview, which coincided with the publication of a Tel Aviv University annual report on the type and incidence of antisemitic acts of violence against Jews and Jewish property in Jewish communities around the world, had to be relegated to the garbage bin. He suggested writing his own article, which he did.
More recently, I was particularly gratified by a feature story (“The Software of Coexistence,” AIR, December 2014). I wrote about a Jewish-Arab entrepreneurs training program (Tsofen) at Nazareth’s high-tech industrial park, which aspires to integrate Israeli Arab software professionals into the mainstream economy and encourage minority citizens to feel they are an equal and constructive part of Israeli society.
Now, at the age of 71, it is time to say farewell. After 37 years in journalism devoted to Israel and its regional situation, I have no illusions about the complex regional realities the Jewish State must navigate. My hope remains that intelligent leadership, wise governance and active diplomacy for a settlement to end the occupation of the Palestinians will charter a prudent course that avoids both domestic disaster and international brinkmanship.