My recent encounter with CBS News anchor Dan Rather and his
producer made me realize that much of the anti-Israel coverage in the
media -- which treats Israel with a double-standard unparalleled anywhere
else in the world -- is attributable to factors other than anti-Semitism.
I met his CBS producer at a building in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter
that overlooks the Temple Mount where she wished to film from.
We proceeded up to the roof which afforded a masterful view of the
centerpiece of the Old City. Sprawled out in front of us was the Temple
Mount, the place where the two ancient Jewish Temples stood, and
currently the shared location of the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Behind the Temple Mount is the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of
Olives, with the rugged hills of the Judean Desert in the background.
This is the focal point of the entire Arab-Israeli conflict. In fact,
Palestinians call the current conflict the "Al-Aqsa Intifada."
As we stood side-by-side taking in the extraordinary view, the
producer turned to me and said in a sort of apologetic tone,
"You'll have to excuse my ignorance, but what exactly are we looking at?"
My stomach instantly dropped. Maybe she was unsure of a specific building?
"No, what is this entire area we are looking at?"
"The Temple Mount!!" I wanted to scream. "It's the most important spot in the entire region!"
I controlled myself and began my first history lesson to a national
I explained how the Jewish people built a Temple in this spot 3,000 years ago, and how,
after its destruction, a second Temple was built in the exact same location.
I explained how Jesus visited this second Jewish Temple, which stood
until the Romans
ultimately destroyed it in the first century. I explained how the Muslims came to Jerusalem
in the mid-seventh century, soon after the creation of their religion, building the Al-Aqsa
Mosque and the Golden Dome. I explained to her that the Western Wall is the remaining
retaining wall of the second Jewish Temple.
As I went through these historic points, the producer was taking furious
notes on her yellow
writing pad, trying to record the details of this place so integral to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
A few minutes later, Dan Rather arrived. He climbed the stairs to join
us on the roof.
As he reached the top stair, he looked out at the view that was spread before him.
"Oh, I've been here before," he said. Then, looking at his producer, he quietly asked,
"What is this that we're looking at?"
My stomach plummeted again. Not Dan Rather, too?! The expert on world
events who is watched by 30 million nightly viewers can't identify the Temple Mount?
I knew American viewers were in big trouble.
The producer read the notes on her yellow pad, filling Mr. Rather in
on all the details of
the place in front of them. During the film shoot, Rather held this same yellow pad of paper
in his hand, reading from it on air. So much for in-depth research and media accuracy.
A DEBATE ABOUT TRUTH
After Dan Rather left, I spent some time with his producer, discussing her viewpoints of what
was currently happening in Israel. After seeing the tone of her news segment, I was concerned.
I began to question her about accuracy in reporting.
Her answer was even more shocking than what I had already observed.
"The thing is," she told me,
"it is impossible to be objective in this situation. The fact is that there is no objective truth -- neither
side is right or wrong."
"Wait a minute," I asked her. "When a Palestinian straps on a belt of
dynamite lined with nails and
walks into a pizza shop, blowing up innocent people, that wouldn't be objectively wrong?"
"Of course I would think that is wrong," she answered me. "But the Palestinians
believe this is a
legitimate form of warfare. And they would say the Israelis are doing the same to them by killing
innocent civilians when they retaliate militarily. Who am I to say what is right or wrong?
Who am I to say that the Palestinians are wrong in their beliefs?"
"But don't you think there's a difference between a person blowing himself
up in a restaurant,
and a military that responds by searching for and killing terrorists. Granted that innocent civilians
are killed in both circumstances -- but in one situation the innocents are targeted, and in the other
situation they are regrettably caught in the line of fire?"
"Well, that's a very Western way of looking at things. You see I'm Christian
I see things the way you do as an Israeli -- we have the same moral framework. But the Arabs
view things differently, and who's to say that we're right and they're wrong?"
At this point we both realized we weren't going to get any further in
the conversation, and we politely thanked each other and parted ways.
CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS
This experience gave me new insight into why so much of the media seems biased against Israel.
Not only, as I saw with my own eyes, was even the top echelon some of the media unprepared
and lacking knowledge of the basic history and make-up of the conflict, but they also possess an
extremely dangerous philosophy -- a belief that there is no objective right and wrong.
The world today is being shaped into two conflicting civilizations.
This has been happening minimally
for decades, but more probably for centuries, and has now become most evident since September 11.
One civilization, led by Judeo-Christian ethics, values life with the utmost sanctity. Individual rights
and freedoms, equality of the sexes, and peace amongst nations are pillars upon which this half of
the world stands.
The other civilization holds very different ideals: the glorification
of death and war, totalitarian control
of the masses, and oppression of women. The latter civilization sees the former as a direct threat to
its way of life and is willing to sacrifice its own children to destroy the other.
This clash of civilizations is being fought on many fronts, including
the battlefield. But for most of us
non-soldier-types, the war is being fought in the recesses of our own conscience.
Many world leaders, like President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon, have
identified this clearly as
a fight against evil. But there are others, many of whom are influential in the media, who don't believe
that the values of the Western world are "objectively good." Reuters news service refused to call the
September 11 attacks "terrorism," finding that even too much of a moral stretch.
This clash calls upon us all to must make a clear choice. Are we confident
in our own values and morals?
Do we know that they are objectively good and thus worth defending and fighting for?
Unless we can answer these questions with full determination and conviction,
we will remain deeply
threatened by those who seek to destroy us. Because one thing is certain: The other side has the
determination and conviction to carry on their crusade.
Elliot Mathias is the Director of Hasbara Fellowships, a program
co-sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Jerusalem
Fellowships of Aish HaTorah, which educates and trains university
students to be pro-Israel activists on their campuses.
For more information about the program, visit
Click here: http://www.goisrael.org/home.htm
Elliot graduated from Northwestern University and is originally from Buffalo Grove, Il.