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Bob Simon misses the story on Tel Aviv

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People who are still fuming over Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes piece from last month, which was critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian Christians and called Michael Oren to task for attempting to kill the story before it aired, received a gift last Sunday – a fluffy superficial ode to the city of Tel Aviv’s undeniable awesomeness.

First I’ll say that I like Bob Simon, I think he’s an excellent journalist well versed in Middle East politics in general and Israel/Palestine specifically. That’s why I found his report so objectionable. It seems Simon left his A-game in his hotel room. I think it’s safe to assume that Simon knows the situation Tel Aviv finds itself in today is far too complex to characterize as a utopian “island of sanity” where the larger problems of the country and the region at large are nonexistent.

For instance, that beach looks really nice, but Palestinians in the occupied territories cannot go there. That might be worth mentioning. The place looks like a liberal bastion with a thriving art scene; politicians party till the wee hours. “Compared to the rest of Israel, Tel Aviv is not only more cosmopolitan but more tolerant,” that is unless you’re seeking asylum from Eritrea or Sudan and living in South Tel Aviv. If that’s the case then mobs of racist Israelis will protest your presence, a kindergarden in your neighborhood can be firebombed and if you work for an NGO dedicated to helping those people then you can be threatened with rape, with the blessing of the Israeli Interior Minister. If Simon wanted to do a serious piece about the city he could have touched on this. Nightlife is wild because maybe “people believe that tomorrow Tel Aviv is going to be attacked.” Perhaps, but whatever potential Hamas and Hezbollah have to rein terror on the city pales in comparison to whatever potential Israel has to bring hell to southern Lebanon or Gaza – or whatever Israel already has done.

The glib tone of the report continues. When Yossi Vardi, the “godfather of a vast software empire” is asked why Israel has so many startups he answers it’s a cultural phenomena and the secret source is the Jewish mother. “Every startup kid here has a Jewish mother which drive (sic) him crazy, which will push them and challenge them and inspire them.” Aside from the absurdity of his explanation, that same sort of reasoning by someone else in a different context might be construed as anti-Semitic. But hey, it’s a light-hearted piece so no harm no foul. Tel Aviv is beyond gay-friendly, and plenty has been written on the cynical use of this. As for incidents of violence in the West Bank, Simon describes them as “rituals which have been going on for decades” and that’s it.

Watching this segment one could be forgiven for believing that what happens in the West Bank (and Gaza) is not deeply connected to the situation in Israel proper. But in fact, rather than being an exception to Israel’s history of dispossessing the Palestinians, Tel Aviv stands as a monument to it. The city itself sits on top of the ruins of four Palestinian villages destroyed during the Nakba. To his credit Simon allows Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy a few words of wisdom: Tel Avivians have “no idea what’s going on there (in the West Bank), it’s their dark backyard to which they will never go…about which they know so little, they don’t care, they really want to close their eyes.” “Because this is what a bubble is about: the illusion of the moment. It can work for a while… and it will blow in our faces,” Levy says. Simon doesn’t ask how so? or why? Because this is a feel-good story.

At the end Yossi Vardi the software tycoon says, “We have this damn conflict that I hope we will finish one day. And I hope we will do peace. But in the meantime, look what we created.” Indeed, and perhaps that’s the problem. I’m reminded of something Udi Aloni said, “The liberal city, a very vibrant city liberal city in the middle of a colony, it’s not an exception of the colony. This is very important. Tel Aviv is the example used to show that, that the barbarians around the colony are in fact barbarians. Every colonization has its vital liberal city, which in turn is the essence of colonialism itself.”

Scott Roth

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20 Responses

  1. Ira Glunts on May 24, 2012, 2:48 pm

    Nice piece. I also like Bob Simon. He has done some good shows about Israel/Palestine.

    However, he can turn out a puff piece for the Israelis with the best of them. In 2008, he did one on the Israeli air force. Sixty Minutes trotted it out a second time when it looked like there was a very good possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran. A big part of the segment was about bombing the Iraqi military facility in Osirak.

    About 12 years ago, a Sixty Minutes producer told me that Bob Simon main residence was in Israel. Has anyone heard that? Does anyone know were he lives now?

    I recently emailed CBS with this question, but did not receive a reply.

  2. lysias on May 24, 2012, 2:55 pm

    The Abu Kabir Forensic Institute out of which the notorious Dr. Hiss operates, is located in the Tel Aviv suburb with the official name Giv’at Herzl but still known generally known by the name it had when it was an Arabic village, Abu Kabir.

  3. radii on May 24, 2012, 4:01 pm

    Simon wants to keep on doing hard stories, and because his pieces on israel get him heat from our israeli overlords he has to do tone it down form time-to-time but he did let his interview subject make the point

    I am again reminded of the adage behind every great fortune lies a great crime and Tel Aviv has come into great fortune and it sits right on top of the great crime … further, I wonder how much of that business and tech and medical success is built upon the transfer of US taxpayer money over to israel through their control of our Congress or outright theft through israel’s comprehensive and constant monitoring of US electronic communication (as well as their straight-up espionage)

  4. Danaa on May 24, 2012, 5:14 pm

    I am reminded of the Capitol in The Hunger Games. That’s Tel Aviv – living liberal and “vibrant” at the expense of enormous suffering. Exacting “tributes” from among the dispossessed to clean their streets, even as they pay tribute to “tolerance”.

    Tel Aviv can be “cosmopolitan” because it is fueled by American money and profits from the occupation. these are bernard Avishai’s “global looking elite” – the ones that give him such great hope in the future of the Hebrew state. Unfortunately, their “tolerance” does not go further than the Russian cleaning lady down a few blocks, or the ethiopian street sweeper. It certainly does not extend to the palestinian farmer whose fields are burnt and trees are cut. After all, they are into “start-ups”, not settlement. They would give back the west Bank in a jiffy, so say some of them, until you ask what a “jiffy” means. Better yet, ask whether they are OK with their daughter dating a Palestinian Israeli and enjoy the show unfolding.

    I know many of these Tel Avivians. And they all do a great job at pretending to know nothing about what’s happening just 30 km away. In reality, they know a lot – how could they not if they served in the IDF? the sad truth is they are OK with it because their “tolerance” stops at the front steps of their little gated community. Their “tolerance” is thinner than paper and usually extends to having a few gay friends and being “for peace”. Mention the haredi and the ultra-orthodox and see what happens to that vaunted tolerance.

    In Israel, they specialize in masks held in place by fragile glue. Peering out from behind that mask is a deep deep fear and anxiety. They know their citadels, their capitols, are built on sand dunes and need thousands of tributes toiling and tons of money rolling in from gullible Americans. No wonder they are addicted to reality shows.

    Let’s not forget that, in their way, the British colonizers of India had many tolerant people amongst them. As did the Boers.

    And actually, from what I read, Attila the Hun was quite tolerant of the natives’ customs, in his inimitable way. History has really given him a bum rap.

    The human capacity to dance on the graves of others and to push the misery of those “not their own” into the farthest reaches of the mind, is truly astounding.

  5. Danaa on May 24, 2012, 5:37 pm

    This peace is the tribute exacted from Simon for his last hard hitting piece on the palestinian Christians. I expect they’ll make him do at least 12 more in the same vein.

    Reminds me of Jon Stewart – remember how he had to follow Anna Balzer’s and Bargoutti’s appearance with a fluff, singularly unfunny piece on Hamas puppets couple of weeks later? he sure suffered mightily through that piece of hatchet job. It is my theory that he rebelled by deliberately making it not funny. Alas, that was followed by a whole year of silence on the Middle east, while things were happening there and in the US congress that just begged for satire?

    And that’s not all he had to do. There was a requisite appearance by Krystol, through which Stewart barely made it through, overdoing the tribal appeal – as commanded.

    Watch for Simon going into deep freeze on matters Israel/Palestine next. Then he’s going to have to do a favorable piece on some Israeli or neoconish personality. maybe they’ll make him interview Saban about his institute (I doubt he’s gonna draw Krystol – that’s reserved for the likes of Stewart). But he might draw a Lieberman (either one of them) – if he pulls the short straw. All that he’ll have to do if he wants to keep his job and 60 minutes wants to stay on the air. I can only hope Simon will take lessons from Stewart on how to keep up the odd insidious resistance, one perceptible only to those who look closely enough to see patterns. One the Jewish ones can get away with because it is assumed the goy is too stupid to notice. So it can be taken as a nice inside joke among the tribespeople – all in the mishpocheh.

    • W.Jones on May 24, 2012, 9:21 pm

      What made Jon Stewart decide to do a skit like this? After all, it was an unusual segment for Comedy Central’s Daily Show. My guess would be that he might be trying to appease his large pro-Israel following after a show this past Fall in which he appeared overly critical of Israel. As CAMERA documents on their website: “In a segment dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Stewart hosted Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti and anti-Israel agitator Anna Baltzer. Barghouti presented a familiar narrative of Palestinian grievances of the kind often heard. But it was the pairing with Baltzer that sparked indignation among many viewers. Fortunately, the segment’s producers edited out much of Baltzer’s misinformation about Israel, making the version that was broadcast substantially less objectionable than the original taping.”

  6. Daniel Rich on May 24, 2012, 5:38 pm

    But congress doesn’t miss the story on Israel’s omnipresent ‘security’ scare @,7340,L-4233005,00.html

  7. James North on May 24, 2012, 6:38 pm

    An excellent post. I also like Simon. Anyone who has ever lived in an authoritarian state knows how the good journalists have to play ball so they can continue to publish anything. Thanks to Scott Roth for showing us the price Simon paid.

    • philweiss on May 25, 2012, 9:12 am

      I share your view of this piece North. I think Simon’s a great reporter and as Roth says, he left his A game in the hotel room on purpose. The price paid to independence. But which is the authoritarian state, North– US or Is?

      • OlegR on May 26, 2012, 6:29 pm

        You really think you live in an authoritarian state ?

  8. English colleague on May 24, 2012, 7:43 pm

    Bob Simon:

    “Why is Tel Aviv so fun and bubbly like lego land and why is the beach so sandy, and the Israeli bikini women so tan and hot and fashionably cutting edge, and the trendy bars so cosmopolitan, and the gay, white Jewish military so amusingly camp? Because Jewish mothers try to keep their children safe from brown terrorist bombers with lots of nagging and food so they can make billion-dollar start-ups, and go to sandy, gay military play centres shielded from Muslim Hezbollah missiles. This is great, and Levy is a killjoy!

    “OK, have I sucked up to the colonial, racist, criminal, manipulative bas**** Israeli lobby enough now, so that I can go back to the grown-up reporting I was hired to do?”

  9. Fredblogs on May 24, 2012, 9:39 pm

    Beaches in Hawaii look nice, but Japanese and German nationals weren’t allowed to go there during WWII. The Palestinians and the Israelis are at war, of course the Palestinians aren’t being given free access to Israel.

    • Daniel Rich on May 25, 2012, 3:17 am

      @ Fredblogs,

      Yes, and a suicide-bomber only trains once. Hey, my illustrator warp tool is broken, can you come over and take its place? Gosh, saying nonsensical idiocies is fun. I should definitely do it more often.

      • Fredblogs on May 25, 2012, 5:21 pm

        It’s called “an analogy”. Original article said that the beaches of Tel Aviv look nice but Palestinians can’t go there. I pointed out (by analogy) that being at war with a country usually means that you can’t go and enjoy their tourist attractions.

      • W.Jones on May 25, 2012, 8:26 pm

        As a general rule that sounds like it makes sense.

        But in reality, the “war” was over in 1967 and since then the victor has been in control of everything. It’s kind of like saying some Mayan tribes are still “at war” with the Mexican government. There are probably even more Mexicans descended from the Indians from than the Spanish conquerers, and in fact there are occasional small rebellions to this day.

        Furthermore, even while the British empire and its colonies were still at war with eachother, I assume some civilians could go to Britain. But no matter how much Palestinians may like the victor in this case, no matter how peaceful or submissive, the victor does not allow their civilians to enter. There is, however, an exception if they convert to the dominant religion.

      • Fredblogs on May 27, 2012, 6:37 pm

        Oh, I didn’t realize the Mayans had killed thousands of Mexicans since the war ended. Or that they had fired over 10,000 missiles and mortars at Mexican cities in the last several years. Or that they were bombing pizza parlors in Mexico. The Palestinians are kept out because when they were let in, they bombed stuff. As recently as this month Palestinians have been caught trying to smuggle bombs over the border. For them, the war is very much still on.

      • Woody Tanaka on May 28, 2012, 9:09 am

        Of course they think the war is ‘very much still on’ because the Jews are still fighting it every minute of every day. What do you expect the Palestinians to do, sit by passively while the Israeli Jews oppress them, murder them and kill their children?

        If the israelis don’t want the firecrackers being fired at them or don’t want israeli kids getting murdered, they should accept the Arab Peace Plan. The fact that they don’t means that they like to these things because it fits in with their plans.

  10. marc b. on May 25, 2012, 10:04 am

    poor bob simon. take solace, bob, at least you can fit in a bit of first rate journalism in between advertisements for the tel aviv chamber of commerce. which is more than i can say for NPR. the lead in to the tel aviv riots yesterday was ‘clashes between israelis and immigrants’ or some such nonsense, as if it were a boxing match as opposed to a violent tantrum by racists.

  11. ahadhaadam on May 25, 2012, 10:16 am

    There is one word for it: Bob Simon was made to “goldstone” by his media bosses.

  12. Miss Costello on May 26, 2012, 7:39 am

    What a brilliant piece! Thanks.

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