Featured   |   News

Israeli consul general talks press and politics

In the late 1990s, Israeli Prime Min­ister Ben­jamin Netanyahu and his former media director Shai Bazak met with then Egyptian Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak at his palace in Alexan­dria to dis­cuss the inac­cu­rate por­trayal of Jews in the Egyptian media.

Mubarak cited the freedom of the press to dis­sem­i­nate infor­ma­tion without the government’s con­sent but Netanyahu balked at the asser­tion, telling Bazak that Egyptian jour­nal­ists had not “written one bad word about its pres­i­dent in the last 25 years.”

Bazak, now consul gen­eral of Israel to New Eng­land, dis­cussed the media cli­mate in Israel and around the world with a score of North­eastern stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff who packed the Alumni Center’s Fac­ulty Club on Tuesday after­noon. His hour­long lec­ture, which was co-​​sponsored by the Col­lege of Arts, Media & Design and theDepart­ment of Jewish Studies, focused largely on his expe­ri­ence on both sides of the fence: first as a polit­ical cor­re­spon­dent for the Israeli news agency ITIM and then as a spokesperson for Netanyahu during the 1990s.

Bazak began his lec­ture by sharing the core tenet of his pro­fes­sional phi­los­ophy, which has been shaped by more than two decades of expe­ri­ence as a reporter and spokesperson. “Pol­i­tics and jour­nalism will always be con­nected,” he explained. “The only way polit­ical leaders can con­nect with the people is through the media.”

He devel­oped this cru­cial insight in the early ’90s, when sev­eral Israeli news­pa­pers pub­lished his dic­tated account of the Israel-​​Jordan Treaty of Peace. “People judged the peace agree­ment based on my piece,” Bazak explained. “Reporters don’t know every­thing but are expected to cover every­thing,” he added.

His tenure as a polit­ical jour­nalist has shaped his rela­tion­ship with reporters, he explained. Of the dif­fer­ence between Amer­ican and Israeli jour­nal­ists, he said: “Amer­ican press are smiling, nice and respectful, but you could be on live TV and the Israeli press could ask you the color of your underpants.”

Bazak also touched on the effect of social media, saying Twitter and Face­book have dulled the impact of news reporting and made it easy for unqual­i­fied people to make procla­ma­tions without checking the facts. “Now anyone can become a reporter and write what’s on his mind,” he said.

Fol­lowing his lec­ture, Bazak answered ques­tions posed by stu­dents and fac­ulty. William Kurtz, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of jour­nalism, asked Bazak to com­ment on The New York Times’ cov­erage of the Israeli-​​Palestinian con­flict. Kurtz cited a study by the Com­mittee for Accu­racy in Middle East Reporting in America that found that the news­paper “treats Israel with a harsher stan­dard, omits con­text, and shows a clear pref­er­ence for the Pales­tinian narrative.”

“I am def­i­nitely not happy with The New York Times,” Bazak said. “I think it is unfair.”