Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Halting the stampede

In the last issue of The Journal, under the heading “Stampeding the Establishment”, Steve Nimmons contributes his views on the 2015 Israeli elections. Unfortunately, Steve does not like the results. Having visited and commented on Israel for over half-a-century, however, and being still involved in that work, I’d like, for the sake of awareness and fairness, to add something to the other scale pan.

First, let me remind readers of what Steve said. If his views are correct, Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s second-longest (and, of course, democratically elected) prime minister, can accurately be described in the following terms: “wily,” guilty of electoral “follies,” and of a “U-turn on the 2-state solution” with the Palestinians, in addition to “clumsy utterances,” and “posturing.” We are also told that “seasoned pundits with greater acuity” realised that Netanyahu was “in the death-grip” of “political desperation, inaccurate polling information and self-doubt” and “in many ways” had “lost control.”

Death grip? How astonishing, then, that – when the votes were counted – Netanyahu had triumphed again.

A clue to how Steve came to be so off-the-mark comes when he tells us that for “days and weeks after the election” he spoke about it to several members of the UK Labour party. They shared his disappointment at the failure of the “left-wing Zionist Union under Isaac Herzog” and “Britain under Ed Miliband.” Perhaps, if he had also spoken to other parts of the electoral spectrum, in both Britain and Israel, his forecasts might have been more authentic and his disappointments less acute.

My interest in Steve’s piece arises because I first knew Bibi Netanyahu when I was reporting from New York City. To say I don’t recognise him from Steve’s assessment would be an understatement, although many would agree that all politicians change their minds when circumstances alter. Don’t we all? He was just coming to the end of his term as Israel’s representative at the United Nations, where he made his name as a brilliant defender before a difficult audience. It is not easy for the world’s only Jewish country to get a favourable hearing in an organisation of 123 countries, of which 22 are members of the Arab League and 57 in all belong to the Organisation of Islamic States!

Enemies all around

Yet, although most of the delegates representing Muslim-controlled lands invariably walked out whenever Israel’s delegate was allowed to speak, you’d see many of them huddled around the TV monitors in the corridors, hanging on every word. That could be because, unlike many of his critics, he does not harangue or holler. He speaks quietly and relies on evidence more than emotion, although he can certainly be emotional when he reminds his audience of the truth. Which includes such facts that it is not Israel that has deserted the peace table. Abbas walked away from it for almost a year, rather than listen to both sides, and still refuses to negotiate, even though Israel (which is menaced by sworn enemies all around and has had to endure repeated invasions, hi-jacks, suicide bombings, infiltrations by individual murderers of families in their homes or when travelling, and unending threats) has already yielded territory in exchange for peace with Egypt and Jordan. It now exists on a recognised area amounting to a mere 18% of its ancient land, as legally re-allocated totally by the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations.

Perhaps the best way to understand Bibi is via his book, “Fighting Terrorism”. It was written twenty years ago, just before he was first elected Premier.  I’ve read many bulky books on that subject. But this succinct volume, in a bare 150 pages, tells you all.  It deals masterfully with terrorism against many countries, including his own, and is as relevant today as when he wrote it. He had, after all, first-hand knowledge of enemy action, in his own family. He himself was wounded in warfare, defending his country, and he suffered unutterable grief when his elder brother led that heroic rescue flight to Kenya, to save the crowd of Jewish visitors that dictator Idi Amin had seized and was holding prisoner. As the world held its breath, the plane landed, the guards were overcome, the Israeli prisoners freed and the plane took off for Israel. There was only one Israeli casualty: Bibi’s brother sadly died leading the operation.

These days, Israel’s Prime Minister has to fight on several fronts, including terrorism; organised Palestinian riots; a UN rather different from what its idealistic founders generations ago envisaged and where, in spite of horrific wars and oppression worldwide, the majority of hostile resolutions (backed by its Islamic core) incredibly slam the only democracy in a region stretching thousands of miles – Israel.


Let us not be too ready to think we are above all that. There’s not only the largely hostile media. There is also the boycott movement against Israeli products and projects in our country, even though we actually owe that tiny state better treatment.  It is a strong supporter and importer of British visible and invisible exports. While our TV sets and computers embody revolutionary components, born in Israeli brains and laboratories, to transform our communications, and our hospitals and surgeries rely on remedial advances discovered by Israeli minds and methods. And the barren Third World benefits from innovative agricultural procedures first employed by Israelis to make “the desert bloom like the rose,” as the Bible puts it. Meantime, steadily nuclearizing Iran (with eased sanctions) continues to promise Israel’s death.

All this helps to show why I believe Israel deserves a fairer glance and better understanding. Israelis remain cheerful – despite irrational international enmities, like the non co-operation launched by hundreds of British university lecturers and the Islamic harassing of Jewish student-groups. Happily, the Council of Christians and Jews and many other unprejudiced bodies – and people – safeguard our morality.

By Walter M. Leaf