Between the Lines: Kettles and pots

Two Italian journalists sail against the prevailing media tides when it comes to Israel.

fiamma nirenstein 88 (photo credit: )
fiamma nirenstein 88
(photo credit: )
The European media is often characterized here as being uniformly anti-Israel, in the sense of largely placing the blame for the perpetuation of the Israeli-Arab conflict on the former. Although that's undoubtedly the prevailing journalistic attitude in several European nations, the continental press is generally more diverse on the subject. There are also some notable examples of voices of those who have written or spoken strongly in support of this nation's general positions - even if they have sometimes had to pay a price for sailing against the tide among their colleagues in the media and literati. Two such examples can be found in the Italian press, and both made news this month by their courageous and conscientious attitudes. The first is Magdi Allam, the Egyptian- and Muslim-born deputy editor of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, who last week underwent a conversion to Roman Catholicism at a baptismal ceremony in the Vatican, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. This was no sudden change of heart. Allam has become prominent in his adopted nation since 9/11 for his firm and brave condemnation of Islamic extremism, as well as his unstinting support for this country, expressed by the title of his most recent book, Viva Israele. I had the privilege and pleasure of spending considerable time with Allam when he visited here two years ago to accept a well-deserved Dan David Prize, and found him a thoughtful, articulate and charming man, determined in his views but open to dialogue and debate. I confess to having heard little of him prior to that encounter, reflecting to some degree the failure of the media outside Italy to pay due notice to him and his work (as opposed, say, to the extensive publicity that was given to a colleague with similar views, the late, great Oriana Fallaci). In fact, it's somewhat of a shame it took the essentially private matter of his conversion for him to receive the attention due him, and that he was criticized in some media outlets for the manner in which it was undertaken. "We shouldn't, however, play down the courage that Magdi Allam has shown by daring to say such things that way and we also have to recognize his right to convert to Christianity," editorialized the Spanish daily El Pais>. "We can nonetheless ask whether it was necessary for his baptism to have been carried out by the pope himself in the Vatican." This is unfair. Allam was not a practicing Muslim, was educated in a Catholic school as a teenager, has been married for years to an Italian Catholic, and credits Pope Benedict for having influenced his decision. Much of the media coverage also failed to mention that Allam has already been living under police protection for years, primarily for his criticism of Islamic terrorism and defense of Israel - which, of course, is the real story here. ANOTHER ITALIAN journalist who has bucked the journalistic winds regarding Israel is Fiamma Nirenstein, the Jerusalem-based correspondent for the daily Il Giornale. Nirenstein also recently stepped into politics, to become a parliamentary candidate for Silvio Berlusconi's center-right PdL party. That made her the subject of a vicious caricature printed two weeks ago - in the communist newspaper il manifesto - that depicts her as "Fiamma Frankenstein," wearing a dress decorated with both the Italian fascist symbol and a stitched-on Star of David insignia. The Anti-Defamation League this week rightly asked il manifesto to print an apology to Nirenstein, which I sincerely doubt will be coming anytime soon. Nirenstein has frequently targeted expressions of anti-Semitism in the Italian Left, including its media - and this entirely gratuitous use of Holocaust imagery to demean her only proves her point. IT'S SAFE to say a somewhat different European journalistic viewpoint of the situation in Israel is expressed in the work of Conny Mus, the long-time Jerusalem correspondent for Dutch television's RTL News. But that's another matter. Mus is mentioned here in regard to his letter to this newspaper, published on March 19, in which he writes: "As a member of the foreign press corps for the last 25 years, I am concerned about the way officials and the local media in Israel continue to attack the foreign press. This time it is Al-Jazeera, before it was CNN then it was the BBC... Israeli officials, as well as the Israeli media, should behave more responsibly than they are doing at present. Their approach does not befit a democratic country." Really? Is the work of journalists above all criticism, not only from the government, but even from other media? I agree that if an Israeli newspaper ever printed a cartoon showing a foreign journalist wearing a swastika, that would be beyond the pale - but who can even imagine any media outlet ever doing such a thing to a fellow journalist? (A-hem!) As for Al-Jazeera, despite the criticism expressed here and elsewhere of its recent coverage from Gaza, the Qatari news station's ability to report freely from Israel has not been curtailed - unlike elsewhere in the region. In a democracy, no one should be above public reproach, including journalists. As for "behaving responsibly," I seem to recall Mus going on local television here a few years ago to charge, without proof, that the IDF was deliberately aiming live fire at foreign journalists during clashes in the territories. Well, as some might say in the Ben-David household, this sounds like a case of "De pot verwijt de ketel dat hij zwart ziet." [email protected]