A "pretty strong degree of anti-Semitism" in Europe is at the root of the hostile coverage Israel receives in parts of the European media, Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation global media chief, charged on Thursday. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post following his appearance at Jerusalem's "Facing Tomorrow" presidential conference, Murdoch (pictured) said it was hard for Israel to obtain fair media coverage in Europe because it was forced to "start off behind." Elaborating, Murdoch said: "If you go to the BBC, the French press, places like that - they start as hostile, and it's very difficult to overcome. But you've just got to press on and do what you can." In a series of characteristically striking assessments, Murdoch went on to say that "the whole of Europe has gone soft. You've got a degree of disintegration - though that's too strong a word - of society." Where Britain was concerned, he said, "maybe it's a lack of leadership, too." In an implied critique of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, he added, "You didn't have lack of leadership with Tony Blair." Murdoch owns a considerable proportion of the British print media, including The Sun and Times dailies, and the SKY satellite network. His newspapers' support was critical to the electoral successes of prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Blair, so his comment about a current lack of leadership is potentially significant for Brown and his would-be replacement, Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Turning to the presidential contest in the US, where again Murdoch's media holdings carry immense potential influence, he praised Democratic front-runner Barack Obama as "a very smart guy" and noted that "we supported him against Hillary Clinton" for the Democratic nomination. His various US media outlets had not yet "declared where we are" regarding the presidential race against Republican candidate John McCain, he said, and the country would get "a much better look at Obama" in the months ahead. But "so far, you've got to say that a majority of people like what they see," said Murdoch. "A majority of Democrats" certainly do, he added. Murdoch said he did not think Israel need be worried by the prospect of an Obama presidency, nor specifically by the Illinois senator's inexperience and potential naivete when grappling with the threat posed by Iran. "Don't worry about naivete," he said. Whoever became president would face a learning curve. "Presidents are made by events. All great statesmen are made by events. So let's see how he would react," Murdoch said. Earlier, in his comments to the conference, Murdoch noted approvingly that each advance in media technology, starting with the printing press and through to the Internet, had made information more widely and cheaply available - an instance of democracy at work. Evidently a Jerusalem Post reader, Murdoch chose to cite only this newspaper and his own Times of London as two such readily accessible, free news sources on the Internet. It required smart people with strong character to take advantage of developing technology, he said, and today's economy offered great rewards to those who had these qualities. "You Israelis know this from your history," he said, praising Israel for using its "human capital" to make up for the lack of natural resources and help carve a modern society and a technological leader out of desert. To help maximize that Israeli human capital, he said he had agreed to serve on a task force of Israeli and American businessmen to investigate the viability of a new high school geared toward cultivating a new generation of Israeli leaders - a school that could serve as an Israeli education model. Leslie Wexner, chairman of the Columbus, Ohio, based The Limited clothing chain, and Mortimer Zuckerman, publisher/owner of the New York Daily News and editor-in-chief of U.S. News & World Report, had also agreed to participate in the initiative, launched by President Shimon Peres. Taking stock of Israel at 60 in his interview with the Post, Murdoch, 77, whose holdings here include the News Data Systems broadcast technology company and a share of TV's Channel 10, spoke warmly of Israel in general and specifically its economy, expressing confidence that the country is going to thrive in coming years. However, he noted, "you have this huge problem of hostile neighbors, financed and promoted by an Iran which has unlimited money and is led by Islamic extremism." Hamas is not interested in compromise, he said. And while Fatah, in the past, would always talk peace "but never meant it, now maybe they mean it but they're very weak." The world needed to face up to the threat of Islamic extremism and while Murdoch said he was "not as pessimistic as most people" about the threat of a nuclear Iran, he stressed that "God knows, we want to stop them." "Any government that uses a nuclear weapon is signing the self-destruction of their whole nation," he said. "Nobody wants that or would do that." But Islamic extremism was going to be around for a long time, and "the greatest danger is if nuclear weapons were to fall into the hands of nongovernment [extremists], who wouldn't hesitate to put a bomb onto Tel Aviv or New York City... That's by far the biggest danger to the world." He suggested countering the extremists by doing "everything you can to encourage prosperity in the world of Islam and education to keep people away [from extremist ideology] and ensure they're not tempted by this. Having said that, however, Murdoch, who sat down with the Post after a lengthy meeting with Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, acknowledged that he was at a loss to explain the viciousness of Islamic extremism, as exemplified by the July 7, 2005, public transport bombings in London, carried out by four British-raised Muslims. "I don't understand how prosperous British-born Muslims would [do this]," he said. Returning to the role of the media, he said some networks such as Al-Jazeera were giving extremism "respectability to some extent" and that "in the world of the Internet, every philosophy gets its run." Judy Siegel contributed to this report.