Editor's Notes: Danny Seaman’s farewell voyage

The departing head of the Government Press Office lets it all out.

311_Danny Seaman (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
311_Danny Seaman
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Winding up a torrid decade as director of the Government Press Office, Danny Seaman has plainly decided to give vent to years of pent-up frustration.
In this interview, during which he spoke for more than an hour and a half in rapid-fire English, he loosed off passionate criticism in all directions: At a misguided government bureaucracy that threatens to doom the GPO into irrelevancy. At the failure of some in officialdom to back him when he defended Israel against what he considered dire media misrepresentation. At Israel’s surrender of many of its own historical claims and rights. At some local journalists who bolster the delegitimization of Israel. At the Palestinian manipulation of the foreign press. And, most of all, at parts of the foreign press itself, which he depicts variously as unconscionably ignorant, disinclined to appreciate fundamental truths about Israel’s best features, incompetent and sometimes downright immoral.
Is the departing Seaman a heroic advocate for Israel who is being shamefully and counter-productively treated by his foolish, short-sighted, lily-livered bosses? Or should someone so candid and opinionated never have been entrusted with the ultra-delicate task of liaising with the international media?
By the end of this interview, which I have condensed of necessity and edited to clarify Seaman’s central arguments, his verbal onslaught may have divided readers as to whether he was a rare asset or crippling liability in a job he evidently loved. But very few, I suspect, will be unmoved. Excerpts:
How long were you in the job?
About 10 years. Before then I had worked in several positions in the GPO. Going way back, I was in the same paratroop company as [Ambassador to the US] Mike Oren... I was head of the GPO’s foreign press department when the [second intifada] broke out in September 2000. There was no real director of the GPO and I was promoted to that position.
What was the main responsibility?
Handling the foreign press.
Assisting with all their technical needs. Giving the government’s message. Getting them contacts. Showing them around the country.
I was ready to leave two years ago, with the creation of the new Ministry of Public Diplomacy. There were certain things that I had wanted to do [and haven’t been able to]. I wanted to take the GPO into the 21st century.
The demise of the GPO began immediately after its peak. The peak was around the first papal visit [by John Paul II] 10 years ago. The GPO assisted the large number of media people here, creating a press center that became an international standard. Bureaucratic envy set in. Some ministries didn’t like the fact that the GPO was getting all the credit, all the prestige. Working with the media is perceived to be very prestigious...
The GPO was weak politically; it was always an outsider.
[Officialdom] usually didn’t know where to place us: Are we on the side of the government or are we on the side of the journalists? So the GPO lost out over the years.
There were things that I thought were necessary to do. For example, today, new media allows us to go back to one of our original duties at the GPO, which was to be sort of journalists. In the past we used to have a GPO correspondent sitting in meetings, and then providing information to different media organizations. There was a lull in that during the ’90s and the first part of this century, but today with new technologies we could do exactly what Israel needs, which is to bypass the mainstream media, and sometimes the bias that exists there, the blocking of Israel’s message.
Another of the most essential things, fundamental in reestablishing the relationship between the State of Israel and the foreign media, is the day-to-day contact between the government, via the GPO, and the foreign media. [In past years], we had this through [the presence of both the GPO and many foreign journalists in offices in the same building, central Jerusalem’s] Beit Agron.
The Palestinians have this advantage, through the American Colony Hotel [in east Jerusalem, where many visiting foreign journalists stay]. They have direct relations with the media, and are cultivating that relationship. Well, the government of Israel had that for years through the GPO at Beit Agron. It was a day-to-day press center. Media organizations had offices there, and so did the government, Foreign Ministry, the IDF. Army Radio was there.
When JCS [Jerusalem Capital Studios] opened up [and became the new home for many foreign TV bureaus and other foreign journalists], our relationship with the foreign media started deteriorating.
Beit Agron stopped being the center. We started losing the connection with the foreign press.
For over four years now, I’ve been saying we have to move the GPO out to Malha, because that’s where most of the foreign media are going out to, to reestablish that daily contact with them. In the past, you could sit, talk and schmooze with them, have coffee. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important that personal contact with the journalists is.
But then you get involved in the bureaucracy. “Oh, you’re gonna move? It’s gonna be costly.”
In my talks with Oren [Helman, the former Binyamin Netanyahu adviser who is formally succeeding Seaman next week], in preparation for his taking over, I indicated to him that either we move our offices to Malha or we shut down the GPO. Because otherwise we can’t serve our purpose.
Journalists here don’t have to be in contact with government officials. They can come to Israel and walk around freely. But having a press card makes it easier for them. And that’s our advantage at the GPO – the fact that we issue the press cards. That’s sometimes the only contact that some journalists are going to have with officials in Israel.
And that’s the point where, while one person is preparing the card, another person can sit there, create a relationship with the journalist, see what they're doing, suggest ideas for the stories.
When Sderot [was under heavy rocket attack] we had a lot of journalists coming in, and we had a display in the office of the missiles that had landed there. It became a conversation point. A lot of journalists, based on what they saw [in our office], decided to go to Sderot as part of the broader story.
They hadn’t thought of doing so before.
On the Internet today, meanwhile, there’s no limit to what can be done. Everybody [in Israeli officialdom], from Olmert’s government to this government, understands this. But it just doesn’t happen. For the life of me I don’t know why. Well I do, but I’m a civil servant, so I can't express my criticism in a way that would...
You say you were ready to leave two years ago. But now the Ministry of Public Diplomacy didn’t want you to stay on?
Nobody owed me anything. It wasn’t my position for life. But it was never explained to me, which is the only thing I’m disappointed about.
They could have come up and said, “We don’t like what you’re doing.” They would rather have someone else? That’s their prerogative. But here in Israel people don’t know how to conduct themselves in an honorable way. So they go through this whole charade of having a professional [tender to fill the job]. That process was done legitimately, I have no qualms about that.
You were required to reapply for your existing job?
And you chose not to?
No, I applied, knowing very well that I wouldn’t get it.
Look, it doesn’t matter. I’m a little disappointed, because there were a lot of things I wanted to do. I’m handing over the office in the best possible way I can. The GPO is important to Israel. Overall, for our relationship with the media, for Israel’s public relations apparatus, it is tremendously important.
It’s good to have new people coming in. I also believe in the Ministry of Public Diplomacy, and Yuli Edelstein, and what he’s doing. If they identify these areas which have not been developed by the State of Israel, areas that the usual hasbara doesn’t move in to, there’s a lot that can be done.
The whole Masbirim campaign is a very good idea, even though it is ridiculed by certain circles. Ordinary people have a greater ability to convince people internationally than a government does.
By interacting with ordinary people they meet on holiday?
Yes! Or by doing it through the Internet. There’s a lot of misinformation going around.
Unfortunately, the Israeli media is to a large degree responsible for a political indoctrination that represents only a small percentage of the Israeli public’s opinion.
The Israeli media is the original skewer of the conception of Israel, and the foreign media then plays into that?
Absolutely. An example: During the war in Lebanon [in 2006], I was up North, among the journalists. In the evenings I saw the interaction between Israeli media and the foreign media. Some of the Israeli journalists were sitting there and making the most atrocious statements about the State of Israel. They had been p***ed off about a lot of things, unhappy with the way [the war was] being conducted. In some cases there was a political tone to what they were saying. That’s good and legitimate for the internal debate. But somebody from the outside doesn’t understand the basis for this or that argument. Yet [the Israeli journalists] are more than happy to convey their opinions to somebody from the outside, not understanding how somebody from outside perceives this. They’re legitimizing the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
This is perhaps the greatest threat that we have been facing over the past decade: It’s no longer a case of Israel versus the Palestinians. It’s a deliberate, concerted effort to delegitimize Israel’s existence. [Our enemies] tried to beat us on the battlefield. They tried defeating us on the low-intensity battlefield. When they lost on these two levels, they suddenly understood that the only way to fight us today is to delegitimize our right to exist...
Part of my problem with the foreign press – and I’ve been accused of being combative and feisty in fighting them – is that you have journalists coming in here not having the faintest idea of what is going on.
They live off what they get from their colleagues; they meet certain people who come from the same social-economic background; they live off of one newspaper, Haaretz. They don’t make an effort. When you have a conversation with them, you find that they have a complete lack of knowledge of the elementary issues.
This didn’t used to be the case.
Journalists from the ’70s, ’80s, who were here during the beginning of the ’90s, were very knowledgeable, very experienced. This is a different generation.
The narrative has shifted. They’ll adopt the Palestinian narrative. That has become the bon ton. They’ll talk about “the Palestinian right of return.” There is no such thing. They talk about what the Palestinians call “Israel’s violations of Oslo.” What exactly are they talking about? They have no knowledge about the facts.
Today, if you bring in, say, an expert on international law [to hold a briefing for foreign journalists], they delegitimize the person based on what they perceive to be his political opinions. This is unacceptable, especially for a journalist. We the people, in a democratic society, rely on them to provide us with the information for us to make an educated decision on a particular issue. In this case, many journalists are failing in their duty. The media outfits that employ them are giving them automatic backing. And when the media doesn’t exercise its checks and balances, they’re failing in their job.
This began with the year 2000.
People call it “the Oslo war” – the Palestinian violence which erupted at that point. I’ve been working for Israeli public relations for 27 years, and there were certain “truths” that we were told: That if we adopt UN resolutions, there’ll be peace. If we recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination, there’ll be peace. If we remove settlements, there’ll be peace. And over the past 25 years, there’s been a progression in the Israeli position: Israel recognized the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people; relinquished territory; removed settlements.
Regarding Lebanon, Israel fulfilled all the UN resolutions.
Yet the end result was not the peace that we were promised. In no way am I criticizing the efforts for peace. Peace is a strategic necessity for the State of Israel. But here, in this case, these “truths” that we were promised never came about. On the contrary, it only increased violence, increased extremism. Yet there was a failure by a lot of the media to be intellectually honest, to say “maybe we need to reevaluate,” to say “maybe we shouldn’t always be taking the Palestinians’ side because they’re the underdog.”
So in the year 2000, with the violence, with the bombs exploding here, [the foreign media’s] political positions couldn’t be [justified]. Yet every time there was a bomb here, directed against civilians, instead of an automatic expression of disgust at an assault on civilians, there were always conditions: “Well, we have to understand why [the bombers are acting].” Why do we have to understand it? But morally, you can’t make that “logic” [stand up], so they went to this other “logic,” and that was the numbers: “Look how many Palestinians were killed. If there are 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis, therefore the Palestinians must be victims.”
It’s nonsense. It’s morally repugnant. It’s intellectually unacceptable to make that kind of equation.
But the media repeated this. Not only in one-to-one discussions.
Reuters, AP, AFP would end their articles saying, In the recent violence, 4,000 Palestinians died compared to 1,000 Israelis. They were doing this deliberately, to create the impression that the one side that is suffering more must be justified. They were using small journalistic techniques to create an impression that put Israel in a negative light.
I noticed it most during the Lebanon War. Israel being singled out for criticism. The terminology used for Israel: Israel is always aggressive.
Israel is always active. Other things just “happen.” Missiles “rain down” on Israel. But where Israel is concerned, and I’m quoting from some media reports, they even adopt Nazi terminology: “Israel's blitzkrieg.”
Always using negatives and very aggressive terms.
By contrast, the suffering Israel endures is always caused by some obscure [force]. It’s never quite clear what’s happening, and who is responsible. The number of ways that Israel is depicted negatively is, astoundingly, much greater than with Hizbullah. Hizbullah is a terrorist organization! It is considered so by every country in the world, including the United Nations. [Yet I found foreign media] to be taking their word, their narrative as fact.
And the same in Gaza in 2008?
It became second nature, so it’s only natural that Gaza was just an extension. For too many in the media today, it becomes a feeding frenzy. For the war in Gaza about 400 additional reporters showed up here. They seem to have no knowledge of what is going on. They don’t understand what they’re seeing.
They don’t understand urban warfare. They’ll see some phosphorus or they’ll see some smoke, and they’ll immediately adapt [what they’re told about it] without understanding from the military perspective why it’s being done. [In Gaza, they were fed] misinformation, and they gave credibility to sources who time and time again have been disproved, sources who are very credible in the Western world, such as doctors.
In the Western world doctors are given a very particular [credibility].
But that same attitude was given to Palestinian doctors, and more than once they deliberately misled and lied to the journalists. And instead of the journalists saying, “Ok, once, twice. The third time they’re not going to be lying to me anymore,” they keep turning to these sources.
Some journalists did the job they were supposed to be doing, and went to objective experts and asked them about false claims [that Israel was using illegal weaponry, or had weaponry that purportedly melted the skin, or that Israeli weaponry was causing] these kinds of injuries. [One specific reporter] did the legitimate thing. He went and he asked an expert. And he was told, “What you’re talking about is science fiction.
These weapons don’t exist.” So, in this case, the story should have been over. But no, he reports [the false allegation and the firm dismissal], giving legitimacy to the actual accusation.
You want to compare that to something? Go back to the old blood libel.
Imagine the Jews are being accused now of using blood to make matza.
Some of the foreign media would “go to the experts,” maybe one of these cooking shows on television, who’d dismiss the idea, of course.
But the very report itself would give legitimacy to this absurd kind of accusation. Some people watching would say, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire, so there must be some truth to it.” [The foreign media] would not do this to any other country.
They tried pulling some of this stuff with the United States in Iraq, but very quickly ceased doing it.
With Israel they continue to allow it...
Journalists kept accusing Israel of using illegal phosphorus weapons.
It’s not illegal! And Israel used them legally. Many countries do. But when they’re caught in an argument that is proven to be wrong, the journalists don’t issue a correction, saying, “We’re sorry.” No, they then say, “Oh, it may not be illegal, but it’s immoral.” Immoral? Isn’t war immoral? We didn’t start this war.
Lebanon is the prime example of everything we’ve been unfairly accused of. Israel had fulfilled UN resolutions.
Israel was not occupying a centimeter of Lebanese territory.
Israel was attacked. Not only were its soldiers abducted, but journalists ignore the fact that there was an allout assault on Israel’s northern communities on that first day.
Yet despite all that, after a few days, you have it for the first time: “Disproportionate use of force.”
Ever since the enemies of Israel understood that it could not be defeated militarily, because of its strength, their goal has been denying us the right to use that strength. And here, unfortunately, the media sometimes are politically cooperating with this, and other times are being duped into it.
They don’t understand that they are being used by those elements who are abusing freedom of the press, abusing freedom of speech, abusing all these civil rights in Western society. We represent Western civilization in this area. These extremists who are assaulting Israel, it’s a prelude to what can be expected in Western societies. If it’s not stopped on Israel’s borders, the rest of Western civilization will end up facing the same kind of thing.
Is some of your critique not the political opposition of somebody who tried to run as a Likud candidate for the Knesset?
I have never hidden my political beliefs. I do my job first. My political opinions have no bearing on the way I conduct myself in the professional aspects of the job.
Yes, I wanted to run for politics, for the Likud. I’m from a family connected to the IZL [Irgun], from a Revisionist family, an admirer of Jabotinsky and his teachings. I don’t hide these things. I'm very proud of them.
But I was brought up to respect people whatever their views, their political opinions...
Coming back to what I said about [inexperienced] journalists coming to Gaza. They are unqualified to report on modern warfare. The Palestinians are very good at manipulating images for show, for the journalists.
[None of the reporters] will actually find out what really happened.
They’ll get “verification” of an indication from a colleague who hasn’t verified it either. Even if they tried to do their job and they tried to verify, their editor would be shouting back, “I’m getting these pictures. They're coming in on X news media. Why are you not reporting about this?!” That’s why [during Operation Cast Lead] I thought the presence of journalists would not contribute to the exposure of what was actually happening there on the battlefield. The contrary.
You’re saying that when conflict erupts between Israel and Palestinians, the international press are lousy, incapable of doing their job. In effect, it’s better that they not cover it?
I don’t say they should not cover it.
But their presence on location does not contribute to the general knowledge of what is actually happening there.
So how are people supposed to understand what’s happening there?
Some of the tragedy is not only the journalists’ doing, it’s the realities themselves. If good old-fashioned journalism were at work, looking, trying to verify, getting other sources – it can’t be done. I feel sorry for a lot of the journalists today, those who really want to do a professional job.
The Palestinians are not stupid.
They have 20-30 years of experience of telling the journalists how high to jump. They know what makes modern media tick.
[With inexperienced journalists going into the West Bank], you’re taking somebody who doesn’t know the history. They’re moving from Israeli society, where we do everything to maintain normalcy.
You’ll have a suicide bombing in the morning, and by late afternoon there’s no indication of it any more. With the Palestinians, the moment you cross over, at the roadblock, people automatically have a negative reaction to the figures of authority. I get complaints [from journalists] saying there’s no human contact [between soldiers and Palestinians at checkpoints].
I try to explain to them there’s no human contact because when there was human contact, some [terrorists] saw that as an Achilles’ Heel and attacked the Israeli soldiers [at the checkpoints]. We’re trying to protect our lives. It’s the same with the security barrier. We protect our lives.
[Visiting journalists] don’t see it that way. They experience what it is like to be a Palestinian to a certain degree. When they come to our side, you have to start with the historical explanations. It’s very hard, because the life we have here seems very similar to their lives at home. They don’t understand the day-to-day things that we go through.
What are you going to do now?
I don’t know. I never sat and thought, what is my next goal going to be? I did the job the way I believed it should be done. I didn’t get a big salary. I was always paid as a head of a department, not as the head of the GPO, which is substantially different. So nobody can accuse me of reaping the [financial] benefits of this position.
More than once, people said to me, are you sure you want to do this? Maybe you shouldn’t. For example when I started taking a position on the issue of al-Dura...
That Israel was not responsible for the killing of 12-year-old Mohammad al-Dura [at Netzarim junction] in Gaza [on September 30, 2000] at the start of the second intifada, and that it had been foolish to apologize? First, and second that I was critical of the conduct of France 2 [the TV station that broadcast the allegation of IDF responsibility for al-Dura’s death]. After literally hundreds of hours [of examination], I was absolutely convinced that the Israeli attitude of “better we not say anything” [about the incident] was not only wrong, was not only a mistake, but that it was a violation of our responsibility as civil servants. We have a responsibility to present Israel and we were failing...
Israel didn’t kill al-Dura and needed to have said so?
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And more than this. This incident was used in order to begin [the second intifada]. It served the politics of many people – Israelis and foreigners – to accuse Ariel Sharon of igniting the violence of the year 2000, [rather than] that Arafat had premeditated this. But the real violence did not erupt immediately after Sharon went to the Temple Mount [on September 28]. The real violence erupted when the blood libel erupted – that we killed the child. It was irresponsible to put these images out, because they were not clarified.
What was the basis of the accusation [that the IDF killed al-Dura]? A correspondent who was not physically on location. There was no visual evidence to back up the [charge].
There was no footage of Israeli soldiers shooting, no footage of the boy being shot, no footage of the boy dying. There was nothing to verify this.
This goes to what I was saying about the media immediately getting caught up in a news frenzy. CNN originally did the professional thing and said, “Wait a minute, I need more verification before I put out this story.” [But] once it had a life of its own, they had to report it also. And the next day, you had journalists reporting on this deception as if it were fact... Fundamental journalistic principles were not applied.
I wanted the truth. If Israel was responsible, I would be the first person to admit it. So, if they had made a mistake in this, why are journalists incapable of criticizing their colleague? When I raise these questions with journalists, they don’t offer a counter-argument.
No, they immediately resort to “Oh, you’re a right-wing extremist, these are conspiracy theories...”
Perhaps because the State of Israel didn’t really back you up?
The State of Israel did back me up... There’s no doubt about it today.
France 2 failed. This should not have been reported in the way that it was.
Would that be the most egregious example, in your eyes, of journalism failing to report the story accurately?
That was the most famous thing.
There was another famous incident I was involved with, involving Al- Jazeera, and our suspension of [some of our] services to them.
[In July 2008] they celebrated [the release in a prisoner exchange of] Samir Kuntar, [the brutal killer of four Israelis, including a four-year-old girl, in Nahariya in 1979] in their offices in Lebanon. Officially. On air. An official celebration by the organization.
Here, we required that they look into [the incident] themselves. It wasn’t an apology that I was looking for. It was whether Al-Jazeera, which wants to be treated as a professional media organization, addressed something that was clearly a professional failure.
And in this case I have a lot of respect for the way they addressed it, how they tried to correct it and make sure that kind of thing wouldn’t happen again. A lot of Western media organizations can learn from that.
By the way, I was criticized by the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office.
For protesting Al-Jazeera’s celebration of the release of Samir Kuntar?Yes. According to them I was damaging the very sensitive negotiations going on between Al-Jazeera and the Foreign Ministry [over this incident] at that time, negotiations that existed apparently only in the minds of the people in the Foreign Ministry...
Sometimes you have to stand up [on matters of principle]. That’s what I’ve tried to convey to the system here. It started back with al-Dura. If we are wronged, we’re within our rights to stand up and say this is wrong. We should be the first ones standing up and saying that.
Yes, you have to be nice to the journalists. But if they do not conduct themselves professionally, they have to understand that we’re no different from any other country in the world.
Journalists are not above the law.
In the year 2000, there was a foreign journalist who went to hotels throughout Israel and would refuse to pay. He would show his press card and then would refuse to pay his bill, saying, “I’m a foreign journalist.” At one point he made a point of saying he was an American, and that his taxes subsidize this country. This was a top journalist. Unfortunately, the hotels decided they didn’t want to make a big issue out of it.
A leading American journalist went around Israel, stayed at hotels, didn’t pay his bills and nobody made a fuss about it?
Yes. Then you had cases, such as during the disengagement from Gaza or the war in Gaza, where media organizations hired Israelis, rented rooms, hired services, and then just disappeared without paying.
There’s nothing we can do at the Government Press Office. You can file a complaint but there’s no legal thing that I can do.
I can make journalists’ lives more difficult. There are certain guidelines that allow me to do that. Such as with the case of [Swedish newspaper] Aftonbladet, and their despicable anti- Semitic... I don’t use that word lightly, by the way, because I came from a family where my father converted; half my family are Christian. I don’t use that word lightly. But in this case, Aftonbladet’s report on the IDF [purportedly] abducting Palestinians and using their body organs. We didn’t prevent Aftonbladet from working here. We just took our time. To this day, the correspondents from Aftonbladet do not get a press card immediately.
We can take up to 90 days and we can take longer...
There’s been continuous frustration over the past 10 years in the GPO – constantly fighting for budgets, for our place among the government bureaucracies, always having the personal sword over my head, always facing threats: “If you do this, you’re going to get fired. If you take this position, you’re going to be fired.” It didn’t matter that I could prove to them why I had to “take this position.”
When the [second intifada] violence erupted, in many ways the foreign media became a tool being used against the State of Israel. We have clear evidence that shows Marwan Barghouti’s and Yasser Arafat’s involvement with [Palestinian journalists] who were employed by the foreign press [and whose status and capacity to work in Israel, with attendant concerns about security risks, was an issue that Seaman dealt with extensively, including in court battles and face-offs with various Israeli politicians].
It developed over years, beginning back in the late ’80s. [Some of these Palestinian journalists] started off at the Palestinian Information Office [in east Jerusalem], which was shut down by [prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir during the first intifada. They were shut down because it was clear that they were serving to incite people on the ground. So they left and started being employed by the foreign press.
Then foreign journalists started giving cameras to Palestinians because they were getting good pictures. It evolved over the years.
With the advent of the Palestinian Authority, Arafat adapted the same measures [he had used in] Beirut.
Some of these [foreign] media organizations knew. And not only were they sympathetic, they had people who were connected to the PLO who were assigned here as journalists because it gave them that access.
Until the year 2000 it was fine, but the moment all hell broke loose, some of these people saw it as their jobs – and I’m talking about the foreigners right now – to help the Palestinian cause. And the Palestinians involved saw it as their job and they were getting clear instructions.
Instructions to do what?
To kill certain stories or promote other stories [in the foreign press].
There was an attempted suicide bombing one day in Jerusalem. A border policeman of Ethiopian descent was injured. Earlier that day, the Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem Affairs was caught illegally in Jerusalem and he was being held at the Russian Compound. We know that the Palestinian producers at the major media offices here coordinated among themselves to shift the story [that day] from [focusing on the] suicide attack to the fact that this Palestinian dignitary was being held by the Israelis. They deliberately misled on certain stories. They coordinated with the Palestinian Authority.
A lot of these [Palestinian] people first got jobs in the Palestinian media under Arafat, and then they started applying for jobs [with the foreign media based in Israel]. We started finding out that a lot of these people had been released from Israeli jails. Arafat was giving them jobs as journalists.
Are you disappointed that when you tried to take a more robust official line, in opposing some of the reporting that you feel has been unfair in the foreign media, that you haven’t had support from the Prime Minister’s Office, from the Ministry of Public Diplomacy?
From the Ministry of Public Diplomacy I did have support. When I approached the minister regarding the images from Reuters [which had cropped out of its photos weapons held by “activists” confronting Israeli soldiers] from the Mavi Marmara, Yuli Edelstein immediately put his name to [a complaint] and within 24 hours we got a [positive] response [from Reuters].
I understand at times the restraint that people in the Foreign Ministry want to show. There’s room for it at times. I’m not picking fights. [But] I believe that we should be standing up for things that we know are wrong, and not [let] journalists think they can get away with everything and that there’s no response from the Israeli side...
The same, by the way, goes for our decision not to allow journalists into Gaza for the war [Operation Cast Lead]. A decision was made. And then [various officials] started saying, “Oh, maybe we shouldn’t.” There were real reasons for this decision.
And it was upheld, but that was because the Ministry of Defense held firm. And prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Broadly speaking, you’re saying Israel doesn’t have the official courage of its convictions?
Sometimes no, it doesn’t. It’s not everybody in the Foreign Ministry. It’s certainly not the Foreign Ministry today. But for a long time those voices within the Foreign Ministry were stronger than the ones who said, “Yes, we have to stand up to it.”
This goes back to the whole issue of Israel’s hasbara failures since the Oslo Accords. We pulled the rug out from under our arguments. The moment in the Oslo process when we didn’t completely stand up for our narrative, we gave legitimacy to the Palestinian claims. [We gave up on] our positions, our claims, our rights!
As regards the Old City, east Jerusalem...?
Every place! My grandfather came here from Afghanistan, not because of Tel Aviv and not because of Haifa, but because of our ancestral right to the Land of Israel. And without our right to the Land of Israel we have no right to the State of Israel; we are no more than the colonialist occupiers which they claim we are. For many years, we used this claim of our right to Eretz Yisrael, not as a political statement, but as a case of genuine historical reasoning. You can’t say that it’s a right-wing argument. It has nothing to do with my positions or my being a right-winger. It’s a fact.
What is Judaism? Where is the birth of the Jewish people if not in Judea and Samaria? Now that’s not to say that we can’t compromise. Zionism has been a movement of compromise. But if we deny these [historical] rights, we’re undermining our own credibility and our own rights. This is part of the failure that has happened here.
Unfortunately, people with those kinds of positions had a stronger voice in the Foreign Ministry for many years. Other people were afraid to speak up. Over the years, I paid a hefty price for sticking to things that I believed were right to do. And everything that I stood up against, whether it was Aftonbladet, Al-Jazeera, the al-Dura case, I was eventually proven right.
And yet you still lost your job.
I didn’t lose my job. I was criticized for [my positions]... I paid a price with a negative portrayal, with a negative image – that I was a right-winger, an extremist, that people weren’t getting their press cards for political reasons – that has no basis in reality. Yet this became the prevalent attitude.
I’m controversial. Why? Because I stand up to defend Israel? Because I criticize the media where they fail? Nobody ever argued with me over the issues. They defamed me. And the reality is, it just doesn’t hold.