Every weeknight, PBS's Charlie Rose sits at a round oak table and
interviews some of the most influential people in the world. The setting is
informal but the discussions typically serious. Middle East leaders and
analysts are regular guests on the prestigious television program. Although he
is renowned for both his Southern civility and intelligence, a recent April 2nd
interview with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt betrayed a sharp lack of
awareness of basic information about Egypt, Israel, and the Palestinians, and a
deference to his guest that crossed into outright sycophancy. Although Mubarak
has spent two decades as the unelected dictator of the region's largest Arab
country, one where civil liberties are severely limited, where the Christian
minority is endangered by growing persecution, where the government-controlled
press spews venomous antisemitism, Holocaust-denial, and attacks on America,
where long efforts by Israel to normalize relations have been met with hatred -
Charlie Rose either ignored such unpleasant realities entirely or touched on
them with the greatest discomfort and haste.
In some instances, Mubarak uttered bald falsehoods - and Rose was silent.
Mubarak was unchallenged when he declared that, regarding the holy places in
there (was) free access for all people - Palestinians, Jews, Moslems, everybody
could go there. So if it is going to be given back to the Palestinians I think
there will be no problem about Jews to visit their holy places, or Moslems or
Copts or Christians or other religions.
An interviewer may not be able to question every obfuscation by a guest, but
such lies should have been challenged. The claim that Jews and Christians had
free access to their holy sites in Jerusalem when Jordan occupied the eastern
side of the city is absurd. Jews were unable to pray at the Western Wall or to
enter the Temple Mount for 19 years. Israeli Christians too were severely
limited in their access to holy sites.
But the interview got worse. Mubarak, a veteran handler of Western
journalists, anticipated being asked about the virulent government-controlled
Egyptian press, and so he took the offensive, charging that religious Israelis
have defamed Muhammed. Only then did Rose broach, in notably stumbling
language, the delicate matter of the Egyptian media. He asked:
Do you know what
they write in Egyptian papers, about the anti-Israel diatribes? Even the
secretary of state was attacked in Egyptian newspapers. They called him, you
know, about the yarmulke and said the so-called Holocaust.
An unperturbed Mubarak interjected, "Charlie, Charlie...you know we
have free press." Although Egypt has nothing of the kind, Rose promptly
Even more astonishing was the American interviewer's response to Mubarak's
rejoinder that the Israeli press contains "nasty words" against
Egypt. "It's equally bad," Rose agreed. No impulse to put a guest at
ease can justify such craven denial of the truth. Attacks on Islam and Arabs
equivalent to the persistent pattern of anti-Jewish diatribes in the Egyptian
press simply do not occur and are not part of the culture of the Israeli media.
Moreover, in Israel a diverse and genuinely free press exists, as Rose well
knows but evidently could not bring himself to say. In Egypt, where newspaper
editors are appointed by the government, the fulminations against Israel,
America, and the West are not simply a spontaneous reflection of a public
inflamed with hatred; they are a governmental expression.
Appeared in the
Jerusalem Post on this date.