Saturday, January 8, 2011

Media Tart

When was the last time you saw an interview with a foreign ambassador in The Sydney Morning Herald?

As usual, I stand to be corrected, but I can't remember one - ever. Why then has the Herald devoted an entire page of today's issue to a softly, softly, ever so softly, warm and fuzzy interview (by Damien Murphy) with Israel's ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem?

Israeli exceptionalism... again?

Ah, but the man's a star!

"Rotem is used to attention. He was a media darling in his previous posting in Los Angeles, thanks not only to the proximity of Hollywood's influential Jewish population." (Treading the halls of power)

Media darling... not only to? In cold, hard fact, not at all to it seems:

"Flush with the worldwide publicity generated by this summer's [2003] visit to Israel by actor Christopher Reeve, Ambassador Yuval Rotem of the Israel Consulate of Los Angeles said that in September he will 're-embark on this mission, to appeal to some people from the entertainment industry and ask them to pay a visit'. The paralyzed actor's high-profile July 28-August 1 visit - a story that drew worldwide media attention during a lull in Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli countermeasures - may have prompted the LA diplomat to ask more of Hollywood. However, despite visits to Israel this year by Reeve, Whitney Houston and film producer Lawrence Bender, vocal support for Israel in Hollywood - including that of Hollywood's Jews - appears rare. 'For some reason in Hollywood', said independent filmmaker Henry Jaglom, 'people feel they have to take a stance - 'OK, I'm either pro-Israel or anti-Israel' - not that there are different ways to be pro-Israel. Jews are sort of scared to make their own case', Jaglom told The Journal. 'The word 'Zionism' becomes like a dirty word' ... Rotem began calling for more celebrities to visit Israel in speeches and other forums about 15 months ago, 'when I saw Oliver Stone spending 3 days with Yasser Arafat in the compound in Ramallah and [he] expressed... his sympathy with Yasser Arafat'. Aside from the Reeve visit, in which Rotem's office was directly involved, the diplomat said, 'I can't report to you that I've had a great success. It's not so easy to mobilize those people'." (Israel to seek celebrity support, David Finnigan,, 28/8/03)

Some media darling, darling!

Oh well, if even Hollywood's now giving you the cold shoulder, gather ye rosebuds where ye may:

"[Rotem] reached out to poor communities in East LA, especially Hispanics, and through his Howard Hughes-like habit of employing Mormons, a practice continued in Canberra."

Did he minister then, Mother-Theresa-like, to the Wretched of the Earth in the barrios of East LA, flanked by clean-cut, white-shirted bicycle-riders, dispensing recycled US tax dollars and Israeli flags, or did he merely give a job to a young Morman Zionist of Hispanic background?

Would you believe the latter?

As that young, hot-to-trot MZoHb, Mark Paredes, Rotem's LA press attache at the time, says: "[T] here is a growing realization in Jewish communities worldwide that they need allies, especially non-Jewish ones. Jewish leaders who might have hesitated to accept support from Christian churches 15 or 20 years ago are now showing up at Evangelical rallies and seeking to win over pastors at Protestant General Assemblies. It's a different world for Jewish interfaith outreach, and I firmly believe that there is a place for Mormons in it." (Jewish-Mormon relations: Mark Paredes leads the way,, 26/7/10)

Oh well, an Israeli ambassador's gotta do what an Israeli ambassador's gotta do, I guess.

"Here, Rotem is reaching out to Aboriginal communities, and his embassy is funding the Allira Aboriginal Knowledge IT Centre in Dubbo, which opened in September and aims to help local elders record their oral history and traditions." (Treading the halls of power, Damien Murphy)

A saint, I tell you, a saint! But ministering to the Wretched of the Earth in Dubbo is the least of it. Rotem also ministers to ministers and ministerial wannabes in Canberra:

"Groups of influential Australians are taking guided tours of Israel, proof, Rotem believes, of the continuing strength of the bilateral relationship despite interruption over the passports and the flotilla action."

All pull factors, of course.

Q & A time:

DM: "Post-Holocaust Israel was widely regarded in the West as a heroic endeavour, but it is not so clear cut any longer. What happened?"

YR: "It is a very fair question. But it is a question faced also by the Americans, the British and the French. The era has changed the world. Your enemy is not an army of a neighbouring country. Your enemy can be faceless. Your enemy can be in a cave. Your enemy can be using unknown cheque accounts and be trained in undislosed locations. Despite all your efforts... there may be 16, 17, 18 or so cuckoos who are trying to understand your way of life."

I may still be trying to get my head around that last sentence, but Murphy must have been happy with it because he breathlessly hurries on to pot Rotem's biography and describe how he'd been looking for a long-lost, Holocaust-era cousin ("even seeking help from the Mormon archives in Salt Lake City") and found him in Melbourne. Touched I was, touched.

But back to core business, defined by Rotem as "physically advancing Israeli affairs in Australia." Example: "In August Rotem took 40 Israeli companies and their water technology solutions to see if their strength in technology, science and IT could be useful to West Australian miners."

Of course, the delicate issue of Mossad's purloining of Australian passports for use by Israeli death squads had to come up, eliciting this enlightening comment (to which I've added some clarifications in square brackets): " Given the fact that Australia has been a constantly friendly country to Israel [ie a soft touch]... there was an issue. We took note of the Australian position and we both realised we needed to move forward [ie we didn't need the bad PR and they badly needed to fund an election campaign]. The beauty of this relationship between our two countries is that even if we have an issue we know how to overcome, we know how to move into repairing and reconstructing this relationship. I think the fact that we have so many visits from Australia to Israel is to some extent an indication and a test for good relationship [ie we whip 'em over to Israel, mess with their minds, mmm... innoculate 'em so to speak, and, hey presto, no more negative vibes!] ... if it was not on good terms, it would be more difficult to go back to business."

Apparently, it didn't occur to Murphy to ask when Israel was going to apologise to Australia in view of reports that it is about to apologise to Britain. Being in love means never having to say you're sorry, I guess.

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