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INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS

Critique of Worldwide Media Coverage

Aired November 8, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Welcome to CNN's INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, where we bring together leading journalists to examine media coverage around the world.
It has shocked and outraged, the European poll suggesting people here think Israel is the No. 1 threat to world peace. It ranks Israel ahead of North Korea and Iran. According to the Euro Barometer Poll of almost 8,000 E.U. residents, some 59 percent deemed Israel the greatest threat, with figures rising to 60 percent in Britain, 65 percent in Germany, 69 percent in Austria and 74 percent in Holland.

Israel says the European media are largely to blame for this, but does this point to a renewed problem of anti-Semitism in Europe?

I'm joined now, in Boston, by Marie Brenner, writer-at-large for "Vanity Fair." Marie filed an investigative piece into anti-Semitism in France. In Paris, Christopher Dickey, Middle East editor for "Newsweek." In Jerusalem, Aric Bechar, foreign editor of the Israeli daily "Maariv." And here in studio, Jonathan Steele, foreign correspondents for "The Guardian" newspaper.

Marie, let me begin by asking you, does this poll mean anything? Is it a barometer of -- what?

MARIE BRENNER, "VANITY FAIR": I was shocked by it. You know, anti- Semitism and the charge of 60 percent that think that Israel is the enemy of the world is a very big thing to say in this country, and I think it was a very shocking thing to read.

My experience in France when I went to report on this was equally shocking of what I saw, and it's very hard to know how do we even interpret this.

RODGERS: Chris Dickey, a barometer of anything?

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think that the poll took things from the wrong angle. I don't think you should ask, especially in Europe right now, a question like is Israel a threat to world peace on a list of other countries that includes North Korea and Iraq and Iran and so on without looking at the question of why people would think that Israel is a threat.

Is this a statement about the policy of the government of Israel? Is it a statement about the current conflict with the Palestinians? Or is it an expression of anti-Semitism?

I think if you ask a question like this and you don't go deeper, then you risk having exactly the kinds of problems you've had with this poll, which is that people are interpreting it in any number of very frightening ways and none of us know in fact what the truth is that lies behind it.

RODGERS: Aric, how outraged and incensed are the Israelis?

ARIC BECHAR, "MAARIV": Quite, I think. Few Israelis could explain why the good people of Sweden, 52 percent of them would think that Israel is the No. 1 threat to world peace while only 23 percent think Saudi Arabia poses a threat to world stability. This is the same Saudi Arabia which spawned 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers. How could that be, Israelis ask.

RODGERS: Jonathan, where do you come down on this? Is this a barometer of anything?

JONATHAN STEELE, "THE GUARDIAN": Well, I think, without being nitpicking, one has to look a little bit at the question. As far as I understood it, the question was, which of 15 mentioned countries -- I don't know why they selected those 15 -- are threats to peace in the world. I don't think they were suggesting that they were a threat to the entire world, and there is no doubt that a war is going on in the Middle East and Israel is part of that.

So in a logical way, I think it's undeniable that Israel is a threat to peace in the world, not of the world. So I think that this really is a kind of wakeup call, probably, to the Israeli government, not to the whole of Israeli society, that the image of the Sharon administration's policies is very, very bad in Europe.

RODGERS: Aric, do you want to respond to that?

BECHAR: Yes, Walter. I would disagree. I think this underscores some deeper sentiment in Europe, which goes back to the earlier part of the 20th century. I don't think you can divorce that from the sentiment of anti-Semitism that has been around Europe for centuries, hasn't gone away. It's still there, those evil winds. And I don't think there's any other way of explaining that poll.

RODGERS: Chris, do you think the European media is under-covering what some see as a new wave of anti-Semitism in Europe because they think their readers just don't want to hear about it, those bothersome Jews again?

DICKEY: No, I don't think that's the reason. I think that there is generally a reluctance to admit these kinds of social problems in France and elsewhere. Every so often you'll see an article in "Le Monde" or one of the more responsible papers that really tries to address these questions, but it's the kind of thing that most Europeans want to try to ignore.

There's no question that there's anti-Semitism here, but again, there is also a huge hostility to the policies of the Sharon government, and I think it's very hard to look at this poll and know which it is you're talking about.

I don't think, for instance, the United States, which comes in right behind Israel as a threat to world peace in this poll, I don't think you would have seen that result two years ago or three years ago. I think this may be an expression of a reaction to specific policies and not only an expression of the latent anti-Semitism and sometimes explicit anti-Semitism that does exist here.

RODGERS: Marie, are we seeing an emerging strange alliance between the European intelligence here, the European left, and the Islamist fundamentalists? They both share a common hatred of the United States and perhaps Israel as well. America is the big devil, Israel is the little devil.

BRENNER: It's being perceived in many quarters in just that manner, as incredible as that seems to hear.

But I want to go back to a point that we were just talking about, which was the mystification of the reporting on this issue.

The fact is that for the first two years of the attacks that started in Europe around the fire bombings of the synagogues, the victims were absolutely incapable of getting their stories reported on the air. And in France, they called this the "wall of silence," which completely shrouded these episodes so that you couldn't get them reported.

Finally, the victims had to take their stories on to the Jewish radio to try to break through the wall of silence. And for an American reporter arriving in Europe to report on the situation, one of the most stunning aspects of the story was how silent and powerless these hundreds and hundreds of victims have been to try to get their stories out because the fact is, you know, the question is out there for all of us to answer. Why should a 6-year-old schoolchild in France be held responsible for the policies of the Sharon government? Whatever the policies are in Israel, if you're for them or against them, there are so many innocents who are having to bear the brunt of them, who are French citizens, who are citizens of other countries of Europe, who are suddenly having to take responsibility for a country that is not even their own.

RODGER: Marie, is this because 10 percent of the French population is North African and consequently Muslim? Or is it because the French -- are you suggesting they're inherently anti-Semitic?

BRENNER: I think it is so complicated and I am very careful about using any kind of labels.

There are some historians who have suggested indeed that it is anti- Semitism. One person called in old wine in new bottles. Certainly it's a question of numbers. You've got 10 percent of the population as a Muslim population, many with very, very severe problems of unemployment, families that are broken up. You have 650,000 Jews in France.

This is so complex. It has to do with a lot of French historic ties to the Middle East. It has to do with the romanticization of left wing guerillas traditionally in the French society. There are probably a dozen reasons. It's far too complicated to say quite simply.

But what was very apparent to me, as an American reporter going over, was that victims could not get their story out and had to resort in some cases to methods that seemed like they came from World War II.

RODGERS: Jonathan, is she overstating the situation?

STEELE: Well, I think we have to deal with facts, and I have no doubt that she's been through a very careful study of this. But, I mean, I would like to know how many attacks there are on Arabs and Muslims and people from the North of Africa, as you just mentioned, who are living there in France too.

Are we really sure that the number of anti-Semitic attacks in France is higher than the number of anti-Arab attacks or anti-foreign attacks of any kind?

And to pick up a point that Aric made, he said anti-Semitism won't go away. Of course it won't go away. I mean, it will never be reduced to zero. I think you have to accept that. The question is, is it growing? Is it getting worse? Are the authorities turning a blind eye to it or not?

I mean, I think you have to be very careful to make these charges on picking up on one or two anti-Semitic instances to sort of make a big trend or scandal out of it.

RODGERS: Chris, answer the questions. Is it growing? Is it worse? Is it government sponsored, like it used to be?

DICKEY: No, it certainly isn't government sponsored. I don't think the government is turning a blind eye anymore.

I think that the basic problem for most of the Jews who live I France is a problem with these young children of North African immigrants, who are often unemployed, who often are leading pretty aimless lives, who watch satellite television showing the battles in Palestine and Israel, and who somehow identify with that struggle and take it to the streets of France, and attack perfectly innocent Jews who have nothing to do, as Marie said, with those battles in Israel and Palestine, as somehow a sign of their own manhood here in France.

That's the real problem. That's where the violence is coming. That's where most of the attacks have been focused, in the way that they take place. But to try and link that and say this is all part of old wine in new bottles, this is that traditional hatred of Jews that exists in France, I think is a gross exaggeration.

I think it's interesting. This is probably the third largest Jewish population in the world, and I think there's a kind of hysteria that's being created in this population, not only by the facts and the events that take place here, but by hysterical press coverage and sometimes instigation from the Israeli press as well.

RODGER: Aric, you were just indicted there. Is the Israeli press inflaming and exaggerating European anti-Semitism?

BECHAR: No, Walter. I think we're simply doing what no Jewish press was around in 1939 to do at the time. I don't think the word hysteria fits the situation here.

There is certainly anti-Semitism. I am not here representing the Sharon government. Indeed I disagree with a lot of their policies. But to blame everything on the Sharon government would imply that those who thought Saudi Arabia posed no threat to world peace agreed with all their policies. This is a government that chops people's heads in town squares every day of the week almost.

I don't think that's a valid argument here. I think Jews in France and elsewhere are right to raise alarm bells whenever anti-Semitism rears its ugly head again. They didn't do it in the 30's; 6 million people paid with their lives for that, among them my very own grandfather.

RODGERS: So, let me ask each of you for a short answer. In Europe, do Europeans feel that the Americans and the Jews are stirring up the pot, as it were, and the Europeans would prefer to look the other way. I don't want to raise the word appease, but is there a tendency in Europe to appease the radical Islamists -- Chris.

DICKEY: No, I don't think there is a tendency to appease them. There's a tendency to arrest them, and that's what they've been doing for years here in France.

I think that there is -- you talk about exaggeration. This poll is not about Israel. The poll is about Iraq and the perception of the Iraq War and its effect on world peace. This is one question among dozens and dozens. If it's not an exaggeration to take that one question and turn it into a whole issue of anti-Semitism, I don't know what an exaggeration is in terms of press coverage.

RODGERS: Jonathan, what do you think of that?

STEELE: Well, I think that's legitimate, but I mean, to come back to the point about appeasement, I think this is yet another of these very emotional words, going back to the 30's and so on. I think to argue by historical analogy is usually a mistake. It's much better to stick to the present.

The fact is that there is a government in Israel run by Mr. Sharon which is extremely belligerent, extremely war like, uses the heavy fist on virtually every occasion, even when it is quite uncalled for, that recently went into Syria, that seems to be, therefore, departing from the previous norms of Israeli government activities over the last 20 years, and Europeans are following that.

And they also feel that there is an administration in Washington which -- there is where the word appeasement comes in -- that appeasing the government of Israel and not doing enough about it. Europe would like to be part of it. In fact, it is, under the Quartet arrangements, the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and the United States, but in fact, the European Union has no standing just as the United Nations and the Russians don't because the Americans call the shots and they really allow Sharon to get away with anything.

RODGERS: Marie, in your investigative piece, how much was the subject of Ariel Sharon brought up and how much of that is a part of the issue?

BRENNER: Again, I feel that any discussion about Ariel Sharon essentially diverts the discussion away from where it should be, which is why the people who are victimizing the Jews of Europe are not being effectively prosecuted under the laws of Europe.

This is a European issue. It doesn't seem to me that they should be, again, held accountable for what or what isn't happening in the Sharon government, whatever the rationale behind the attacks.

RODGERS: Marie, Christopher, Aric, Jonathan, thanks very much. We'll have to realize that when all people think alike, nobody thinks very much, and we were all thinking this evening. Thank you so very much.

Time for a quick break, but when we come back, images from the past, perhaps prefiguring the present, especially when it come to Iraq.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RODGERS: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS.

Some of these images from Vietnam invite a photographic comparison to the current situation in Iraq. All of these pictures, along with many other famous photographs, are going on auction here in London. The goal is to raise money for photojournalism in Vietnam.

Joining me now is one of the organizers of the auction, Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and senior photo editor at the Associated Press, Horst Faas.

Tell us about your exhibit.

HORST FAAS, PHOTOGRAPHER: Well, it's our second exhibit where we sell photos that are somehow related to the subject of Vietnam with the aim to finance a photograph shop in Saigon or Hanoi.

RODGERS: And tell us why you see any parallels between the pictures in this exhibit and what's happening in Iraq today.

FAAS: I wouldn't call it parallels, but the subject is basically the same. Individuals. Soldiers. Civilians. People that get involved in the conflict, that they get drawn into but haven't caused it.

Pictures from Vietnam are now historical. The pictures from Iraq can be compared. In a way, it's photojournalism that is repeating itself.

RODGERS: Why are these pictures so powerful in your exhibit?

FAAS: One of the reasons, I think, is they are black and white. Black and white is a.

RODGERS: That's an excellent answer. Why is black and white so dramatic, so good?

FAAS; Black and white is today considered as some kind of an art form. I always see pictures in black and white, in a way. Even today, every AP picture is in color, but I see the tones and the drama and shades and highlights.

RODGERS: There is tragedy in these pictures. The mother swimming the river with her children like a terrified animal. Is this endemic to all war?

FAAS: We hav seen the same pictures in Iraq. We have seen the young boy who lost both of his arms.

There is no blame to be attached to anybody for doing it. It's just the fact that a young boy of 9 years loses two arms and suddenly gains the sympathy and attention of the world.

RODGERS: That's a tragedy. There's powerful tragedy in those photographs, but isn't there also comedy? Like that American soldier wading the river in South Vietnam, and the only thing you see are his arms and a rifle over his head.

FAAS: That picture has two aspects. It is also a bit comical. It illustrates how the United States got dragged into a quagmire in Vietnam and went under. That's how we saw the picture at the time when we edited it, and it still stands for this concept.

RODGER: And the Southeast Asian woman with the baby in one arm smoking the cigar in the other. That too has an element of humor to it.

FAAS: That's an interesting picture because this woman comes from a group called the Moms in Laos, and there have been recent photo reports of these Moms still fighting and still opposing the Communist Laotian government.

RODGER: The role of the photographer in the context of that one very powerful picture, the photograph of what may be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with a big bullet hole or shrapnel whole in it. That was very, very telling in terms of the role of the photographer and the risks he takes, isn't it?

FAAS: That photograph, of course, was on the back cover of a book Tim Page (ph) and I published called (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which tried to honor and regain the memory of 135 photographers that died in Vietnam during the war there.

RODGERS: One of these pictures is very haunting. A U.S. soldier in Vietnam has a band on his helmet that says "War is Hell," and he's got those ice clear eyes, and you see those in memorable photographs, like the Afghan woman in the "National Geographic" photo. Is there something about those eyes that you photographers look for, the ice clear eyes?

FAAS: Well, we try not to just show events. We try to show emotions behind these events, and what is more emotional than the face of a person.

Soldiers in the event of combat look completely different from soldiers that you see at base camp.

RODGERS: But if the eyes are windows to the soul, what do you see in that soldiers eyes?

FAAS: I can't remember what I saw at the time, but I was certainly attracted by the intensity of the man's emotions that are reflected or coming out through his eyes or through his gestures.

It's these little things, how people react, how they look, how their expressions change, that attract a photographers eye, and you try to get behind the skin. You try to get into the mind of the person and photograph what he feels, not what he does alone.

RODGERS: Horst Faas, thank you very much.

That's all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Walter Rodgers, in London. Thanks for joining us.

The news continues on CNN.

END

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