Remembering Mike Wallace, A Jew Unafraid of the Truth

Appreciation

Controversial: Mike Wallace’s stories were sometimes critical of Israel but he never backed down from his journalistic ethics.
getty images
Controversial: Mike Wallace’s stories were sometimes critical of Israel but he never backed down from his journalistic ethics.

By Barry Lando

Published April 12, 2012, issue of April 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Of all the thousands of reports done by Mike Wallace during his four decades with “60 Minutes,” few brought as much grief to the veteran journalist and those of us who worked with him as those involving Israel. And since it was difficult to write off Mike as an anti-Semite, he was frequently charged instead with being a self-hating Jew.

That accusation, of course, was utterly false — a despicable epithet, often employed by Jewish defenders of Israel to avoid recognizing the unpleasant specific issues raised by its critics. But there is no disputing that Mike, who died April 7 at 93, raised questions few others were willing to ask about some of the basic implications of Israel’s emergence.

As a producer on “60 Minutes,” I worked with Mike for more than 26 years, and researched, reported and wrote several segments about Israel in which he was the on-camera reporter. Among the first of the pieces we did together was one on the Arabs of Israel that depicted their status as second-class citizens in what was supposed to be a democratic though Jewish state. Others included a story on Israel’s arms sales and a hard-hitting piece on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

But the one piece involving Mike that sparked the widest outrage involved the deaths of 17 Palestinians, shot down by Israeli police on Jerusalem’s ultra-sensitive Temple Mount (called Haram al Sharif in Arabic) on October 8, 1990.

The immediate version of the bloody incident, as proclaimed by the Israeli government and accepted by almost all major media, was that the police had gunned down the Palestinians only after the Palestinians, egged on by their imams, began heaving rocks at Jews praying at the Western Wall, which lay below the confines of the Temple Mount.

An outraged Benjamin Netanyahu, then deputy minister of foreign affairs, appeared at a dramatic press conference, exhibiting a huge, lethal-looking boulder in his hands. Reportedly, several Jews had been hospitalized.

It was a version of reality that the Israelis got out early. And except for an excellent but lonely investigative piece in the Village Voice, it went virtually unchallenged by the international media until our piece. The protests by Palestinians that their countrymen had been shot down in cold blood by rampaging Israeli police and that they had never threatened any Jewish worshippers were simply deemed not credible.

Yet, as our “60 Minutes” piece showed — using footage actually shot at the time — the Palestinian charges were accurate: There were no Jews praying at the Wall when the rocks started sailing over. The young Palestinians, in fact, were targeting Israeli police who had begun firing tear gas and bullets at them without provocation. And by that time, all the Jews who had been praying at the Wall had left the area. Checking all hospitals, we could find no cases of Jews having been injured at the Wall. Instead, the hospitals still held some gravely wounded Palestinians, including one nurse who had been shot while inside a plainly marked ambulance as she was helping to evacuate the wounded.

Our report turned out to be a shocking story both about Israel and about the mores of mainstream media.

The tsunami of protest hit us immediately — one of the most violent reactions to any report that “60 Minutes” had aired. We were denounced by just about every Jewish organization in the country and faced vitriolic outbursts from leading Israeli officials. We were whitewashing a plot by the Palestine Liberation Organization. We had lied. We had misrepresented. We were doing the work of the anti-Semites. And of course, we were self-hating Jews.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.