Geraldo Rivera: ‘The Jews Need Me Right Now’

Published May 23, 2003, issue of May 23, 2003.
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Geraldo Rivera has rediscovered his Jewish roots, and he declares the Jews “need” him back. The Jews, apparently, have decidedly mixed feelings about his return.

Rivera, 59, the flamboyant TV reporter, announced to The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post in recent days that he is planning to marry television producer Erica Levy, 29, in a Reform Jewish ceremony in New York this summer.

Rivera, whose mother is Jewish and father Puerto Rican, told the Post that “the Jews need me right now,” presumably, according to the Inquirer, to help sort out the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I think it’s safe to say the Jews need Geraldo Rivera as much as everyone else does,” chimed in New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafets.

Rivera and Levy are due to be wed this August at the historical Central Synagogue in Manhattan. The guest list at the ceremony and reception, to be held at the tony Four Seasons, is said to include the likes of Israeli Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Rabbi Peter Rubenstein, senior rabbi at the 128-year-old synagogue, one of the oldest Reform temples in the country, will officiate.

Rubenstein declined to discuss the impending Levy-Rivera nuptials. “I’d feel uncomfortable commenting on that,” he said.

Rivera could not be reached for comment, but he told the Post that he is going to “take this whole Judaism thing seriously” from now on.

While this would be his fifth wedding, Rivera says that it’s his first in a synagogue or church. He did become bar mitzvah as a boy, but he took part in a joint bar mitzvah ceremony with his oldest child, Gabriel, who is now 23.

Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Lubavitch chasidic movement greeted Rivera’s return to Judaism warmly. “We’re happy to see any Jew discover his roots and reconnect with his heritage,” Eliezrie said.

“I hope Mr. Rivera will do a little investigative reporting of Jewish learning and help develop a deep intellectual appreciation of the Jewish tradition,” he said.

Speaking of reporting, Rivera has come under fire for some of his television work in Israel and the Palestinian territories. The media watchdog groups and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, or Camera, blasted Rivera in 2002 for his reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Although uninformed coverage of the Israel-Palestinian crisis is common, Rivera’s combination of inanity and incessant self-reference to his own feelings, reactions and experiences has prompted particular audience disgust and derisive criticism from other journalists,” Camera said.

That April 2002 criticism came after Rivera said that although he had been a lifelong Zionist and “would die for Israel,” Palestinian suffering was turning him also into a “Palestinian-ist.”

Upon learning of Rivera’s planned Jewish wedding, Andrea Levin, executive director of Camera, asked, “He’s not going to be a Palestinian-ist anymore?”

While a Jewish marriage “doesn’t always necessarily guarantee levelheaded reporting,” she added, “I certainly hope he has a long and happy marriage and that it helps inform his reporting.”

Chafets offered a different image of Rivera. Before he became a New York-based columnist and best-selling crime novelist, Chafets headed the Israeli Government Press Office under former Prime Minister Menachem Begin. That meant Chafets dealt with the international media during Israel’s war in Lebanon in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a pre-tabloid Rivera was a foreign correspondent for ABC News.

Chafets wrote about media coverage of Israel in the book “Double Vision,” and he recalled “in a very stand-up way” Rivera claiming that the Palestine Liberation Organization had threatened his life.

“At that time he was distinguished among American TV journalists by his honesty,” Chafets said in an interview.

Chafets has not spoken with Rivera for nearly 20 years, but added that as far as Rivera’s treatment of Israel goes, “I have never found him to be in any way notable, one way or the other.”

Rivera’s ABC News stint earned him several investigative journalism awards, but ended in a flap over a spiked story about an affair between John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.

Rivera went tabloid, and in the 1980s told a conference of investigative journalists that he would soon pioneer a new kind of investigative reporting on television. He then hosted a syndicated tabloid talk show, “Geraldo,” which featured topics such as “Men in Lace Panties and the Women Who Love Them.’’

The show broke ratings records when a brawl broke out between neo-Nazis and blacks on the set and Rivera’s nose was broken during the melee.

More recently, Rivera worked for the cable business news channel CNBC, and in 2001 Fox News Channel hired him as a foreign correspondent.

With Fox, Rivera covered the U.S. war in Afghanistan, where he stepped into a media minefield by saying he was near enemy lines when he was not. He called it a mistake.

Rivera also came under criticism in Iraq for revealing sensitive military details, which he also called an error.

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