Drawing on his experience as a reporter in the Middle East, Shmuel Rosner told a group of Yalies on Monday he is skeptical of immediate prospects for lasting solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rosner, U.S. correspondent and prolific columnist for the Israeli daily newspaper Ha’aretz, expounded on the political intricacies of the Middle East and the volatility of the regional crisis at a Pierson College Master’s Tea yesterday afternoon. The talk, sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism, left students in the 15-member audience — who mostly received Rosner’s remarks favorably, judging from comments before and after the talk — pondering the future of conflict resolution in the region.
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Rosner described his decade-long work as a journalist for the Ha’aretz newspaper as “short but intense.” As a Ha’aretz reporter based in Washington, D.C., he has covered stories than range from the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2000 to the Israeli operations in the West Bank and Gaza and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
Although the Middle East’s peace-building process was underway when he began covering the area, he ended up writing about uprisings instead.
“Perhaps all these were my fault,” he joked, pointing out that the shift coincided with his time as a reporter assigned to cover the peace process.
Rosner recounted his experiences as a journalist in Israel and in the United States, shedding light on the differences — both in a journalist’s approach to reporting and the demand for current news — between the two countries.
Rosner recalled a night when the staff of an Israeli daily newspaper had to rewrite the entire edition of the following day’s paper at midnight to include a spectrum of columns and articles on a suicide bomb that went off at a popular bar in Jerusalem at 10 p.m. The Israeli public has high expectations of local journalists and demand up-to-the-minute coverage, he said.
“Israel is a society in which the involvement of people with their daily news is intense,” he added.
During the question-and-answer period, Jacob Abolafia ’10 asked Rosner about discrepancies he said he has observed between the English and Hebrew versions of Ha’aretz. The Hebrew version emphasizes left-wing intellectual views while the English version gratifies American Jews with right-wing reporting, he said.
Rosner countered this claim, saying these differences are due to differentiated interests. American readers are primarily concerned with security and diplomatic issues while Israeli readers, he said, are more concerned with Israel’s domestic issues.
Audience members steered the discussion toward the question of Israeli-Palestine relations and Iran’s nuclear aspirations.
When Stan Bernold GRD ’62 asked Rosner about his take on why the 2000 Camp David Accords, a framework for peace in the Middle East, ultimately failed, Rosner said the basic premise of the conference was flawed.
“It was the attempt of a U.S. president, eager to have [an Israel-Palestine peace] achievement before leaving office, to convene a badly cooked conference,” he said.
The Israeli prime minister was desperate to land a grand bargain to save his coalition and the Palestinian leader did not want the deal, he added.
Pierson College Master Harvey Goldblatt brought up the philosophical questions of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and their relevance today in his remarks at the tea. Rosner said this debate is still ongoing among some journalists and post-Zionist scholars, who debate whether Jews have the right to establish the state of Israel or whether they are merely colonialists occupying the territory.
Rosner admitted to being skeptical about the idea of an immediate solution to the regional conflict. He ruled out the possibility of a one-state solution for Israel and Palestine, calling it a “recipe for more bloodshed,” and pointed out that Palestinians are no more ready to give up their right of return than Israelis are prepared to accept Palestinian entry into Israel.
The talk ended with a discussion of the threat of nuclear action from Iran.
“We do not know what Iran really intends to do with their nuclear power, but if we are wrong, we’d better be wrong on the right side,” Rosner said. “We can play with numbers and calculate risk for terrorism, but a 1-percent certainty of nuclear risk is much more threatening. This is a question of life or death for Israel.”
Goldblatt and several students in attendance said they were impressed with Rosner’s comments and his depth of knowledge on affairs in the Middle East.
Noah Lawrence ’09 said he thinks Rosner’s experience in the Middle East is valuable for those interested in his various fields of expertise.
“If you are interested in journalism, you can come and hear him speak as a journalist; if you are interested in politics, he is wise and insightful about politics; if you are Jewish, there is that extra feeling of family, never to the exclusion of but rather as a complement to his journalistic merit and political insight,” he said.
Lawrence is a staff columnist for the News.
Abolafia said he enjoyed hearing about the wide range of issues discussed, but Rosner did not fully satisfy his curiosity about the differences in the issues emphasized in the Hebrew and English versions of the Ha’aretz newspaper.
“I wasn’t completely convinced by his answer to my question, but he could be right, and I thought his answers were well thought-out and interesting,” he said.
Rosner joined Ha’aretz in 1996 and was head of the News Division from 1999 to 2005. His articles are featured periodically in Slate Magazine’s “Foreigners” feature section.