Special Interview a Hot ‘item’ at the UN

One of the “items” most in demand among the United Nations press corps is the spokesman for the Israeli UN Mission. Israel is almost always in the headlines and a good quote or a background explanation is almost a must. Besides, there are 21 spokesmen for the Arab states at the UN–in addition to the spokesmen for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Arab League–and fair, objective reporting requires the comments of the Israeli spokesman.

In the last three years a very familiar question among UN correspondents has been, “Did you see Tuvia?”–referring to Tuvia Saar, Israel’s spokesman at the United Nations, who is returning to Israel next week after a very engaging–and successful–term in office since 1975.

CRITICAL ROLE OF SPOKESMAN

Saar, 42, a well-known radio broadcaster and TV personality in Israel, said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he viewed the job of a UN spokesman as very “critical” because “politically Israel has no chances at the world organization.” The Arabs, he added, “have an automatic majority and they can pass almost any resolution. Therefore, Israel strives to use the UN as an international arena to explain its views and attitudes. And in that connection, the spokesman plays an important role. He is the instrument to convey Israel’s message to the public through the media. The task is invariably complicated since the Arabs have a sophisticated and elaborate propaganda machinery at the UN.”

Together with Ambassador Chaim Herzog, who is already back in Israel after representing Israel at the UN since 1975, Saar accepted the challenge of the Arab propaganda by increasing contacts with the media. “It was apparent that the media wanted information from us, but it was mutual. We were no less willing–in fact, eager–to give,” Saar explained. And with an articulate and witty ambassador as Herzog, he added, the job of “selling” Israel improved every day, with frequent press conferences, press releases and special interviews on radio and TV.

The collaboration between Saar and Herzog started a long way back, in the days prior to the Six-Day War. Saar at that time was in charge of all news coverage of the war on Israel Radio and he brought Herzog in as a commentator–a job that made Herzog a name in every Israeli household. When Herzog was appointed UN Ambassador he decided that the spokesman for the Mission must be a media personality. Saar was his choice.

MOST JOURNALISTS SYMPATHETIC TO ISRAEL

According to Saar, most of the correspondents at the UN–an assortment of world journalists–are sympathetic to Israel. “There are those who are hostile to Israel and do not conceal it,” he said, “but they are not many. Most of the correspondents–excluding the Arabs who were not talking to me–are understanding toward Israel in one way or another. But many of the journalists are required to write in the ‘spirit’ of their paper, which is not always pro-Israeli, although privately, they express deep support of Israeli policies.”

Saar said, in reply to a question, that there was no major change in the attitude of the Arab correspondents after Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem. “The only Arab correspondent that started talking to me was the Egyptian correspondent of Al Aharam. But the Arab spokesmen and reporters ignore me until today. After Sadat’s visit the Egyptian UN spokesman agreed to meet me at his New York apartment. We met for a conversation which was arranged by a mutual journalist friend.”

HIGHLIGHTS OF SERVICE OUTLINED

Asked about the highlights of his service, Saar said: “Off the cuff, I can say now that Herzog tearing to pieces the document equating Zionism with racism on the stage of the General Assembly was a very touching and exciting moment, although we prepared the full ‘act’ in advance. Another exciting moment was at the Security Council on the debate on the Entebbe rescue operation. The Arabs called the meeting to condemn Israel, but the end was that we prevented even the presentation of a resolution deploring Israel, and the Security Council adjourned even without considering a vote. It was a victory for justice.”

But there were, of course, many moments of frustration. “It was frustrating when Israel had a ‘good case’ but the automatic majority was simply against us. It was dismaying to see democratic, progressive countries voting against Israel, or simply staying in the hall in order not to participate in the vote,” Saar said.

Saar, who returns to work for Israel’s TV as a producer and moderator of a weekly political live show, admitted that in his view Israel does not allocate enough personnel and budget for information and propaganda at the UN. “The UN is an important arena and Israel has to utilize it to the maximum,” he observed.

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