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Mike Wallace, Israel, and the Jews – continued

Here are two more items to add to the “was Mike Wallace an Israel hater or self-hating Jew” debate that seem, insofar as the Eulogizer is concerned, to answer the question once and for all.

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In the Forward, CBS producer Barry Lando, who worked with Wallace for years, wrote an essay titled, “Remembering Mike Wallace, A Jew Unafraid of the Truth.”

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.

….But he always supported the ideal of Israel. In fact, after a particularly stormy interview with Menachem Begin in which Mike asked Begin what was the difference between PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Menachem Begin of the Irgun, which the British had labeled a terrorist group, Mike and the Israeli prime minister got into a heated (and absurd) discussion as to which of them loved Israel more.

Lando also quoted from a piece Wallace wrote for the book, I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl, which JTA ran: “I have long admired the courage and determination of the Israelis and sympathized with their yearning for a secure state,” Mike wrote. “I have similar feelings about the Palestinians. But I’m an American reporter, a Jew who believes in going after facts on the ground, as Daniel Pearl did, and reporting them accurately, let the chips fall where they may.”

But on a more personal, human level, an article by Ellen Klausner for the online magazine, The Awl, (hattip to Times of Israel and journalist Elli Wohlgelernter for bringing this item to my attention) told about how Wallace made a singular effort to notify Klausner’s parents, in the days before email and even good phone connections, that she was unharmed after a 1968 terrorist bombing in Jerusalem:

Suddenly, as if scripted from a Hollywood set, a figure appeared on campus and small groups of people moved towards him and his crew.

Curious, I joined the crowds and soon recognized a khaki-clad Mike Wallace. Mike was seizing the moment to interview those at the scene to report back to "60 Minutes." He was taking the "emotional temperature" of those who’d been witness to and traumatized by this tragedy for his later analysis of the impact this event would have on Israel’s future.

I didn’t know Mike, but we soon made eye contact, and he found his way over to me to ask where I was from and how I was doing. I told him I was a native New Yorker, had been in Israel for almost five months and, while I hadn’t been physically injured from the blast, I was concerned about how my family and my friends would react when they heard the news, most likely a few days from now.

Mike smiled, reassuringly, and took out his pencil and pad, and asked for my home phone number and contact information. He promised to call my family on his return to New York to tell them that I was fine. He then directed his crew to include me in the slow pan of students, so that in this week’s edition of "60 Minutes," my parents could see me and know I was okay.

They panned; I smiled for the CBS camera. Mike kept his word and called my parents in the next few days. To this day, my 93-year-old mother is a "60 Minutes" and Mike Wallace fan.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Follow the Eulogizer on Twitter @TheEulogizer

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