The story goes that when someone remarked of Herbert Morrison that he was his own worst enemy, Ernest Bevin responded, “Not while I’m alive he ain’t”.
I sometimes think that the reverse of that is true with Israel and the media. Those of us who battle to make Israel’s case over the cacophony of hostility which characterises coverage of the Middle East are sometimes — if I’m being honest, often — reduced to apoplexy at the self-defeating behaviour of the Israeli government.
Israel has many enemies in the media, but more often than not it is its own worst enemy.
Take Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit to London. Whatever one thinks of his politics, Mr Netanyahu has one supreme skill: he is a superb advocate. He can present his, and Israel’s, case in English with an eloquence which few other Israelis (other, perhaps, than Israeli spokesman, Mark Regev) can match. So you’d think that at a time when visceral hostility to Israel is something close to the default position of much of the media, Mr Netanyahu might have stirred himself to do something about it.
Not a bit of it. The Israeli leader was begged — begged, I tell you — by TV programmes, newspapers and interviewers to put Israel’s case. Newsnight wanted to speak to him. Sky, ITV, Channel Four. Every newspaper. We wanted perhaps 15 minutes of his time; 15 minutes in which he could put direct to the British public the other side of the story. But did he care? Did he think it worth doing just one interview — spending 900 seconds of his three days in London to speak on the record to a single newspaper or TV programme?
You know the answer, because you never saw him on any of them.
I use the phrase “on the record” advisedly, because he did have one meeting with the media. He held an off-the-record meeting on Monday, with representatives from the main news outlets. I was there, and I’d love to be able to tell you what he said, but because the meeting was off the record, I can’t.
Quite why he refused to spend a second of the three days he was in London speaking on the record, other than a blink-and-you-missed-it stage-managed press conference after seeing Gordon Brown, which was watched live by the three people in the country who watch rolling news channels in the middle of the afternoon, is beyond me. Israel is under daily assault in the British media. One of its most persuasive advocates is in town. You’d think it was a no-brainer.
But so determined was Mr Netanyahu’s office that not a word of his activities in London was publicised that they would not even allow a picture to be taken of his meeting on Tuesday with 15 community leaders. What did they think would happen if the world got to see a snap of Binyamin Netanyahu shaking hands with Vivian Wineman?
The truth of it is that for all they moan about coverage of the Middle East, they don’t actually care. They don’t care if Brits end up thinking they are warmongers. They don’t care if they are losing the PR war. And they don’t care if those of us who do care are left fuming at their willful refusal to do anything to help us counter Israel’s appalling image.