Time honoured: Israeli PM revels in his star status

Unsurprsingly, delighted aides to the Prime Minister distributed the article to Israeli journalists

Donald Macintyre
Saturday 19 May 2012 00:00

In a brilliant essay aptly called "Doing Time", the great radical American journalist Andrew Kopkind once described working as a 26-year-old in the magazine's Los Angeles bureau during the early Sixties. Such was the clout of the title, he noted, that a trivial enquiry to the press office of some great corporation would be taken so seriously that its CEO would immediately cross town to speak to the reporter in person.

Time may no longer be held in such high regard as it was then. But it evidently still exercises a unique pull for the powerful – including the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who this week granted the magazine's managing editor, Richard Stengel, unrivalled access and secured a highly flattering 4,200-word cover story in the process.

In a week that the annual BBC poll in 22 countries found that Israel was seen as exercising the third most negative influence on the world, after Iran and Pakistan, but tieing with North Korea, Time has no doubts about its Prime Minister's authority – or the influence he also wields in the US.

The man who this month dramatically expanded his coalition is, "poised to become the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister since David Ben Gurion... He has no national rival... With his bullet-proof majority he has a chance to turn himself into the historic figure he has always yearned to be. He has become, as some commentators have dubbed him, the King of Israel."

Articles such as Mr Stengel's of course not only reflect but also help to generate the BBC poll finding that only in the US has Israel's popularity actually risen, with 50 per cent saying they view it positively. Mr Netanyahu, he writes, "would like to be a hero but he will not be one at the expense of Israel's security. His ambition and now his security as Prime Minister, though, may let him take that risk. Of the Palestinians he says: 'If they figure it out, they will never have a better partner than me. I can make it happen and make it stick'."

Mr Stengel accompanied the Israeli leader to a Moroccan Jewish celebration in the working-class town of Or Akiva, and then to a business magnate's lavish party in Caesarea, before interviewing him for two and half hours the following afternoon.

Unsurprisingly, delighted aides to Mr Netanyahu distributed the article to Israeli journalists. But in a waspish piece in the Israeli daily Haaretz, diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid wrote yesterday that, "no Israeli journalist has been given such access to the Prime Minister in the last three years and none is likely in the next three years, either".

Certainly, the Prime Minister's senior adviser Ron Dermer sets great store by fostering contact with sympathetic opinion informers in the US. But an official in Mr Netanyhau's office said yesterday that leading Israeli commentators "routinely" have access to the Prime Minister for background briefings.

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