Jewish reporter defends Israel coverage
From the BBC. As Tim Franks finishes his spell as the BBC's Middle East correspondent, he explains how his own background made it inevitable that some people would make certain assumptions.
First an admission: I am a Jew, and a journalist.
And now an apology: I hate the solipsistic writing I am about to be guilty of, where the journalist puts himself at the centre of the story.
But let me try to explain.
The reason for the admission is that my dual identity - Jew and journalist - has not just been a matter for me these past three-and-a- half years. From the start, it was of apparently burning import for a good number of friends, acquaintances and people whom I had never met.
That it was so, perhaps illuminates one small corner of the cloud of smog that envelops the Middle East.
There were those Jews from the synagogue in my previous posting, Brussels, who heard about my new job, clapped me on the back and said, "Thank goodness, at last you'll be able to put our side of the story."
The Middle East has become occluded by prejudice, prejudice in its literal sense of pre-judgement
There was the non-Jewish classmate from school - someone I had not exchanged a word with for 20 years - who emailed me out of the blue to commiserate over how difficult it would be for me in my new job not to have divided loyalties, to Judaism and to journalism.
And there was the non-Jewish friend of the family who declared, to one of my relatives, that my appointment had come about because of the pressure the previous Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, had applied to the director-general of the BBC.
And there are many who believe that, as a journalist, I am also guilty before I have broadcast a word: guilty of being in hock to the all-powerful Jewish lobby, guilty of being in thrall to the Palestinian culture of victimhood, guilty of stirring over-heated controversy out of every spit and whistle in this corner of western Asia.
The Middle East has become occluded by prejudice, prejudice in its literal sense of pre-judgement.
Too many people have unshakeable views of others. The label does not help identify the person. It becomes the person.
It can be a rather comforting deception.
Take the radioactive issue of refugees.
The West Bank's largest refugee camp is Balata - home to more than 30,000 Palestinians, wedged into concrete apartment blocks barely a shoulder-width apart.
Ask the young boys there - boys who are third, even fourth generation refugees, born in this camp - where they come from and, without missing a beat, they will still say Haifa or Jaffa or other cities deep within Israel, places that certainly they and probably their parents have never visited.
And so it was a shock to me recently when, in a hotel room in Amman, the Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, told me that the Israelis had to understand that part of any final deal involving the establishment of a Palestinian state would have to include the return of some Palestinian refugees to Israel.
Some. Not all, as the usual theology demands.