The Israeli Ambassador is a terrifying, ruthless professional
The world’s best answerer of charged questions spoke engagingly for ten minutes without saying anything.
Cold, committed and unsettling, but highly professional.
After having all of my stuff searched and ID checked, I was led into a room that had 5 or 6 bodyguards and a small, bald PA stood in a circle around two chairs. The ambassador was sitting on one of them staring up at me like Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada.
‘Ten minutes, no longer yeah’ muttered the PA in a passive-aggressive tone that made me feel like a serious inconvenience.
I started by thanking the Ambassador, Mark Regev, for coming and for being kind enough to do the interview. He waited for a period that was short enough to be polite but long enough to be unsettling before giving me any response. It was subtle nod that said ‘go on’. Firstly I asked him what it meant to be a spokesman. Was it fair to characterise the role as being a ‘professional punching bag’ for journalists?
A pause, again, as he both considered his answer and gave me time to notice how close all of his bodyguards were.
‘That’s one part, definitely’ He explained. ‘The other big part is just to brief journalists, explain thinking and policies by the Israeli government, which is just as important’.
There’s an interview from a couple of years ago on Channel 4 News where Jon Snow challenged him really hard on the death of some boys running on a Gaza beach as a result of Israeli bombing. The Youtube video is titled ‘Jon snow annihilates Israeli Spokesperson Mark Regev’. While I wasn’t sure if that was an entirely accurate representation, I wanted to find out what he thought.
‘That famous John Snow appearance, how do you think that went?’ Again, the long pause.
‘As a spokesman I look forward to a tough interview, it’s a professional challenge. I respect the right of the press to ask me the critical questions’
Expecting him to get to the question, I waited.
‘British Media and Israeli Media are very similar in their critical media culture. It is very good for the democracy in both or our countries. Criticism in the British Media is often skewed howver because the societies that we are in conflict with don’t have free media. I’ll give you an example – Walk down the street in Israel, and if you talk to ten different people they’re likely to tell you ten different things about what they think of the Israeli PM, many negative.
Walk down the street in Gaza, and you won’t hear them do anything but praise the Palestinian leadership and Hamas, while emphasising how awful the Israeli government are to them. They’ve been intimidated by local forces into never speaking out. This means that the media focuses on negative perception of the Israeli government, as they are unable to access the same criticisms about Palestinian leadership. I hope it changes.’
I nodded that I understood and that this made sense, and tried to bring it back to the original question. ‘How did you think that interview went?’
‘I’m not going to comment on a specific member of the press that would be unprofessional’
He then re-explained the media skew process, just as clearly and slowly. I moved on.
‘You’re a political servant, that means that you’re apolitical right?’
‘So has there ever been an incident, and I would never ask you to specify, but has there ever been an incident where you have had to defend something that you didn’t agree with, where you’ve hesitated?’
He explained that it wasn’t as simple as this. As a spokesman you sit in all of the meetings that the prime minister sits in so you understand the decision-making and can appreciate why every decision has been reached.
I was notified that the interview was over by his nervous looking aide who had been staring at his watch for the whole experience, and swiftly ushered out of the room.
His genius seems to be an ability to give the sense that he has answered almost any question, without actually revealing any of the information that he arrived in the room with the intention of revealing.