Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hawks & Doves
I rarely blog about other bloggers -- which flies in the face of the Intl. Blogger's Code of Conduct, I confess, moreover I virtually never opine on foreign affairs or matters of international importance unless it involves cross-cultural sexual misadventures or loutish barroom behavior.
But a recent entry in one of my favorite blogs, EastSouthWestNorth (link at left) regarding a Hong Kong journalist's run-in with the Israeli consulate was semi-familiar.
Summing it up: Suzanna Cheung is a freelancer for, among other publications a HK Chinese language paper called Hong Kong Economic Journal. She'd written an opinion piece criticizing the Israeli invasion of Lebannon that had obviously been translated into English for the Israel consul general in Hong Kong, Dan Ben-Eliezer.
Mr Ben-Eliezer was apparently not pleased and, according to ESWN, "went to pressure the Economic Journal editor to stop Cheung from publishing essays critical of Israel. ''
ESWN then translated her (polite, passionate and puzzled) response on her personal blog. It can be found here under "Suzanna Cheung speaks out."
It puzzled me a little because, I too had had a recent encounter with Ben-Eliezer regarding The Standard's coverage of Israel and Lebannon and at no time had he demanded anything.
Here's how that came to be and why I wonder if something got lost in translation between the HK Israeli consulate and Economic Journal and Suzanna Cheung.
(Note: This just in from Roland Soong at ESWN. "Pls note that the report about her is based upon an email sent to her from the Economic Daily editor, so there may be some distortions.she has lived in Canada, England and New York City, so that cannot be any doubt about her English skills.")
Ben-Eliezer's secretary, a woman with the improbable name of Ernie Yeun called The Standard about two weeks ago to ask for a meeting with someone at the paper regarding our Israeli-Lebannon coverage. Since the consulate obviously didn't read our masthead they called the Metro desk, which is manned by two Chinese editors who can't find Israel on the map. Since I'm currently the last gweilo standing on the Metro reporting staff, the call was transferred to me.
Lucky for Ben-Eliezer that:
1. I was desperate for any excuse to get out of the office.
2. I was once married to a Jew.
3. I had a Jewish girlfriend after her and once spent about 5 days there as the lone goy in an unoccupied retirement condo near Boca Raton, Florida owned by her mother where I got my young white bread-and-mayo ass generally kicked in shuffleboard and paddle tennis by 70 and 80-year old guys with names like Saul, Morty and Abe.
4. Beyond that I am reasonably conversant on Israel, Judaism, Zionism etc. I once subscribed to The Forward (a prominent Jewish US weekly) and know what a seder and a mezuza are.
4. I also know how newspapers work or don't work.
Ernie and I arranged a day and time and I dutifully showed up at the consulate's sealed bunker in some tower in Pacific Place. Security, as you might expect, was tight, very tight.
I went through a metal detector and two guards, including one who looked like he was sent straight from central casting as a Mosaad agent. It was to him that I surrendered my passport and virtually everything else on my person except my belt. As the Mosaad agent examined my passport for visas and entry stamps to Syria, Lebannon, Iran etc I was escorted into the consulate general's office, accepted a glass of water and began to schmooze.
Ben-Eliezer was very polite but obviously didn't have the first clue as to how The Standard works. And why should he?
But he'd done some homework. He had several issues of The Standard marked with yellow Sticky Notes. One was an editorial cartoon by our freelance cartoonist Gavin Coates decrying the death of the Road Map to Peace. The others were wire service stories, all of which emphasized the deaths of Lebannon civilians etc, though none could be construed as anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli.
Then I played my "Jewish card," (see above) asked him about his previous work as consul general in Nepal (not many residential Jews, about 15, but hundreds of scruffy, stones Israeli backpackers) and then I explained how The Standard had become a "Chinese paper with English characteristics" since the management upheaval last February and installation of a Chinese Editor-in-Chief with no prior experience on an English language newspaper.
I told him that it's a safe guess that our editor has no interest in or knowledge of Israel beyond the usual Chinese observation that I've heard more than once here that Jews are "very clever and rich." I told him that the editor-in-chief's primary interest seems to be to turn The Standard into an English language version of something like Economic Journal or our sister paper, Sing Tao Daily.
I also told him how wire service subscriptions work, described the personalities of the editors who made the decisions to place the stories, described how limited our wire services are, the difference between an editorial and a news story and suggested that he contact the editor-in-chief for the next consulate event/cocktail party and invite him under the pretext of pushing stories about Israeli business in HK and chat him up that way.
Ben-Eliezer took notes, thanked me and then I listened to his impassioned statement about Israel's right to defend itself. He also told me he was contacting every newspaper in Hong Kong that had printed stories or editorials that he thought were unfair.
I wished him luck.
When I returned I mentioned the meeting to our Focus page editor who said she'd be happy to run anything in the way of an editorial or letter that he'd care to submit. The result can be seen on July 29 on page A29 "Israel as 'unique opportunity' to advance peace in the Mideast."
He's happy, I assume. I was happy to get out and about and explain how things work on a small scale. At no time did he demand anyone print a retraction or be banned from writing or drawing cartoons, so I'm not sure what was really said regarding Suzanna Cheung.
When I mentioned my peace-keeping mission to the lone Jew working here (he's leaving next week) he laughed.
''The part about the Sticky Notes is a little sad,'' he said. ''He obviously has too much time on hands."
Postscript/update: Ms Cheung, in addition to just blogging about being mugged and robbed in Nicaragua while on assignment (brass ovaries, fer shure) has found time to post a clarification regarding her "ban."
Susanna Cheung is a freelance journalist.
And it should be Hong Kong Economic Times.
Thanks. Consider it corrected.
SCMP coverage of the UNFIL bombing was awful. It was a whine and appology demanding fest. I will write about some of that crap one day.
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