Late Bob Simon loved in Israel despite mixed journalistic record on Jewish state

CBS Journalist Bob Simon. Credit: YouTube screenshot.

The long-time CBS journalist Bob Simon, who was killed in a car accident in New York City on Wednesday, will be remembered not only for his versatile reporting career and his infamous 40-day captivity in Iraq in 1991, but also for his unique, and sometimes conflicting, history with Israel.

Simon, who was Jewish, had both a personal and professional connection to Israel. He had a house in Herzliya Pituach, where he lived and visited intermittently with his wife and daughter over the years. As a journalist in Israel, he covered everything from the Camp David peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the Oslo Accords, the Yom Kippur War, the Palestinian Intifadas, the Second Lebanon War, and the more recent conflicts between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. 

He also reported about the 1995 assassination of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, with whom he was friendly and often played tennis when in Israel. If Simon won, he would receive just a handshake from Rabin. If he lost, he would get an invitation to the prime minister’s home for a drink, which came with some good stories. True to form, as a journalist always in search of a scoop, Simon began to lose on purpose.

Simon offered the Israeli beach game Matkot as a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There’s no scoring, and they are hitting the ball ferociously at each other. It’s sort of a metaphor, the amount of aggression, the amount of noise, and it drives you crazy. There are no rules, no winners—and it never ends,” he said.

But Simon will also be remembered for a controversial 60 Minutes report he filed in 2012 titled “Christians of the Holy Land,” in which his coverage blamed Israel for a dwindling number of Christians in the Jewish state, while ignoring the fact that Muslim hostility to Christians was the main cause. He was also criticized for portraying inaccurate population figures, among other discrepancies and omissions.

Simon, however, had argued that he was more famous in Israel then he ever was in the U.S., a fact confirmed by people who knew him in the Jewish state.

“I do not know another foreign correspondent who was so popular in Israel. He was a talented writer, and person, and he was a legend even while he lived,” Hanani Rapoport, the chief executive officer at JCS Jerusalem Capital Studios in Israel, told Yedioth Achronoth in an interview translated from Hebrew.

After decades of brave reporting from war zones around the world, including in the Middle East and Israel, Simon was killed while riding in a livery cab in New York City on Wednesday. Like many passengers in such vehicles, he was not wearing a seatbelt, reported CBS News. His cab rear-ended another vehicle and crashed into the barriers separating opposite-lane traffic. Simon suffered serious head and torso injuries, and was pronounced dead at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital.

In a 2012 report on the city of Tel Aviv, titled “From Fear to Fortune: Tel Aviv’s Attitude,” Simon had reported on a city that he described as “bordered on all sides by danger,” where people know “not to worry about tomorrow.” Simon asked Tel Aviv Ron Huldai how he maintains such a positive attitude.

“If I look behind you, pointing to Gaza, there are hundreds of rockets, Katyushas pointing at Tel Aviv. If you look that way, there are thousands of missiles from Hezbollah pointing at Tel Aviv. How do you deal with that?” Simon asked.

In what has now become a deeply ironic and tragic answer, Huldai responded, “What else can we do? When you go out of your home in New York, you have the chance to get in a car accident.”

Posted on February 13, 2015 .