Israeli TV anchor receives Ben-Gurion University award for Middle East reporting

The award's namesake, Robert St. John, was an unabashed non-Jewish spokesman for Jewish causes.

Yonit Levi (pictured) has received the Robert St. John Chair in Objective Middle East Reporting Award at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Credit: Courtesy.
Yonit Levi (pictured) has received the Robert St. John Chair in Objective Middle East Reporting Award at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Credit: Courtesy.

Israeli Channel 12’s longtime primetime news anchor Yonit Levi received the Robert St. John Chair in Objective Middle East Reporting Award at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s annual Board of Governors meeting on Monday.

“Quality journalism is the hallmark of a robust democracy, so it is our privilege to award Yonit for her professionalism and initiative over the past 20 years and especially the last couple of years, which have been especially challenging,” says Ben-Gurion University president, professor Daniel Chamovitz.

The chair’s namesake, Robert St. John, was born in 1902 in Chicago. He was drawn to journalism and the glamour of being a reporter, and driven by his morals, freedom of the press and the hot pursuit of a story. Over the course of his 70 years in journalism, St. John distinguished himself as a much-celebrated author, foreign correspondent and lecturer.

Robert St. John. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

His claim to fame as a Mideast specialist began in 1948, covering the war for Israel’s independence. St. John covered the Eichmann trial and five Arab-Israeli wars, including the 1982 Lebanon War when he was 80 years old and by far the oldest of the hundreds of reporters on hand. He wrote a dozen books about the Middle East and Judaism, including well-reviewed biographies of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and Israel’s first president, David Ben-Gurion. An unabashed non-Jewish spokesman for Jewish causes, he maintained close ties with the Jewish state until his passing at the age of 100. Ben-Gurion called him “our goyisher Zionist.”

Robert and Ruth St. John were members of the Ben-Gurion Society of Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU). The giving society’s members are lifetime contributors of $1 million or more, whose generosity provides the resources to strengthen and expand Ben-Gurion University as it faces the challenges of the 21st century.

Levi has been the primetime news anchor of Channel 12, Israel’s highest-rated television station, for the past 20 years. After starting in 2003 as the program’s co-anchor, she made Israeli television history by being the first woman in Israel to hold this position. She has also been a foreign news reporter for Israel Army Radio and Channel 12. Throughout her career, she has conducted interviews with a who’s who of world leaders, including numerous U.S. presidents—former President Barack Obama, who called her a “groundbreaking anchor”—along with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, former U.S. Secretary of States Mike Pompeo and Hillary Clinton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and international icons such as Bill Gates, Lin-Manuel Miranda and comedians Jon Stewart and Conan O’Brien. Since Oct. 7, she has become the face of Israeli news as she tackles the difficult reality professionally, with wisdom and sensitivity.

These same values are reflected in her weekly podcast with respected British journalist Jonathan Freedland of “The Guardian UNHOLY: Two Jews on the News.” The podcast discusses Israeli world affairs from a Jewish angle, and today hundreds of thousands of listeners from over 120 countries tune in weekly. It is a lively discussion between two veteran journalists, but it is also a trustworthy, in-depth and objective look at what is going on in Israel, especially after Oct. 7. The viewpoints of Levi and Freedland, one from abroad and one from Israel, provide the podcast’s audience with a wider and more complex picture of reality in broader historical, geopolitical, economic, Jewish and more contexts.

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By supporting a world-class academic institution that not only nurtures the Negev, but also shares its expertise locally and globally, Americans for Ben-Gurion University (A4BGU) engages a community of Americans who are committed to improving the world. David Ben-Gurion envisioned that Israel’s future would be forged in the Negev. The cutting-edge research carried out at Ben-Gurion University drives that vision by sustaining a desert Silicon Valley, with the “Stanford of the Negev” at its center. The Americans for Ben-Gurion University movement supports a 21st-century unifying vision for Israel by rallying around BGU’s remarkable work and role as an apolitical beacon of light in the Negev desert.
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