PBS tours Israel through eyes of Netanyahu


PBS is providing a fair and even-handed view of Israel this week, as noted travel news journalist Peter Greenberg tours Israel with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on “Israel: The Royal Tour.”

The program debuts Thursday March 6 at 8 pm on Channel 13. It showcases sites handpicked by Netanyahu to convey his message and areas that have special meaning to him.

In the one hour film, Greenberg and Netanyahu traverse Israel from north to south and east to west by boat, helicopter, dune buggy and bicycle. They boat in the Red Sea and see the Dolphin Reef, walk and bike by Rosh Hanikra, raft down the Jordan River, and float in the Dead Sea.

Netanyahu shows off some of the hi-tech inventions at the Technion, displaying the modern side of Israel there and in Tel Aviv, but he also manages to convey lessons of Jewish history in Jerusalem and Masada. He also points out some Christian sites.

Netanyahu discusses the threat of terrorism to Israel and the world, stressing that “terrorism is international” and that “we want peace,” noting that will only happen if the Middle East “becomes democratic, liberal and free.” He emphasized that Israel must be strong militarily and economically because only the “strong can make peace” and that Israel will not compromise on its security and that peace is not possible without security.

“We’ve been here for 4000 years,” he said. In Israel you can see “the most amazing history and the most amazing future.”

On Masada, Netanyahu pointed out the Roman camps still visible from the mountaintop and the ramp the Romans forced Jewish slaves (not mentioned in the program) to build to conquer the few remaining Jews who rebelled against Rome on the top of Masada. Netanyahu noted that the defenders atop Masada committed suicide rather than be tortured, murdered or enslaved by the Romans.

He looked down at the remnants of the Roman camps noting, “We’re back and we’re here to stay.” In Jerusalem, Greenberg and Netanyahu visited the cemetery on Har Hazeitim, the Kotel and the Kotel tunnels.

The PM pointed out the longest, heaviest stone in Herod’s outer retaining wall and the area in the tunnel closest to the Holy of Holies.

One major error was not emphasizing that the holiest site to the Jews is not the Western Wall but the Temple Mount where Solomon’s Temple and then the second Temple, later built by Herod stood. (This point was clarified for Mr. Greenberg in an interview with The Jewish Star).

This is the fifth “Royal Tour” Greenberg has filmed. The others were Jordan, New Zealand, Jamaica, Peru and Mexico. “A diverse mix,” he said in an interview with The Jewish Star.

“The angle is the unprecedented access, to look at the country through the eyes of its leader.” He said that it was not viewed before airing by the prime minister or the government and the first time it would be viewed would be on Tuesday night at the premier in Los Angeles. Greenberg noted that it was screened now since Netanyahu is in the U.S. now; both Greenberg and Netanyahu will be at the premier.

Greenberg was born in Manhattan, went to public school and Bronx High School of Science. He is Jewish but said he had an “ecumenical background.”

He summers on Fire Island and is a volunteer firefighter there. He said that he has been visiting Israel as a journalist since 1970 and has covered events throughout the Middle East, notably, the Yom Kippur War, Camp David, Sadat’s assassination and has “been all over Israel.” He is currently working on five other countries for this series.

Each film requires about a year and a half involving research, planning, logistics, taking into account holidays, politics, weather and scheduling. He filmed in Israel now, he said since Israel is a “pivotal country at a pivotal time and the leader was willing and had the time and patience to do it.”

“The opportunity of dealing with a leader up close and personal” enables viewers to see him as a “human being, it humanizes the country and the leader” and makes the country “more accessible to the audience.” They are “exposed to a country as never seen before.”

When they see this type of programming and they want to learn more as a result, he said, then, “I’ve done my job.”

“We covered a lot of ground in 56 minutes,” said Greenberg.

“It was a great mix from the Mediterranean Sea to the (Negev) desert. We had a lot of fun. He said that he hadn’t been on a bicycle for years because of security. So we put the bikes on the road and jumped on and were racing and the security guards ran after us. We were having a lot of fun with them actually.”

Channels, dates and times for “Israel: The Royal Tour” — Channel 13: March 6, 8 pm; March 9, 12:30 and 7 pm. Channel 21: March 6, 9:30 pm; March 9, 10 am.