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Jonathan Ferziger Awarded Robert St. John Chair

Jonathan Ferziger Awarded Robert St. John Chair

June 8, 2017

Leadership, Awards & Events, Social Sciences & Humanities

Bloomberg news reporter Jonathan Ferziger was awarded the Robert St. John Chair in Objective Middle East Reporting. Ferziger accepted the prize at Ben-Gurion University and gave a keynote address, “Truth Under Siege: Reporting in the Age of Alternative Facts.”

The American Ferziger has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for 27 years. Based in Tel Aviv, he writes frequently from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and has covered stories in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Persian Gulf.

Jonathan Ferziger, awarded the Robert St. John Chair in Objective Middle East Reporting, gives a talk on the journalist’s mission to tell the truth.

Weaving together personal anecdotes from a career with Bloomberg and United Press International that brought him to Tel Aviv by way of Saudi Arabia, Ferziger laid out some of his golden rules for journalism.

“The best journalism is about being there,” he said. “Seeing both sides of the equation. Getting out of your comfort zone. Suspending assumptions. Touching, tasting, being a witness to the unusual and the inaccessible. And then telling people about it.”

In the Middle East, however, that does not come without challenges Ferziger is quick to admit.

“How do you get inside a society or population that has values you oppose and may even detest? If you interview one of their leaders, can you shake his hand? And conversely, how do you avoid drawing a moral equivalency with the democratic societies whose values you share?

Robert St. John z”l

“You do your best. In the words of Carl Bernstein, The Washington Post reporter who broke the Watergate scandal: You strive for ‘the best obtainable version of the truth.’ You present the competing narratives, the subjective experiences, but you also fact-check the hell out of the information you gather. Facts matter.”

Ferziger also spoke about the dangers of working in the Middle East, especially for a Jewish reporter. He gave a brief tribute to several journalists who were killed, including Daniel Pearl, whose brutal murder had a great personal impact on him.

“Last year, 77 journalists around the world were killed and 259 were put in prison. 1,236 journalists have been killed over the past 25 years.” He announced that Bloomberg will match the St. John prize by making a $10,000 donation to the Committee to Protect Reporters.

“Freedom of the press cannot be taken for granted,” he said. “We as reporters can push back by fulfilling our role, by not retreating, by recommitting ourselves to our historic job of reporting objectively and being a check on the abuse of government power.”

The Robert St. John Chair in Objective Middle East Reporting was established by Robert St. John z”l in 1999. He and his wife, Ruth z”l, were longtime generous supporters of Ben-Gurion University. The selection of the prize recipient and keynote lecture provided by the award-winner is under the auspices of BGU’s Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy.

St. John, who died at age 100 in 2003, was an American author, broadcaster and journalist. He co-founded the Cicero Tribune (Illinois) and at 21 became the youngest editor-publisher in the United States. St. John later joined the Associated Press; in 1939, he moved to Europe to report on the imminent war overtaking the continent. The persecution of Jews that he witnessed gave him an enduring interest in Israel, Judaism and anti-Semitism.

As a Christian, “I promised myself I would live out my life trying to atone for the sins of my group” perpetrated on the Jewish people for 2,000 years. He moved to NBC broadcast news and went on to cover the Israeli War of Independence, the Eichmann trial and five  additional Arab-Israeli wars. He authored dozens of books about Jews and the Middle East, including biographies of David Ben-Gurion, Abba Eban and Gamal Abdel Nasser.