While news about the Middle East is regular fare in North America and Europe, most Asian countries shy away from reporting about Israel or Palestine, except for short news segments about war and uprisings. So when a local TV network in Taiwan, ETTV, sent a reporter and a camera crew to Israel in June to shoot a documentary-style travelogue, it was news in and of itself.
And when Taiwanese reporter and producer Claire Su arrived in Israel, she had no idea what to expect from her first visit to the Holy Land. She returned to Taipei with fond memories of the people she met there and an hourlong news program that recently aired on national TV in her home country.
I caught the show when it aired the other day in the States. I was channel-surfing on a Sunday afternoon, when I switched over to ETTV, a 24-hour Chinese-language news channel, and saw images of Israel with a reporter speaking Chinese. The reporter was talking to Israeli soldiers — male and female — and visiting a kibbutz farmer, attending a wedding, going the vegetable market in Jerusalem and walking along the beach in Tel Aviv.
Su interviewed ordinary Israelis who spoke about their love for their nation. The show was all in Mandarin, so this American could not understand, except when Israeli citizens spoke English on camera. But it seemed to be a well-presented and positive travelogue. I wanted to know more about how the show was put together and why the spotlight was on Israel.
So I contacted Anna Shen, media and public affairs officer at the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, who told me that the program had been well-received by viewers in Taiwan and that a rerun is now scheduled as well.
"Many viewers in Taiwan responded favorably to the news program, and it will be re-run again on the network," Shen said. "The show was written and produced by the ETTV crew and reporter, but the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs sponsored the camera crew and reporter's stay in Israel in June and provided them with some guides as well."
The Israeli trade office in Taipei is Israel's de facto government embassy in Taiwan, since communist China does not allow Israel to officially recognize democratic Taiwan as a nation — which also applies to how the U.S. and most other Western nations must operate in Taiwan.
Simona Halperin, the Israeli trade office's official representative, made an appearance in the program, speaking in English and explaining to viewers a few things about life in Israel from her perspective.
Visiting towns and cities all over Israel, from Haifa to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Claire Su showed Taiwanese viewers an Israel they probably never saw before — modern, bustling, full of interesting people and faces — and the show represented a different side of Israel than a nation constantly at war (as most news headlines and photos usually present it).
When asked if the Israel report represented her first visit to Israel, Su told me: "It was my first time to visit Israel. I'm a reporter and an anchor at ETTV station and have reported from many countries for my show, including nations in Asia, Europe and Africa — and even Antarctica once. So for me, nothing can really surprise me very much, but this trip to Israel really did."
"I have to say that I admire the Israelis," Su added, noting, "How they could rebuild their own country after almost 2000 years, how they can remain a strong nation in win several wars against their neighbors, and how they have created so many new technologies. The trip in June really inspired me a lot, both as a person and as a news reporter."
As to how she thought Taiwanese viewers felt about the show, Su said: "A lot of ETTV viewers have told me me that finally, through our show, they understand better the reasons for the regional problems that beset the Middle East, and that now they want to visit Israel themselves to see what I saw. As a reporter, I was really glad to hear that and so happy to introduce Israel to my Taiwanese viewers."
Su said that while some critics in her country criticize the local news media for its lack of international perspectives on global issues, she hopes that her Israel program can help the Taiwanese understand Israel's history, religion, the thoughts and feelings of its soldiers and the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
"Many people told our station that our show on Israel was the best one they've ever seen in any Taiwanese TV network about the Middle East," she added.
Su said she would love to go back for a second look.