Israel Taps Journalist to Cover Pope’s Visit, Promote Tourism

The Portugal-born reporter says he sees no ethical problem in producing a campaign for a government agency.

Nati Toker
Nati Tucker
Pope Francis and President Shimon Peres exchange greetings during a private meeting at the Vatican, April 30, 2013.
Pope Francis and President Shimon Peres exchange greetings during a private meeting at the Vatican, April 30, 2013.Credit: Reuters
Nati Toker
Nati Tucker

The Tourism Ministry is paying 215,000 shekels ($61,800) to a Portugal-born, Israel-based journalist for 14 filmed news reports on Pope Francis’ visit to Israel in May. The ministry plans to use the footage to promote tourism to the country.

The reports by journalist Henrique Cymerman will be broadcast on Catholic-oriented television stations and websites around the world.

Some of Cymerman’s reporting in recent years has aired on Channel 2's Friday evening “Ulpan Shishi” program. He currently works with television stations including i24 News, a Jaffa-based multilingual channel funded by French-Israeli businessman Patrick Drahi.

Sources at the Government Advertising Agency, which is coordinating the tourism campaign, said Cymerman had contacted Pope Francis and the Argentine-born pontiff’s close friend from Argentina, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, about the project. Skorka has been invited by the Vatican to fly to Israel with Pope Francis.

Cymerman’s reporting will be produced in English, Spanish and Portuguese and cover preparations for Francis’ arrival as well as the visit itself.

As a state-run entity, the Government Advertising Agency would normally be required to invite bids for covering the pope’s trip. The agency, however, sought an exemption so it could use Cymerman based on his potential to spark comments from the pontiff that could promote tourism to Israel. Cymerman also reportedly has other footage on the pope and Skorka that the Tourism Ministry could use.

Cymerman said he saw no ethical problem in his agreement to produce a campaign for a government agency. It’s not a tourism campaign, he said, adding that he was keen to foster good relations between the pope and the Jewish people and Israel. He said the government connection would not affect his ability to cover the visit properly.

Pope Francis will visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Amman in May, his first trip to the region as pontiff. The May 24-26 trip marks the 50th anniversary of the visit here by Paul VI in 1964, the first by a pope in modern times. Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and Benedict XVI in 2009.

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