That man Regev: Israel’s Mr Tough Guy back in the picture

Nov 15, 2012

The government spokesman who even Paxman never tamed is back to put Israel’s case for attacking Gaza

HE'S BACK. The boxy face of Mark Regev returned to British television last night as Israel's chief spin doctor batted questions about his country's latest action in Gaza with the ease Don Bradman once swatted balls at Lord's.

Regev, who was educated in Australia, doesn't usually lose his cool. He had a rare brain snap during a memorable encounter with Jon Snow during the Gaza War of 2008-09, but since then he's slugged it out in polite, implacable fashion with a who's-who of interrogators. Even Jeremy Paxman failed to land a punch in 2009.

Last night's match-up with Channel 4's Matt Frei was benign in comparison: Regev, now representing Benjamin Netanyahu rather than his first boss Ehud Olmert, barely moved out of first gear as he defended his country's decision to kill Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari.

Regev was born Mark Freiberg in Melbourne in 1960, but became an Israeli citizen after emigrating there in the 1990s. His academic CV is impressive. He took a BA in history and political science at Melbourne University and holds MAs in political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in management from Boston University. Before venturing into PR, he taught international relations and strategy at the Israel Defence Forces' staff college.

The end result of all that education is a man The Guardian describes as the archetypal spin doctor, the Robocop of public relations. He makes Malcolm Tucker from television's The Thick of It look like a shrinking violet.

"If the men from Mars ever wanted to manufacture a PR man, they would model their robot on Regev," The Guardian says. "Viewers are reduced to a trance of slack-jawed amazement at what he is prepared to say with a straight face. He is unlikely to win sceptics to Israel's cause, but as a PR performer he is horribly compelling."

A friend, Joel Leyden from the Israel News Agency, says Regev is "not a bureaucrat, rather a finely tuned and dedicated PR professional" who can "easily take down anyone who tries to spin him or the State of Israel". And he can spit out "effective and potent sound-bites without sleep".

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