Dig deep for answers, Bernstein tells crowd at UF Hillel


Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 5:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 5:24 p.m.

Carl Bernstein spoke a simple message in Gainesville Saturday night: Knowledge is power.

The journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize at The Washington Post for uncovering the Watergate scandal was guest speaker of the Florida Loves Israel convention for college students. He addressed a group of about 120 students and members of the general public at the University of Florida Hillel.

Bernstein, 69, discussed media and politics, particularly as they relate to Israel. He self-identified as a secular Jew and said American Jews should be educated and active supporters of Israel.

But he cautioned his listeners to look beyond pamphlets they receive from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, and consider multiple sources to find facts on the state of Israeli life and politics.

He had a similar message for journalists and news consumers. Too many news sources aim to stir up controversy or pander to a political party, he said.

"What I've learned in 50-something years of reporting is we need information," he said.

UF freshman Daniel Milstein said it was inspiring to hear someone so experienced express support for Israel and for finding the truth.

"If that means going all the way to the bottom and looking at multiple sources, so be it," Milstein said.

Alyssa Baron, a UF sophomore and Florida Loves Israel director, said Bernstein warned convention organizers that he might stir controversy. An audience member spoke out during the question-and-answer session, objecting to Bernstein's characterization of AIPAC.

Baron said controversy isn't always bad, especially regarding Israel and the Middle East.

"It's a huge, complicated issue," she said.

About 120 college students from across Florida registered for the conference, she said. Accent Speakers Bureau chairman and UF senior Josh Holtzman confirmed that the student group contributed $15,000 to UF Hillel to bring Bernstein to the convention.

Bernstein answered audience questions and stayed after his talk to meet those in attendance, shaking hands and taking pictures as a crowd formed around him.

He half-apologized at one point for running behind schedule.

"I know it's late," he said, "but I'm really enjoying this."

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