26 August '16..
The people at Haaretz don't understand how it happened. They could more or less accept subscribers abandoning them: The paper is the knight of conscience and those who cancel their subscriptions are crazy right-wingers, and shallow, of course. Sometimes the paper's response is more childish than condescending: Anyone who doesn't read Haaretz isn't worthy of reading Haaretz.
But such things are more difficult to say about journalist and author Irit Linur, who was their own flesh and blood, a woman of the Left who wrote a weekly column in the Haaretz weekend supplement.
In a letter to the paper's publisher, Amos Schocken, in which she explained why she had decided to cancel her subscription, Linur wrote: "After reading Haaretz daily for decades, I've reached the conclusion that you and I don't live in the same place. A growing number of the articles in your newspaper reek of foreign journalism that treats Israel like somewhere else, far off and repulsive. I feel that the State of Israel fundamentally revolts you. But that's it -- not me. I don't want to subscribe to a newspaper that tries in every way to make me ashamed of my Zionism, my patriotism and my intelligence, three qualities that are most precious to me."
In response, Schocken played the innocent: "It's odd to me that someone can say that Haaretz is an anti-Zionist newspaper, when in my eyes it is absolutely a Zionist paper and always has been."
Schocken has already had an opportunity to stand up for Haaretz's "Zionism." The paper held a "peace conference" in New York in which President Reuven Rivlin took part. Keen-eyed viewers noticed that after Rivlin's speech, the Israeli flag was removed from the stage. The explanation given to anyone who wondered why was that the flag had been removed following an ultimatum by former secretary of the PLO steering committee, Saeb Erekat. Shocken's "Zionist" reply: "What can you do? The President's Office asks that an Israeli flag be on the stage behind him. Erekat's bureau asks that an Israeli flag not be there when he speaks."
Linur's letter was followed by another blow for Haaretz, this time from an unexpected source: Jeffrey Goldberg, a veteran American journalist and prominent leftist, whom Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy calls "an enlightened liberal who represents the vanguard of U.S. Jewry, the liberals and intellectuals" -- just Haaretz's cup of tea. So what was Goldberg up in arms about?
It turns out that the final straw for Goldberg was an article in the Haaretz English edition that featured two Jewish-American historians. Both these women were disgusted by Israel and said they would never set foot in any pro-Israel synagogue, because they considered Israel to be "part of [the] Western colonialism" of which the U.N. is guilty by allowing the establishment of a "racist" state. The historians understand terrorists as merely expressing their anger and take a firm line against those who criticize the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement against Israel.
Something else that opened Goldberg's eyes was an op-ed by Levy titled "Yes, Israel is an evil state," which said that Israel is a state ruled by "pure evil. Sadistic evil. Evil for its own sake." In response to that article, Goldberg announced he was canceling his subscription, tweeting that "when neo-Nazis are emailing me links to Haaretz op-eds declaring Israel to be evil, I'm going to take a break."
When he was criticized for doing so, Goldberg replied, "I see. Criticism of Israel is allowed. Criticism of Haaretz is not." Goldberg added that nothing gives Haaretz the right to promote hatred.
Goldberg stressed that he consistently publishes criticism of Israeli policies on the occupation, the settlements, treatment of minorities, and so on. He said that his controversial tweet was about the paper publishing a writer who opposes Israel's very existence.
Someone like Levy couldn't let this go by in silence. He penned a column in which he pulled out the ultimate weapon: "The Goldbergs bear a heavy burden of guilt, because the occupation also continues because of them -- those who spread the lie of Israeli democracy and its liberal nonsense."
And to erase any shred of doubt, Levy was quick to explain that Israel is "one of the most brutal, tyrannical regimes that exist today."
Goldberg's crime was even greater than Linur's. Shocken at least expressed his regret that she canceled her subscription, but Levy was less forgiving: "Haaretz will manage without Goldberg," he decreed.
Blows from home
The echoes of the Goldberg scandal hadn't died down when the newspaper had to begin fielding more blows, this time from home. Uzi Baram, a notable left-winger who writes a regular column for Haaretz, came out strongly against Levy's serving as the voice of the paper. Baram pointed out the ebb in the number of Haaretz readers and said that "the paper isn't losing readers from the Right, but rather among those who identify as part of the Left. Gideon Levy and others believe that Israel is a country whose founding was a crime and continues that crime. But Haaretz readers don't want a newspaper that is ashamed of its Zionism and which believes that without boycott from abroad, Israel has no chance of changing its position."
This time, the hit was insufferable. How did Haaretz wind up with a critic who was one of its own? Or as Haaretz op-ed writer Uri Misgav scolded: "It wasn't a particularly polite act by a person who was privileged with a regular platform in the newspaper he is slandering."
Misgav then went on to chide Baram, saying that "Haaretz is a privately owned newspaper," and as such is not obligated "to meet the standards Uzi Baram or Jeffrey Goldberg set for it when it comes to Zionism or leftism."
And Schocken was once again called on to teach a lesson to a wayward son, calling Baram's view a "spiritual failing by an important left-wing figure."
The Haaretz publisher was mainly angry at Baram's claim that the newspaper's subscription base is dwindling. Schocken stated a figure that would make Israel Hayom or Yedioth Ahronoth happy. Even if Schocken's number is correct, it's deceptive, because it includes not only the subscribers to the daily newspaper, but also those who subscribe only to the weekend edition and the website subscribers. It's no wonder that Schocken is careful about citing the specific number of subscribers to the daily.
A piece of free advice for Schocken, Levy, and Misgav: Instead of complaining that the floor is slanted, they would do better to spare a moment to look in the mirror.
Prof. Asher Maoz is dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School.
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