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The Downfall of Haaretz

The Tower rings the death knell

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Just over two years ago, Haaretz was the subject of a hefty New Yorker piece by David Remnick (it’s no longer behind a paywall). The doorstop of a profile covered the history of the storied newspaper, its status as the go-to read for American Jews, Arab diplomats, and Israeli journalists, and lastly, its health, which (like many printed stalwarts) was beginning to deteriorate in the age of the internet. As Marc Tracy noted at the time:

One thing that threatens Haaretz is one thing that threatens Israel: The nation’s increased tribalism. “The secular, liberal readers who are willing to pay more than eight hundred dollars a year for a subscription live mainly in the greater Tel Aviv area and have a modest birth rate,” Remnick reports. “The settlers read Makor Rison, and the ultra-Orthodox read Hamodiya. ‘Middle Israel’ reads Maariv, which is declining; Israel Hayom, a free tabloid that is owned by the right-wing casino magnate Sheldon Adelson; and Yedioth Ahronoth.” Two Jews, three newspapers. The other problem, of course, is that the paper’s center-left outlook, so in-tune during the heady optimism of the early ‘90s, seems out-of-touch after the Second Intifada.

This week, in the inaugural edition of The Tower, a magazine funded by the Israel Project, Erez Tadmor sounded Haaretz‘s death knell–something some of us have doing incrementally over the past few years.

One culprit The Tower avoided naming was Sheldon Adelson’s free daily Israel Hayom, which now controls over 40% of the market and has driven the cost of print advertising down in Israel. To make up the shortfall, the Haaretz staff (as well as that of Maariv) has been cut and the quality has greatly suffered. Once known for its bold reporting, scandals plagued the paper, including a recent story in which columnist Amira Hass essentially condoned Palestinian rock-throwing. Tadmor posits this:

Alongside the financial crisis and the wide-ranging cuts in staff and salaries, many Haaretz employees believe there is an additional reason for the paper’s decline in quality: A strategic decision by editor-in-chief Aluf Benn to refocus the elite paper to reach a much wider audience in order to maximize traffic, and the attendant advertizing income. “Aluf Benn’s managerial strategy,” says another source inside Haaretz, “is that the paper, and the website in particular, should publish stories that are as bold and provocative as possible. Everyone knows that publications like Yediot Aharonot or YNet [Yediot’s online edition] do this, but in the past Haaretz had different norms.” In the source’s view, the publication of the controversial Amira Hass piece was a deliberate attempt to draw traffic through sensational reporting.

The various reactions to Haaretz‘s recent troubles have ranged from schadenfreude and outright glee to dismay and sadness. Whether you’ve agreed with Haaretz’s editorial outlook, the importance of the paper in the Israeli discourse is worth noting. And the narrowing of conversation (some of recent Haaretz work included) is a bad thing for everyone.

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Haaretz killed itself. It’s not a shortage of secular liberals (there were enough of them to make Yesh Atid Israel’s 2nd biggest party in the last elections), but it’s Haaretz’s distinct shift to the far left in the early ’00s.

An internal power struggle that escalated after the collapse of the Oslo Process in 2000 ended with center-left journalists (like former editor Hanoch Marmeri) and subscribers leaving Haaretz. Hass, Gideon Levy and Benny Tzifer took control and created a paper whose tone can no longer be compared to the NY Times, rather a mix of Village Voice and The Nation, with a dash of NY Magazine’s upper middle class liberal’s consumerism – not mix that works well on a national scale, anywhere.

    Danp359 says:

    Anyone who has read any voting analysis of the most recent Israeli election knows that what made Yesh Atid the 2nd largest party was not the votes of “secular liberals.” It was the votes of secular Israelis tired of economic disparities and the power held by special interests. Regarding the Palestinians, Yesh Atid’s leader and most of its voters could not be characterized as “liberals.”
    Anyone who reads Haaretz knows that it is nothing like The Nation or the Village Voice. And its consumerism is no worse than that of the NY Times with all it’s lifestyle supplements.

ginzy1 says:

Like the NY Times to which it strove to ape, Ha’aretz has long suffered from an intellectual honesty deficit. A few examples:

a) The English edition regularly mis-translates key words and phrases from the Hebrew edition so that an article or opinion piece will fit the far left-wing agenda by use of the “correct” terminology, regardless of whether or not it’s correct. Media watchdog organizations like CAMERA & have extensively documented this practice.

b) While editor in chief during the early years of the Oslo Accords War, Hanoch Marmeri committed the grave sin of forcing Gideon Levy to include in his column the IDF’s response to his accusations. When Marmeri’s stint ended and was replaced by David Landau, the requirement ended.

c) About 13-15 years ago Amira Hass (of sanctioning rock throwing fame) published an article that falsely slandered the Jewish community in Hebron (so what else is new?). For a change, the community decided to fight back and sued for libel. Haaretz didn’t even bother to send a lawyer to the hearing to attempt a defense and so the community won a nice-sized (by Israeli standards) award from Ha’aretz which they paid. Keep in mind that the best defense against a libel charge in Israel is that the defendant wrote / spoke the truth.

d) Ex-editor in chief Landau admitted that he would manipulate news stories in order to benefit the “correct” (translation: “far left”) point of view.

e) An important concept in Israeli political media discourse in the “Etrog”. The term was coined by Amnon Abramovitch (another intellectually dishonest Israeli journalist) to mean someone in the news about whom there are suspicions of corruption or incompetance, but who is advancing polices favored by the left (e.g., Arial Sharon & the destruction of Gush Katif). When corruption suspicions arose about then-PM Ehud Olmert, a number of Haaretz columnists carried on a debate on the paper’s OpEd pages on what Olmert would have to do to merit the coveted “Etrog” status by the paper.

f) Ha’aretz rarely, if ever, corrects factual errors, when the correction would compromise the left wing ideology which guides the paper. In particular, when ex-editor David Landau was pressed by CAMERA to correct some factual errors he responded that he will not do so because CAMERA is a “right-wing” organization.

There are others, but I do have to return to work.

Any paper that pays a salary to Gideon Levy or Amira Hess (or Roger Cohen for that matter) deserves to fold. I sincerely hope they do. Ironically enough, what helps keep Haaretz afloat is that they print some right-wing / national orientation papers like “B’Sheva” and (I believe) “Makor Rishon”.


J’lem / Efrata

    Danp359 says:

    “Any paper that pays a salary to Gideon Levy or Amira Hess (or Roger Cohen for that matter) deserves to fold. I sincerely hope they do.”

    This part of your posting, that reveals your agenda, is the only part of what you wrote that is honest. The sources you quote are all Far Right and discredited sources. As for the Jewish settlers of Hebron is ridicuous beyond belief. (Anyone can just look on YouTube if they want to see the true face of these hateful people who bring shame on Israel).

    LtcHoward says:

    I agree fully with you and have my files many many examples of Ha’aretz lying to the detriment of Israel and to the detriment of the truth. I believe that they are the worst newspaper in Israel. I have debated liberal rabbis who are more dedicated to left-wing feel-good Judaism then they are to the Torah. For them,Ha’aretz is their window on the world. It is been a long time since we discontinued paying for subscriptions to Ha’aretz.

fred lapides says:

2 words: amira hass

brian2907 says:

Anyone who loves Israel, whether they be from the Left, Right or Centre, should rejoice if this rag does fold. Its deliberately lying stories (such as forced contraception or most Israelis are racists) are picked up with glee by Israel’s enemies and repeated ad nauseum even when Haaretz has been forced to retract.

Haaretz will likely continue to thrive as Israel’s only source of truly consistent rigorous news reporting and robust editorials. Needed now more than ever by all of us!

Danp359 says:

It’s very disappointing to see Tablet lending a hand to the blatant attempt of the Extreme Rightist Im Tirtzu group to dicredit (and no doubt ultimately to silence) Haaretz.

Haaretz has suffered from the afflictions of all printed newspapers in the internet age and, like the NYT and other outlets, has laid people off and been forced to look for as many other sources of income as possible in order to survive.

The notion that its journalistic quality has suffered is a matter of opinion. But to read Adam Chandler repeating this as if it’s obviously true, with no evidence whatsoever, is quite surprising. Certainly, in an era of unparalleled complacency regarding the Occupied Territories among middle class Israelis, Haaretz has found itself more and more a voice in the wilderness. And that has the Right fired up more than ever.

Im Tirtzu (the Far Right nationalist group of which Erez Tadmor is a founder) is best known for its attempts to silence the New Israel Fund and other liberal organizations with which it disagrees, in particular human rights organizations (and even the right of the Palestinians to mourn their own misfortunes) . Now it appears to have set its sights on Haaretz. You can read all about Im Tirtzu’s activities on Wikipedia

Chandler unquestioningly repeats Tadmor’s idea that somehow there has recently been “scandal after scandal” at Haaretz. Haaretz though, and in particular Hass and Levy, have always been hated with a vengeance by the Right in Israel, that finds their writing to be scandalous and traitorous.

There’s nothing new in this: Hass has been writing for Haaretz for more than 20 years, for many of those years writing as an Israeli Jewish journalist living in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip who talks about life under occupation and tries to present the opionions of those living there. This very fact of course, whether you agree or disagree with her views, makes her Traitor #1 in the eyes of many on the Right. And Gideon Levy, who has been writing for Haaretz for more than 30 years, often speaks in the tone of a prophetic voice in the wilderness, who is extremely critical if Israelis and their attitudes towards the Palestinians. And for this, he’s also a hated figure on the Right.
The idea that these two well-known Haaretz journalists, who have been writing the same stuff in the paper for decades, are somehow responsible for the paper’s more recent financial woes is nothing short of propaganda. Propaganda repeated in Tablet.

    herbcaen says:

    thanks. You inspired me to make a financial contribution to Im Tirtzu

      Danp359 says:

      I doubt it. However, Im Tirtzu actually did inspire me to make a large financial contribution to the New Israel Fund a couple of years ago. Probably not as much as Im Tirtzu got from John Hagee Ministries, before they decided that Im Tirtzu was too disgusting even for them (and had lied to them about its activities).

      Danp359 says:

      I doubt it. However, Im Tirtzu actually did inspire me to make a large financial contribution to the New Israel Fund a couple of years ago. Probably not as much as Im Tirtzu got from John Hagee Ministries, before they decided that Im Tirtzu was too disgusting even for them (and had lied to them about its activities).

LtcHoward says:

HARRETZ Is very damaging to Israel. They repeatedly lie and fail to correct. Their English version, which is widely quoted throughout the world, differs materially from the Hebrew version to the detriment of Israel. They are very left wing. This story gives me a calibration of the quality of materials that Adam Chandler presents. Your editors should be very cautious in utilizing his services.

herbcaen says:

Watching Haaretz die is like watching a tumor melt away after chemotherapy and radiation. Kapos betrayed Jews to the Nazis often under duress of physical punishment to themselves or family members, Haaretz betrays Jews to modern day Nazis for fame and fortune. Which is worse?

    Danp359 says:

    Your comment, that Haaretz is comparable to the Nazis, says more about you than about anything else.
    And Harb Caen would be turning in his grave to imagine his name being desecrated by someone making such vile and disgusting comments.

mark korolnek says:

As a foreigner it is not my place to enter into a deep analysis of Haaretz’s good points and bad points but I can say that the war that goes on in North American newspapers every day about the legitimacy of Israel’s positions is made that much more difficult when the opposition begins each letter by quoting something awful from Haaretz.

Danp359 says:

Whether calling other Jews kapos (or Nazis) is appropriate is, indeed, something that readers will be able to determine. However, among the vast majority of Jews, calling other Jews Nazis or kapos is regarded as beyond the pale of decency.


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The Downfall of Haaretz

The Tower rings the death knell

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