David Landau, one of the most brilliant and controversial English language journalists in Israel, died on Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 67.
Born in England and a product of London’s Golders Green, he was somewhat of an enigma. He had the broad shouldered physique of an athlete, loved to play football, was an almost stereo-typed British gentleman except when his hackles rose, and then he could be the exact opposite. He wore the black kippa of the ultra orthodox and inter alia studied at the Slobodka Yeshiva in Bnei Brak and the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem, yet entertained political views that were far removed from those of the right.
During the Six Day War, he worked as a volunteer intern at The Jerusalem Post,
after which he returned to England, completed a law degree at University College London and moved permanently to Jerusalem.
My first meeting with David Landau was in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War only a few months after I had made aliya. Together with other journalists we were both in a van supplied by the Government Press Office that was taking us towards the Suez Canal. We left Jerusalem soon after midnight and reached the desert just before dawn. Landau demanded that the driver stop and wait for him. Almost everyone in the van presumed that he needed to respond to a call of nature. However his reason for leaving the van was not physical but spiritual. After pacing through the sand, he stood some twenty meters ahead of us, wrapped himself in a huge talit, bound his tefilin to his arm and his forehead and began his morning prayers as the darkness gave way to the light. Standing there alone, he looked like some Biblical prophet. It was an extraordinary dramatic sight to behold.
On completing his conversation with his Maker, he got back into the van as if it was a perfectly normal occurrence for him to begin his day in prayer in the southern desert.
None of us could have imagined at that time that within five years Landau would become the first Israeli journalist to interview Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.
A diplomatic correspondent for The Post
for twelve years, he was simultaneously the Jerusalem Bureau Chief of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and maintained a separate JTA office in The Post’s building in Romema. He later became managing editor of The Post,
a position that he held for four years. Landau was a hands-on editor who also believed in sometimes giving more credit than was due. When Yitzhak Shamir was prime minister, he used to take a nightly constitutional around Rehavia and Talbiya. Security in those days was not what it is today, and it was quite easy for almost anyone in the street to approach Shamir and exchange a few words with him. Knowing that I lived only three doors away from the prime minister’s residence, Landau called me late one night and told me to run down the street and ask Shamir one question. There was no point in demurring with Landau; he was adamant. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable, I did as he had instructed, caught up with Shamir as he was walking along Balfour road, walked behind him and asked the question. He answered without even turning around. It was a single sentence and I rushed back home to telephone Landau and dictate it. The story was on the front page the following morning and it carried my by-line despite the paucity of my contribution.
The editorial offices of The Post
at that time were open space and Landau liked to walk past journalists as they were writing their stories and read what was on the computer screen. Sometimes he would get very excited about something someone had written and virtually jump up and down with glee as he praised the writer and juxtaposed a couple of paragraphs to add punch to the story.
By the same token if he was displeased with someone, they knew it immediately because he pulled no punches.
He liked to give book prizes to writers who had done particularly good work in any given month. The books came out of The Post
bookstore and weren’t worth much, but it was his way of showing appreciation and it was the best feedback that any writer on the paper could get.
When the paper was purchased by the Hollinger Group in 1989, its policy veered from the left to the right and there was too much interference from management. Landau tried to fight this, but when he realized that it was a losing proposition, he led a walk-out in 1990 and more than half of the editorial staff went with him.
Although he was writing for various publications from time to time, being a foreign correspondent was not quite the same as writing news on a daily basis for the Israeli consumer. Landau decided to set up competition for The Jerusalem Post
, and eventually found a willing ear at Haaretz
where he launched the publication’s English edition, serving as editor-in-chief from 1997-2004, and then for the next four years as Haaretz
editor in chief.
A year before leaving Haaretz,
Landau was the cause of both a political and a media storm when in the course of a dinner at the residence of the US ambassador he told then US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that Israel wants to be raped by the US in order to achieve a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.
Landau was the author and ghost writer of several books including Battling for Peace, the memoirs of Shimon Peres
. He and Peres knew each other well from the days when Peres was Foreign Minister.
Landau’s last book was The Life of Ariel Sharon
, a biography that had been commissioned by the prestigious New York publishing house Alfred A. Knopf. The book was published last year, and though already in deteriorating health, Landau was able to launch it at the Jerusalem Press Club.
Last year was a propitious year for him. He was given a lifetime achievement award by the Bnai Brith World Center which has an annual awards ceremony for journalism, and he received an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honors on the recommendation of British Ambassador Matthew Gould for services in advancing UK-Israel understanding and peace in the Middle East.
In an obituary published on the Haaretz
website, publisher Amos Schocken was quoted as saying that Landau had made an enormous contribution to the paper “as an enlightened Zionist intellectual, a liberal in the full sense of the word and a believing Jew.”
Landau is survived by his wife Jackie their three children and eight grandchildren.
Landau was scheduled to be laid to rest at 4:00 pm on Wednesday at the Har Hamenuhot Cemetery in Jerusalem.