world newspapers 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
What the heck is going on at Haaretz? If you believe some of the things being written about the paper on media Web sites here and abroad, it is nothing less than a political purge, a putsch, a deliberate weeding out of regular voices deemed too politically controversial.
Why? Because its target readership is no longer the left-wing intelligentsia and bourgeoisie, but the investor and entrepreneurial class that read (and advertise in) its successful sister business daily, The Marker, and prefer a Haaretz (in the words of one of its critics) "without Palestinians or the underprivileged."
As a result, according to this scenario, such writers as Meron Rappaport, Gideon Levy, Amira Hass, Danny Rubinstein and Akiva Eldar, who have focused much of their work on the Palestinian issue, have either been forced out, encouraged to leave the paper or have had their writing space reduced or marginalized.
In addition, reports recently circulated that the highly regarded social affairs reporter, Ruth Sinai, whose work has detailed the plight of the unemployed, was fired - and then had her dismissal rescinded this week.
These changes are being carried by Haaretz's new editor, Dov Alfon, who previously worked at The Marker under its boss, Guy Rolnick - widely regarded as the dominant editorial vision in the company - with the approval of publisher Amos Schocken, who now must also answer to the paper's German co-owners, DuMont Schauberg.
Both Alfon and Schocken have felt it necessary to respond to these charges, with the latter replying to the media Web site, The Seventh Eye: "I understand there are those readers who want Haaretz to look like a protest [manifesto] against the occupation - for example, Ashkenazi, secular and righteous, and focused on the occupation. But a newspaper is not a protest [manifesto]; it's a newspaper. By the way, Haaretz was against the occupation before Amira Hass and Meron [Rappaport], and it will be after them. And don't misunderstand me. I am certainly of the view that the occupation is Israel's most severe ailment, one that endangers its very existence. If it were possible, then, I would be ready to be the publisher of a newspaper that solely campaigned against the occupation till its end. The problem is that some of those protesting against the occupation also want to know what is happening in the shops of Comme Il Faut [a clothing chain]. So we were concerned that they wouldn't take out a subscription to the newspaper that I am prepared to be the publisher of."
Well, while I'm glad that Haaretz readers are keeping up fashion standards at rallies in their politically correct Comme Il Faut duds, this reads to me as a strikingly ambivalent declaration, with Schocken not quite denying some of the criticism that's been thrown his way by the Left.
Like all print media nowadays, Haaretz is struggling to keep and attract readers and advertisers, and some of the editorial changes seem to clearly reflect an effort to make the paper a little less heavy, including reducing and putting less emphasis on its most radical voices. There is only so much space on a news page, and if you start focusing more on economic, consumer and lifestyle issues, it's going to come at the expense of other fields, including politics and social affairs.
What makes these changes particularly significant at Haaretz is that there has long been a seeming contradiction between the paper's progressive stance on peace and security issues and its editorial support for free-market capitalism. But this viewpoint was all of a piece with the yekke (German-Jewish-Israeli) outlook that the Schocken family brought to the paper since purchasing it in the mid-1930s.
So, during the years when socialist-leaning Labor Zionism was this country's dominant ideology, both Haaretz's political and economic editorial lines, different as they were, could both claim to be counter-establishment.
No longer. The more laissez-faire economics, long advocated by business editor Nehemia Strassler and exemplified by The Marker's content, is now very much the outlook of the establishment, and given the increased editorial influence that publication is having on Haaretz as a whole, it seems inevitable it would bleed over to its news coverage and editorial line. That, I suspect, is why the reported near-firing of Ruth Sinai in particular raised so many red flags (so to speak), since her work focuses on the social repercussions of these economic policies - and it is understandable why the paper would seemingly backtrack on her impending dismissal (for the time being).
Let's try to keep all of this in perspective, though. Jerusalem Post pundit Caroline Glick will not be taking over Amira Hass' spot in Haaretz anytime soon, and I don't think that this paper is in danger of losing readers to its English edition as a result of this shift. But in Amos Schocken's own words, the paper that once did at times come off as a print version of a demonstration against the occupation is now trying out some new pieces in its editorial wardrobe, and it will be interesting to see how far this goes.