(photo credit: Courtesy)
After 71 years of publication, Hatzofeh, a paper identified with the Mizrahi and National Religious Party (NRP), will print its last edition Friday.
Shlomo Ben-Tzvi, a religious Zionist businessman who bought the paper from the NRP several years ago together with cosmetics mogul Ron Lauder, said through a spokesman that the move was part of cutbacks in the wake of the recent economic slowdown.
A year and a half ago Hatzofeh was merged with Ben-Tzvi's other paper, the weekly Makor Rishon. The merged paper was called Makor Rishon - Hatzofeh and turned into a daily. Hatzofeh was reduced to a weekend supplement on religious affairs. On Friday the supplement will appear for the last time.
"A strategic decision was made by the paper's management to devote resources to building up Makor Rishon," said Avi Lerner, a spokesman for Ben-Tzvi.
Lerner said that 11 employees would be laid off. He added that Makor Rishon would be expanding its content to include a mid-week supplement that would deal with politics.
Immanuel Shiloh, editor-in-chief of Be'sheva, a weekly that is identified with the right-wing segment of religious Zionism and was in competition with Hatzofeh, said in response, "It's really too bad that one of the few media platforms for religious people living in the modern world will cease to exist. Hatzofeh dealt with issues such as Orthodox feminism, separation of boys and girls in Bnei Akiva and various other halachic issues. Now discussion will be less diverse."
The demise of Hatzofeh can be seen as part of a larger trend in journalism. Newspapers with clear affiliation to a specific political party - such as Davar, Al Hamishmar and now Hatzofeh - are closing down. The papers that remain generally operate in accordance with business considerations.
"While it does represent a nationalist, right-wing constituency, Makor Rishon does not support any specific party," said Lerner.
The decision to close Hatzofeh comes just weeks after the NRP's central committee decided to disband the party and create in its stead Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish House) which aspired to incorporate the NRP and the National Union.
Shaul Schiff, a journalist who covered a variety of beats at Hatzofeh for the past 45 years, and who is one of the 11 to be let go, said that the demise of Hatzofeh is part of a larger phenomenon of political and social disintegration in the religious Zionist camp.
"Religious Kibbutzim are undergoing privatization, Bank Mizrahi was sold off, religious Zionist educational institutions are in financial straits, the NRP was dismantled and now this," said Schiff. "Today more religious Zionists vote for Likud than for the NRP and more of them read Yediot and Ma'ariv than Makor Rishon-Hatzofeh."
Schiff said the decline in social cohesion began with the death of Moshe Haim Shapira, who dominated NRP leadership until his death in 1970. "We have lost our uniqueness as a separate group within Israeli society with its own culture, ideology and religious approach. Instead, we ape secular culture," Schiff said.
Schiff attacked Makor Rishon for its secular leaning, pointing to the paper's entertainment section which provides criticism of movies and plays with content not suitable for a religious audience.
Hatzofeh was established by Rabbi Meir Bar Ilan and most of its readers were employed in institutions affiliated with Mizrahi or the NRP such as Mizrahi Bank, the Religious Kibbutz Movement, Bar Ilan University and Bnei Akiva schools.