The Jerusalem Post's unwavering mission

Past editors-in-chief recall special moments and special people they encountered that exemplify the breadth and scope of the paper’s mission, which remains as unwavering today as it was in 1932.

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December 1, 2017 14:59

The Jerusalem Post celebrates its 85th birthday

The Jerusalem Post celebrates its 85th birthday

In the first issue of The Palestine Post, published on December 1, 1932, founder and editor-in-chief Gershon Agron wrote: “The Palestine Post will not seek to promote personal ambitions or party advantage.

Its reports will be as objective as is humanly possible, and its criticisms informed, legitimate and helpful.”

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In the 85 years since, through the establishment of the State of Israel, a name change to The Jerusalem Post, wars, terrorism and social upheaval, a sterling array of editors-in-chief who followed Agron – Ted Lurie, Lea Ben Dor, Ari Rath and Erwin Frenkel, N. David Gross, David Bar-Illan, Jeff Barak, David Makovsky, Carl Schrag, Bret Stephens, David Horovitz, Steve Linde and Yaakov Katz – have steadfastly remained committed to his lofty aims.

As Katz wrote last year, “The history of The Jerusalem Post is a story that in many ways reflects the history of the State of Israel, a tale of an ancient people that returned to its homeland, established a state, and not only survived but prospered. The Post has been there to tell this story since the beginning.”

At the paper, we are proud to celebrate our 85th anniversary of excellence in journalism, years during which we have always striven to provide the most updated and factual news that we can, enhanced with perspectives from across the political spectrum. Those perspectives might not always align themselves with what readers may believe, but that is our purpose – to help educate, enlighten and of course to tell stories.

We have flourished – both in print and, in recent decades, digitally – mostly because we stick to our principles and provide balanced reporting, thought-provoking analysis and hard-hitting commentary on Israel and its challenges.

In the following pages, some of the Post’s past editors- in-chief will recall special moments and special people they encountered that exemplify the breadth and scope of the paper’s mission, which remains as unwavering today as it was in 1932 when Agron signaled to the pressman to start printing that first, historic issue.



A paper whose influence outstrips its circulation
Jeff Barak

Jeff Barak, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post between 1996 and 2002.


The biggest news story during my stint as editor- in-chief of The Jerusalem Post was undoubtedly 9/11. And I missed it. I was stuck in Berlin, having traveled to the German capital to attend the gala opening of the Jewish Museum two days earlier.

As the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, I was in a taxi on my way to interview then-German foreign minister Joschka Fischer. By the time I made it to his office, all his staff were glued to the television, watching the second plane fly into the South Tower. Fischer briefly stepped out of his office, looked at me, and said in English: “This is a declaration of war,” and then returned to his inner sanctum.

There was never going to be an interview that day.

So there I was, stranded in Berlin with no way of returning to Israel, as all flights into the country had been canceled, the biggest story of the century unfolding, and I didn’t even have an interview with the foreign minister to show for my travels.

It was up to my managing editor, Avi Hoffmann, to produce one of the Post’s iconic front pages.

The reason for mentioning this story in an 85th anniversary celebratory edition of this paper is that it highlights just how highly regarded the Post is within the world of international affairs. I doubt there are any other papers in the world with a daily print circulation of 25,000 (at that time) that could secure an interview – even it if never took place – with the German foreign minister.

The roots of this success go all the way back to the paper’s founder, Gershon Agron, and his vision of The Jerusalem Post being the world’s window to Israel. During the years of the British Mandate, Agron understood the importance to the Zionist cause of having an English-language newspaper providing a daily narrative of life in Palestine, as seen from the Yishuv’s (pre-state Jewish population’s) perspective, aimed at the British civil servants, foreign diplomats and international correspondents working in the country.

When editing this paper many years later, I was always conscious of Agron’s vision and felt very strongly that the paper should attempt to reflect the variety of opinion inside Israeli society and not be strongly partisan to the Left or the Right.

This came in direct contrast to my predecessor in the editor’s chair, the acerbic-with-pen-in-hand and charming-in-person David Bar-Illan, who took the paper sharply to the Right.

The Post’s strength lies in its ability to portray to the outside world, both Jewish and non-Jewish, the vibrancy of daily life in Israel. As the country’s only “organic” (as opposed to translated) English-language newspaper, the Post has a responsibility to represent the full spectrum of political debate within the nation and not simply act as a cheerleader for one side or another. There are plenty of Hebrew-language papers and websites that do that; the Post has a different and more important role to play.

The writer was editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post between 1996 and 2002 (with a sabbatical year during 1999-2000).

Building bridges
Carl Schrag

I always knew I’d be drawn to The Jerusalem Post, but the impetus for my first visit to the newsroom, in September 1986, was tragedy – a terrorist attack in the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul, where I’d visited a few weeks earlier.

Upon hearing of the attack, I wrote a short reflection and hopped on a bus to deliver it to the editors in Romema.
I introduced myself to an editor, Joanna Yehiel, in the hall, handed her my manuscript and waited breathlessly as she read it on the spot.

“No,” she said as she reached the end. “But thanks for trying.”

My disappointment didn’t last long; the following morning I discovered my article featured prominently on the front page: “Istanbul Jews Had Sense of Security,” the headline blared. I hightailed it back to Romema, where another editor, Jerrold (Yoram) Kessel, laughed and said, “It was a good story.”

He invited me to write more, adding, “If you can get us a story on people who want to bring horse racing to Israel, that would be a scoop!” Who could have predicted that a personal reflection on a bar mitzva I happened to attend in Istanbul would lead to 15 years of a multitude of roles in the newspaper that at the time was the only English-language publication in the land? I never did write about horse racing, but I did write on just about everything else in the decade before I assumed the post of Weekend Magazine editor, then managing editor, and finally a brief stint as editor-in-chief. I never ceased to be humbled by the Post’s multiple audiences – English-speaking Israelis, tourists, diplomats, Jews around the world, and so many others who wanted to keep abreast of Israeli news and opinion.

I live in Chicago now, and like many former journalists, I’ve transitioned into related work that is nonetheless very different. As successive confrontations highlight the sharply divergent paths and priorities that push so many Jews around the world away from Israel – and that lead so many Israelis to ignore or downplay the millions of Jews who don’t live in the country – I like to think that my work in the field of Israel education helps build bridges that aren’t all that different from the bridges we strove to build at the paper when we reported on Israel-Diaspora ties and sought to make Israel comprehensible to our overseas readers.

Today, those bridges are fraught with obstacles, and all sides could benefit from strengthening them. As the Post celebrates its 85th year and continues to reach so many distinct readerships, it has not lost sight of its role in forging ties that bind the Jewish people together and helping to build appreciation for the diverse realities our people face at home and abroad.

The writer was editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post in 2000.

Keeping faith with the founders
David Makovsky

David Makovsky, editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post between 1999 and 2000 and beforehand as its diplomatic correspondent. (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Congratulations to The Jerusalem Post on its 85th anniversary. Two large sets of challenges among many loom large.

First, there is a need to understand the Post’s role inside Israel.

We all recall the recent 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, but we do not remember often what came immediately after it.

In fact, the Anglo-Zionist leadership, headed by Chaim Weizmann, immediately came to visit the Yishuv along with British officials. On that symbol-laden first visit after the Balfour Declaration, Weizmann laid the cornerstone of the Hebrew University in 1918.

In a time that the Yishuv was lacking even its basic needs, including roads and water, Weizmann nonetheless saw the establishment of a university as essential: “In this Hebrew University, however, we have gone beyond restoration and reconstruction; we are creating during the period of war something which is to serve as a symbol of a better future.” He asked what the role of a new university would be: “From where will it draw its students, and what languages will they speak here? At first glance, it might seem like a paradox that a land that has such a small population, a land that still needs everything done in it, a land lacking basic needs such as plows, roads and ports – that in such a land we are establishing a center for spiritual and intellectual development. But the paradox does not exist, as such, if one knows the soul of the Jew.”

It was a powerful message that Zionism defined state-building not just as building the institutions of government, but also as riveted upon creating the foundational basis of a new society.

In that same tradition, the Post was founded in 1932. There is no doubt that Gershon Agron was keen on seeking to influence the British Mandate, but he also understood that a Zionist society required accountable media, which are a building block of a nascent democracy.

Agron’s mission statement for his vision of the then-Palestine Post, included in the first issue published, stressed that the Post’s “reports will be as objective as is humanly possible, and its criticism informed, legitimate and helpful.... The studied purpose will be the present and future welfare of the country and of its people.”

As cognizant as Weizmann and Agron were of the need to seek to influence the British, they both realized how indispensable the institutions that they created were in ensuring the democratic character of Zionism. It is a profound challenge that is bound to be important in the 21st century no less than in the 20th.

A second challenge for the Post is the relationship between Israel and Jewry worldwide. Much has been written about the various generational, demographic and cultural challenges impacting American Jews and their relationship with Israel.

It will be tempting to fall back on clichés about the relationship or examine only the shortcomings of the Diaspora. Yet it might be worth asking whether the US-Israel relationship – including the robust $38 billion, 10-year military aid package – could exist with the breadth and depth of today, if there were no American Jews.

The commitment of American Jews to Israel’s security goes back to July 1, 1945, when David Ben-Gurion met with a group of wealthy American Jews in New York to ask for their assistance so that Israel could have sufficient arms, without which a Jewish state could not survive. Ben-Gurion was a big believer in close ties with the Diaspora. He later rated his garnering of that assistance as one of the three biggest achievements of his life.

Aid to Israel is not automatic; it has required wide American public and bipartisan support to sustain it over time. American Jews have been instrumental in securing congressional support for over $100b. in past US assistance, apart from the 10-year commitment. This support has been based on Americans’ sincere belief that Israel shares American values and interests in a very troubled region. Therefore, the relationship with American Jews should be seen as a national security issue for Israel and not just about Israel-Diaspora relations.

Interpreting both sides of the relationship is not easy, yet this does not make it less important. The venerated former leader of the National-Religious Party Yosef Burg was once asked whether he considered the national strand or the religious strand of the party to be more significant. His response was “the hyphen” since it was the bridge between the two.

Indeed, another important contribution the media can make is by shining a spotlight on different bridges of cooperation between Israel and the Diaspora, which range from technological innovation to Jewish studies and culture.

Here is wishing the Post well. If it remembers how Weizmann, Agron, Ben-Gurion and Burg grappled with these historic challenges, it will play a key role in the period ahead.

The writer is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He served as editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post between 1999 and 2000 and beforehand as its diplomatic correspondent.


Holding the line
Bret Stephens

Bret Stephens, former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times. (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Three crises marked the 30 months of my editorship of The Jerusalem Post (2002-2004).

There was the security crisis brought about by the second intifada and the campaign of suicide bombings that went with it, along with the war in Iraq and the global fight against al-Qaida.

There was an economic crisis in which investment and tourist dollars deserted Israel, the effects of which landed heavily on the Post’s revenue stream.

And there was a corporate crisis, as our then parent company, Hollinger International, was swept up in a corporate scandal that led to the jailing of its founders, Conrad Black and David Radler.

How did the Post perform during that time? Magnificently, I’d say.

Most newspapers are in the business of relating the news of their place. Merely by virtue of its location, the Post is always going to have some of the world’s most important stories to tell.

But the Post isn’t just another city paper. It is the bridge between Israel and the English-speaking world, a small paper with a global reputation and reach.

And it is a paper with a distinct moral calling – to wit, to tell the story of a civilization reclaiming its roots, a people standing up to its enemies and a democracy wrestling with itself.

That calling was put to the test during my time in Israel, when international efforts to isolate and demonize Israel reached fever pitch. This was a war not merely against the Jewish state but also, it often seemed, against truth itself – questions of fact, context and the historical record; the relationship of cause and effect; the distinction between perpetrator and victim.

In those years, the Post was virtually alone in the news business in furnishing an accurate picture of what the intifada was really about. No, it wasn’t a case of moderates falling victim to “extremists on both sides,” as the cliché of the times had it. It was the execution of Yasser Arafat’s squalid wager that Jews could be physically and morally bullied into surrender.

But the gambit failed. Facts remained stubborn things. Israel didn’t simply win the war on the ground. It turned the corner in the battle of ideas.

In no small part, that was due to the role played by The Jerusalem Post.

Thanks to truly brave reporting from journalists such as Khaled Abu Toameh (my proudest boast as editor-in-chief is to have brought him to the Post), Arafatism was exposed in all of its violence and corruption.

Thanks to editorials from writers such as Saul Singer (later of Start-up Nation fame), the Post championed the economic formulas that returned Israel to robust and sustained growth.

And thanks to the vigor of the editorial pages – I’m also proud to have brought on Sarah Honig and Larry Derfner as columnists – the Post gave voice to the diversity of Israeli opinion without yielding a single column inch to the bigotries of anti-Zionism.

All this was accomplished through the dedication, talent, initiative and chutzpah of editors and reporters who saw their jobs as a calling and rose consistently to the occasion. As I look back on my years in Israel, I am overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for their efforts. I hope they have helped lay the foundations for the next 85 years of correct and courageous journalism from The Jerusalem Post.

The writer, a former editor-in-chief of
The Jerusalem Post and winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

My ‘Jerusalem Post’ mentor
David Horovitz

David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, edited The Jerusalem Post from 2004 to 2001. (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

On this remarkable anniversary, I’d like to pay tribute to a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post who is no longer with us.

When I first entered the Post’s building, in early 1983, I was 20 years old, new to Israel, and spoke very little Hebrew. I’d mustered the courage to ask for a job, however, because I’d been to journalism school in the UK and worked for a few months on a local weekly newspaper in East London. Somebody at the Post told me kindly that the door would be open, but that I should return after a few months when I’d learned a little more of our revived language.

When I came back, I fell under the gruff, kindly eye of the Post’s then-night editor, a lanky, grizzled ex-Brit named N. David Gross. He started me out editing copy from some of the business and economics reporters. And from there I graduated to the main night desk, eventually, to my considerable delight, getting to work on articles that would appear on the next day’s front page.

David must have seen something in me that I’m not sure I’d seen myself. He critiqued my work, pointed out my errors, taught me how a story should be structured and what belonged in headlines – basically, showed me how to edit. He helped me remember to raise a quizzical eyebrow about what I was reading: Did it make sense, was it credible, were key facts missing? Like I said, I’d been to journalism school, but this was my real education.

Crucially, under David’s tutelage, I felt I was properly using my brain for about the first time in my life, and I became convinced that I had found the right profession.

The Post would become more than my employer. As with many of those who have worked at this storied newspaper, it became my first professional home in Israel.

A few years later, N. David Gross was appointed the Post’s editor-in-chief, and in that position, he set out how he saw the role of the paper in an article marking a previous major Post anniversary – its 60th.

“A daily newspaper is a peculiar thing,” he wrote. “It is at one and the same time a page of history and wrapping for tomorrow’s fish. It reflects society and thus is used for years after by social and political historians as a picture of its times. That gives us an obligation to be accurate and truthful, and warns us to be cautious in our predictions....

“We are part of the city whose name we proudly bear, and of the nation whose capital it is,” he continued. “We feel a duty to our country and to the Jewish people, those of its members in Israel and those still abroad. While not whitewashing their faults and errors, we do not intend to assist their enemies.”

David died almost four years ago, and his vision for the Post as quoted above was recalled by another great Post veteran, Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, in an appreciation she wrote to mark his passing. As I wish the Post mazal tov at 85, I couldn’t hope to better his summation of the paper he and so many of us have called home.

The writer, founding editor of The Times of Israel, edited
The Jerusalem Post from 2004 to 2011.

One-Liners - My memories at The Jerusalem Post
Steve Linde

SHIMON PERES with Steve Linde at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya in 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem)

When I became editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post in 2011, president Shimon Peres invited me for a meeting. We had a long chat together with veteran journalist Greer Fay Cashman at his Jerusalem residence. At the end of the meeting, I asked him what advice he had for me. “Your job is to tell your readers what to think about, and not what to think,” he said.

Peres was one of many important personalities I met during my 20-year career at the Post. As I look back, my mind is flooded with warm memories and a string of one-liners. Peres himself once reminded me that “it’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.”

I never got the chance to meet Elie Wiesel, but I did get to interview him in 2014 via a video linkup between his childhood home in Sighet and his home in New York. “Do you know why God made people?” Wiesel asked. “Because He loves a good story.”

Later that year, I and Post intern Aviva Loeb visited Holocaust survivor Hannah Goslar Pick, Anne Frank’s friend, in her Jerusalem home. “We are all human beings and we have to try to live in peace together,” she told us.

That sentiment was echoed by sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whom I interviewed at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York in 2016. “There has to be more of a dialogue, and not just about sex,” she quipped.

At that conference, when I handed over the mantle of editor-in-chief to Yaakov Katz, I also had the honor of interviewing American actor Michael Douglas, the Genesis Prize laureate. “I’m a secular Jew, I’m not formally religious, but I wanted to be part of this tribe,” he said. “I love its values.”

In 2013, I moderated a panel discussion in Jerusalem with three wonderful men: Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. “Hope can’t exist if you deprive others of their freedom. Tikkun olam [healing the world] is the only way to heal and find meaning,” Sharansky said. “Healing is contextualizing the wounded,” said Boteach. “What changed my life is traveling through a country that has been traumatized, yet sees so much hope,” Oz added.

Perhaps the highlight of my career was interviewing Peres at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference in Herzliya that year. At the end of the interview, I asked him my own version of Bernard Pivot’s famous question, “If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive – or what would you say to Him?” Peres paused for a moment, then said: “I have some suggestions on how to improve the world.”

If you ask who’s on my bucket list to interview, I would put Gal Gadot on top. “I want people to have a good impression of Israel,” she once said. Gadot has provided the Jewish state with what we all need: a superhero.

The writer is now editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Report.




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