85 years of excellence in journalism

In a country as politicized as Israel, this has not always been easy...

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December 1, 2017 11:06

The Jerusalem Post celebrates its 85th birthday

The Jerusalem Post celebrates its 85th birthday

 
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On December 1, 1932 – 85 years ago today – a new newspaper with eight pages hit the stands in Israel.

It was called The Palestine Post.

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The lead story in the paper that day was about a cabinet meeting convened in London to debate an outstanding American debt to the United Kingdom. On the right column of the front page appeared a story about British officials visiting Egypt, followed by a brief about a trip that the head of the Iraqi opposition was making that week to Jerusalem.

This was the first edition of The Palestine Post, later to have its name changed to The Jerusalem Post. Founded by Gershon Agron, who would go on to serve as the mayor of Jerusalem, The Palestine Post printed a mere 1,200 copies that day, but within a year succeeded in quadrupling its circulation.

That would take a bit of time. On December 2, in its second edition, the paper wrote an assurance to its readers “that every effort is being made to reduce delays to a minimum.” The brief note printed on Page 3 continued, “Before long, it is hoped, the paper will be in the hands of all readers even earlier than the accustomed time.”

Despite some delivery hiccups, Agron’s vision was simple: to create a newspaper in Israel that would tell the world in English what was happening within this ancient land, and also within the wider region.

Over the years we have grown, and are obviously no longer just a print paper but the most widely read English-language website in Israel and the Diaspora.

We strive to serve as an unwavering and reliable source of news for what happens in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world.

In those early years, The Palestine Post told the story of life under the British Mandate. With the rise of Hitler, the paper diverted its attention to focus on the developing tragedy in Europe as well as the ongoing struggle for a Jewish homeland.

During World War II, as British troops flowed into the country, the paper became mandatory reading for people interested in following the global battle against Nazism; after the war, its front pages told about the atrocities of the Holocaust. On December 16, 1945, for example, one of the paper’s correspondents reported from the Nuremberg Trials.

From tragedy the paper turned to report about redemption, as the fight for Jewish independence in the Land of Israel was waged and won, and the sovereign State of Israel was born.

In the 85 years that this newspaper has been around, it has flourished mostly, I believe, because it has stuck to its principles of providing balanced news coverage, thought-provoking analysis and hard-hitting commentary. (In this week’s Magazine you will find a series of articles by former Jerusalem Post editors in honor of our 85th anniversary).

In a country as politicized as Israel, this has not always been easy, but we have succeeded in doing so by maintaining an unapologetic and unwavering editorial line.

The paper has supported territorial compromises in the framework of peace deals, but only if that is being done to achieve genuine and lasting peace with a real and complete end to violence and incitement. We strongly advocate for religious equality in Israel for all Jews, but believe at the same time that the State of Israel needs to take measures to ensure its Jewish character.

Since the days of Agron, the only black and white this newspaper has published has been the color of its older pages. It is a paper that mostly reflects the gray of society, or what I like to refer to as the “conflicted center.” It is conflicted because on the one hand it wants peace, but on the other hand – like many Israelis – it has become disenchanted with the viability of a deal with the current Palestinian leadership. It wants separation of religion and state, but also wants to ensure that the country does not lose its Jewish identity. In short, it is conflicted.

Running a newspaper in 2017 is very different than the way it was 85 years ago. Back then, reporters had days to work on a single story. Nowadays we have minutes. Then, there were barely any photos. Today, we edit videos and embed tweets and Facebook posts in our online stories.

Like every news organization, we are constantly torn between the importance of accuracy and the need for speed. Nevertheless, we have not forsaken the principles that Agron outlined on the front page of the first edition of this paper 85 years ago.

The Palestine Post,” he wrote, “will not seek to promote personal ambitions or party advantage. Its reports will be as objective as humanly possible and its criticism informed, legitimate and helpful.”

Eighty-five years later, that is what we are still striving to do.


***

Under the radar and without much media attention, Qatar has embarked on one of its most extravagant shopping sprees in recent history.

Qatar, the small Gulf state known for purchasing soccer teams and expensive real estate around the world, is after something a bit more vague this time: the hearts and minds of American Jews.

In recent weeks, as The Jerusalem Post has exclusively reported, a number of prominent American Jews have flown to Qatar for meetings with the emir and other officials of his government.

These included Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Martin Oliner, president of the Religious Zionists of America, and Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the Orthodox Union’s Kashrut department.

In addition, a senior former Qatari official was in attendance at the Zionist Organization of America’s annual gala in early November. While he was not invited by the ZOA or its leader, Mort Klein, the former official’s presence at the event was significant. ZOA is one of the most pro-Israel and right-wing organizations in the US. The presence of an official from Qatar, a state that gives refuge to Hamas’s leaders, was surprising.

This sudden outreach to the Jewish community started in September, when Qatar hired Nick Muzin, a prominent Jewish Republican strategist, to build bridges to the Jewish community. Muzin previously served as an adviser to senators Ted Cruz and Tim Scott, and is friendly with a number of officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner circle.

This does not mean that Israel approves of Muzin’s work – indeed, the contrary might be true. In September, when Muzin hinted to some American Jewish leaders that the Prime Minister’s Office had given its blessing to the work he was doing with Qatar, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer quickly said that it was not true.

Israel’s main problem with Qatar is its continued support of Hamas, alongside statements by government officials that the Palestinian terrorist group is a legitimate resistance organization. Qatar is also aligned with Iran, and through Al-Jazeera, which it owns, supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

What is Qatar’s objective? According to US and Israeli officials, it seems that it wants to try using prominent American Jews to lobby both governments in Washington and Jerusalem in order to ease the pressure and help end the crisis that erupted in June with the Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia.

During the American Jews’ visits to Qatar they met with officials involved in the transfer of funds to the Gaza Strip, and were given assurances that all of the money goes to housing and not to Hamas’s terrorist regime. While Qatar owns a gas field jointly with Iran, the officials in Doha told the visiting Jews that business is what connects Qatar and Iran, not ideology.

It seems that the Qataris think that if they convince prominent Jews of their intentions, they will be able to influence the White House, the Prime Minister’s Office and potentially the Royal Palace in Riyadh.

While this might be true, it is also a bit far-fetched. If Qatar really wants to change public perception, it can start by cutting off support for Hamas, by making a genuine effort to retrieve the missing Israelis in Gaza, and by announcing a readiness to normalize ties with Israel.

In the meantime, American Jews should be careful not to let themselves be played by a country that does the exact opposite.

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