Between the Lines: A eulogy for S. Rosenfeld's world

I can already hear the groans emanating from a certain segment of 'The Jerusalem Post' readership, so be forewarned.

livni qatar 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
livni qatar 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
A few years ago, a co-worker was showing an elderly relative around the office of The Jerusalem Post and introduced him to me. "Oh, I read everything you write and really admire you!" he said effusively. "Thank you very much," I appreciatively replied. "You must be very courageous; I don't know how you write about the things you do and don't fear for your life," he went on. Now this took me aback. Though, admittedly, I can sometimes be quite critical in my columns, I can't recall ever penning anything I thought might actually spur physical endangerment. "Nobody writes about the Palestinians like you," he said - and with this comment, plus the fact this older man was speaking a little more loudly than necessary, comprehension dawned. "Ummm," I replied as tactfully as I could, "maybe you have me confused with Khaled Abu Toameh?" Though my tender ego might normally be a little bruised by such an encounter, I make an exception in the case of my esteemed colleague, who thoroughly deserves such admiration. Khaled has indeed received threats, simply because he covers the Palestinian sector with the same skeptical and critical eye that any journalist is supposed to bring to his particular beat. Unfortunately, such coverage and exposure is more the exception than the norm in this case, especially when it comes from an insider's perspective. Which brings us to the subject of this week's column, which entails the BBC, Arab media, the Oxford Union and - appropriately enough for a week when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was hosted by the Qatari government - Doha. I can already hear the groans emanating from a certain segment of The Jerusalem Post readership, so be forewarned: If you can't stand to even hear one positive thing on those subjects, stop reading now, because believe it or not, I actually come this week not to bury, but to praise them. The reason is The Doha Debates/i>, a series of public-discussion programs broadcast from Qatar over the past three years on BBC World Television. These are modeled on the famed Oxford Union debates, but focus exclusively on Middle Eastern issues, and ably moderated by veteran BBC journalist Tim Sebastian, best known as the former take-no-prisoners host of the interview show HARDtalk. (His combative confrontation with the equally pugnacious Tommy Lapid a few years ago turned so vicious it was like watching a human pit-bull match.) Many, though by no means all, of The Doha Debates deal with various aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Although past motions put under debate have included such expected topics as: "This House believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions" and "This House believes that the international community must accept Hamas as a political partner," also discussed has been: "This House believes that Iran poses the greatest threat to security in the region"; "This House believes Hizbullah had no right to fight a war on Lebanon's behalf"; and "This House believes the Palestinians should give up their full right of return." Participants have included some prominent Jewish personalities from abroad, along with such Israeli officials as Shimon Peres, Shlomo Ben-Ami and Yossi Beilin. Clearly, though, there are limits as to what is permitted here; don't expect to see Benny Elon debating "This House believes the Jewish people has a biblical right to the entire Land of Israel" in Doha anytime soon. Still, in the context of the Arab media world, The Doha Debates is generally a breath of fresh air, almost always worth watching. Especially so was the latest one broadcast on BBC World this week, "This House believes that Palestinians risk becoming their own worst enemy." The discussion featured the usual Palestinian apologetics, especially from Palestinian-American academic Saree Makdisi, who like his late uncle, Edward Said, is unable to move beyond such statements as: "The real enemy is the Israeli occupation" - even when ostensibly trying to be self-critical. More bracing straight talk was provided by Prof. Munther Dajani of Al Quds University in Jerusalem, with such declarations as: "The [Palestinian] leadership is steeped in corruption and nepotism. We failed to build roads, hospitals and other basic infrastructure. We ourselves are our worst enemies." What's more, Dajani won the day, with more than two-thirds of the live audience in Doha supporting the motion. (This and past programs can be viewed at Of course, such public discussion about the Palestinian issue - along with the kind of incisive reporting that Khaled provides on the very issues discussed in this program - should be routine in the Arab media rather than exceptional. Still, The Doha Debates, flaws and all, is a step in the right direction. ISRAELI JOURNALISM lost one of its giants this week with the passing of Shalom Rosenfeld, former editor and one of the founders of Ma'ariv. There are two points about Rosenfeld worth noting here. One was his lifelong interest in Diaspora Jewish journalism (especially the fading Yiddish press), regrettably a fairly exceptional attitude among members of the Hebrew media. This interest found expression in his founding of the Institute for Research of the Jewish Press at Tel Aviv University, an achievement for which just last month he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the B'nai B'rith World Center. The other is a comment he made several years ago about the circumstances under which he took part in founding Ma'ariv as part of a breakaway group of disgruntled journalists from Yediot Aharonot in 1948. Rosenfeld noted: "From the start, Ma'ariv was perceived as a journalists' newspaper, not a business venture. The founders adamantly refused to give over majority control of the paper to any commercial interest, so as to guarantee that it would remain in the hands of the founding newspapermen." How ironic that just last week it was reported that American-Jewish billionaire Sheldon Adelson is now engaged in talks to buy Ma'ariv from its present owners, the Nimrodi family, but that as this paper reported, "One of his conditions is that he be able to take over the paper as a 'clean slate' - be required to continue to employ only those staffers he wishes to retain." Truly, it is not just figures such as Rosenfeld who are leaving us, but an entire culture of Israeli journalism (and much of that abroad, as well) that all too sadly is being buried along with them. [email protected]