My Word: Around the world for 60 years

‘The International Jerusalem Post’ celebrates its diamond jubilee

‘International Jerusalem Post’ editor Liat Collins holds a bound volume open at the first edition of the paper, 60 years ago, with a letter from  David Ben-Gurion in the center.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
‘International Jerusalem Post’ editor Liat Collins holds a bound volume open at the first edition of the paper, 60 years ago, with a letter from David Ben-Gurion in the center.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
I am not a big fan of birthday celebrations but one year, when I was much younger, Meir (Mike) Ronnen pointed out with admirable logic: “Having birthdays is better than the alternative.” Ronnen, a journalist, caricaturist, art critic and gentleman, has been on my mind a lot this week. Among his many roles at the paper, Ronnen was the first editor of what was called The Jerusalem Post Weekly. The paper was launched 60 years ago, in September 1959, and over the decades, under a series of editors, transformed from an eight-page, black-and-white broadsheet into today’s 32-page, full-color International Jerusalem Post news magazine.
Ronnen died 10 years ago, but in a world in which newspapers are struggling to survive it doesn’t take his ghost looking over my shoulder to make me realize that a 60th anniversary is worth celebrating. The parent paper, The Jerusalem Post, will turn 87 in December, and it was Ronnen who in 1950 insisted the paper known as The Palestine Post change its name to reflect the end of the British Mandate-era.
The birth of the International edition was also a result of the end of the Mandate, or so the legend goes. Jerusalem Post founding editor Gershon Agron realized in 1949 that the local market of English-speakers was shrinking as British and Commonwealth soldiers were redeployed after the State of Israel was established.
There were a few false starts but in the week ending September 5, 1959, with Agron’s deathbed blessing, a trial issue was published. A thousand copies of the first full edition appeared on September 18. “It’s an Israeli paper written in English,” Ronnen used to say.
The front page of that first issue carried a letter by then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion saying: “Modern science has made the world smaller by high speed communication. But the nature of the world will be largely shaped by what is communicated.
Anyone who promotes a wider knowledge in other countries of what goes on in his country is helping to promote peace and good will among nations....”
The phrase “high speed” might raise a smile today but the spirit of Ben-Gurion’s message still holds. We were proud this week to receive a similar greeting from President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin in which he says: “For the last 60 years, the International Jerusalem Post has kept people who care about the State of Israel up to date with what is happening in this remarkable country through remarkable times. Today, readers in some 80 countries around the world, Jews and non-Jews, read it to know what is going on here – our successes and achievements, as well as the challenges we still face. You help strengthen ties with the global Jewish community as well as the bonds of friendship between Israel and the world....”
THERE IS something very special about producing a real, print paper in a global village where the virtual rules. Every week I am aware of the blessing of being able to send a touch of Jerusalem to people around the world who truly care – a community as much as a readership. If I had to choose a motto for the IJP, it would be the one favored by another late editor, Alec Israel: “Broad and balanced.”
I’m painfully aware that readers abroad are bombarded by negative coverage of Israel, so, as editor, I try to include the positive. Fortunately, there are many success stories in everything from the arts and sports to medicine and technology. In this week’s issue, for example, we have an interview with judo world champion Sagi Muki; a feature on an easy system for downing drones; and Hillel Fuld’s hi-tech column, which routinely features terms like artificial intelligence and big data – ideas that were in the realm of science fiction when this paper was first launched.
However, no country is perfect. I believe that if you sweep all the bad news under the rug, it will one day trip you up. We are an independent newspaper, not a public advocacy publication. The Jerusalem Post staff, led by editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz, aims to provide information that helps readers understand the broader picture, even when it isn’t a pretty one.
Previous IJP editors have shared their memories for the anniversary. Joel Rebibo, who was at the helm from 1995-2000, says, “Israel is often at the center of world attention, and as such is covered by many international news outlets. But The International Jerusalem Post has the home-court advantage: Its writers live and breathe the country and are uniquely capable of putting events in context.”
Amotz Asa-El, who was my immediate predecessor at the start of the millennium, notes, “We failed to foresee the approach of major dramas, from September 11 to the Second Intifada, and also to detect the tremors of the quake that would rattle our industry with futurisms like Google, Facebook, the smartphone and the tweet. Then again, if the IJP remained on its feet while countless dailies, weeklies and glossies have fallen by wayside, then apparently we have done something right.”
I am often asked “How do you choose what to write about in your columns?” and the answer is “With difficulty.” Ditto choosing which news stories, features and opinion pieces to include. There is no lack of news or opinions in this country.
Perhaps it was always so. The front page of the first issue, six decades ago, carried headlines about the Suez Crisis. And apparently there was climate change – and conspiracies – before it had a name. Under the headline “Freak Fall,” Page 1, Volume I, Issue I, ran the following item: “It may be the atom bombs, as the more conservative among the superstitious say, or it may be the Sputniks and the Luniks, but the weather certainly seemed to be off balance again. While Europe sizzled in a fresh heatwave, temperatures in Israel dropped well below normal for this time of year...”
THE FIRST issue offered an annual airmail subscription rate to the US, Canada and Cuba for $15, and to the UK, Europe, “Iran, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, East and West Africa” for $12.
Sadly, we can no longer send mail from Israel to Iran or Algeria, but we have readers – representing many different religions and religious streams – in a long list of countries, which in alphabetical order starts with Argentina, Aruba and Australia and ends with Uruguay, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Although the bulk of our readership is in Europe and the US (where through the miracles of modern technology we send PDFs to a New York-based press), we receive mail from an impressive range of places. We also receive a surprising amount of mail from what we fondly call “our captive audience,” prisoners in penitentiaries.
Some readers actually make the journey as tourists and pilgrims to Jerusalem, where I have had the pleasure of meeting people from places as diverse and distant as the Faroe Islands and New Zealand, as well as readers from North America.
Today, many readers follow the breaking news via the Jpost website, but rely on the print edition for the in-depth analysis. And, of course, unlike the Web, it is easy to find the story you want to read or re-read in a print edition, which you can pick up and put down. With the help of art director Debi Rubin, the International edition aims to provide an attractive color format that Agron could only have dreamed of.
The International edition was conceived to take the Post to readers abroad to make up for the drop in numbers at home. At the time, the country was tiny and under existential threat. I think Agron would have been amazed and pleased at how Israel has developed.
And new “Anglos” have arrived. Thousands of British and other English-speaking immigrants gathered in Tel Aviv this week for the performances by comedian John Cleese, of Monty Python fame. His “Last Time To See Me Before I Die” show was a hilarious BDS fail. And that is good news.
As I write this, the view of Jerusalem from the paper’s offices on Jaffa Road is full of cranes carrying out construction work on the new entrance to the capital. It’s noisy and dusty and sometimes hard to concentrate, but this is Jerusalem being rebuilt.
Gershon Agron, who became Jerusalem mayor, would have been thrilled. And, as Ronnen (and Cleese) might have said, it’s better than the alternative.
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