What else for Britain’s ‘Jewish Chronicle’?

The Jewish Chronicle is no longer the “beating heart” of the Jewish community

What comes next for the UK’s ‘Jewish Chronicle’? (photo credit: REUTERS)
What comes next for the UK’s ‘Jewish Chronicle’?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If the Jewish Chronicle owners and staff are wondering why the newspaper’s circulation has vertiginously dropped, and why it is ignored and shunned by so many in the British Jewish community to the point of being driven to near bankruptcy, they need look no further than the article by journalist Norman Lebrecht published online on April 17.
On the same day as Lebrecht’s article, titled “That undercooked bat in Wuhan did do us one service: no matzah ramble,” another journalist, Jonathan Freedland, also had an article in the Jewish Chronicle, this one asking, “What are we without our vital, beating heart?”
Peddling that old line about the Jewish Chronicle being the “beating heart” of the Jewish community is a false lament. No, the Jewish Chronicle is not the “vital, beating heart” of the Jewish community. It has long since lost its way and lost touch with what makes the Jewish community’s heart beat.
Here we are, in the throes of a world pandemic of a currently untreatable lethal pathogen, the worst pandemic since the so-called “Spanish flu” of over a century ago. We face the potential loss of millions of lives and accompanying catastrophic economic consequences, and the Jewish Chronicle sees fit to publish Lebrecht’s despicable article, where it remains, in the “Comment” section.
Does he, or did he, really find parenting so dreadful that there were times when he considered committing a chainsaw massacre? Where is the humor in that? Where is the humor in having an article on the Jewish Chronicle website that says the one “blessing” which came out of this whole “undercooked bat in Wuhan” is that a day with the kids on a “matzah ramble” was averted?
Where is the humor in the Jewish Chronicle accepting that thoughtless drivel on the same web page as its headline: “Up to 57 dead in one Jewish nursing home: COVID-19 devastates Parker Jewish Institute on Long Island, New York” (Jewish Chronicle, April 19, 2020)? The Jewish community in Britain alon, has been devastatingly hit by the coronavirus, with significant losses of grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties, sisters, brothers, and communal and religious members and leaders. The very fabric of the community is being shredded at the seams. When is the Jewish Chronicle reader supposed to start laughing?
The paper displays a paucity of breadth and depth; of original thinking; of new writing by grassroots writers who are in direct contact with the whole spectrum of the “community”; writers who understand the ultra-Orthodox as well as the progressives and do not patronize or romanticize them; writers who help discover and broadcast the Jewish everyday and the extraordinary and not only Jewish business people and politicians, but Jewish artists, writers, actors, film-makers, dancers, singers and musicians in the community, instead of tediously and continually returning again again to the same ones.
THE JEWISH community has a great richness in the very people of which it is composed that goes beyond wealth and power. It is that richness with which the Jewish Chronicle fails to connect and spotlight.
The newspaper has become narrow in its outlook, depressingly repetitive and predictably boring. Its books section often covers just one or two books at a time. And the reviewers often sound as though they dashed off their article on their way to do their weekly shopping.
Has the literary editor ever perused the UK’s Jewish Book Week or American Jewish Book Council’s websites? They would find an inundation of books to review. Not all books reviewed need to be by stolid publishers. One book, for example, was self-published by a man who had survived Nazi concentration camps and found renewed life and hope on a kibbutz, in the Galil even as Syrian tanks were rolling down the Golan Heights toward it. Books are not only literature. They are also messages, information, warnings and musings.
Why should all this be blocked out to make yet more way for double-spread sheets of contributors such as Colin Shindler, with his tiresome, sprawling, homework-style essays? Despite his having deliberately omitted the Holocaust in an animation he wrote and narrated on the history of Zionism for the BBC, the Jewish community’s own best friend, the Jewish Chronicle, congenially lets him publish even more column inches, most recently arbitrating on who is a Zionist in the Judea and Samaria settlements (April 3, 2020), swiftly followed by one about Passover during the Holocaust in 1940 (April 6, 2020).
To its credit, the Jewish Chronicle belatedly but courageously was at the forefront of exposing Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s virulent antisemitism. Belatedly because for years it had ignored what was in plain sight, which would have saved its staff a lot of internet trawling.
But the Jewish Chronicle cannot live by antisemitism alone. While its relentless work on antisemitism in the Labour Party was compelling reading, it begged the question: What else?
It is the “what else” that has let the paper down so badly. Blaming it on the “Internet” isn’t sufficient because the Jewish Chronicle is fully on the Internet.
The Jewish Chronicle lacks conviction and has forfeited insight in a desperate bid to fill up its pages. The readers see this and don’t want to read it.
The Jewish Chronicle is out of touch and out of line. That is why its sales have plummeted, and why it has faltered and now defaulted. It does not write for the reader. It writes for itself. That is why it has little else.
The writer is a specialist in British Mandate Palestine and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.