Six years ago, in April 2002, Irit Linor, a well-known Israeli author, denounced Ha'aretz for its "vicious journalism" and "anti-Zionism." Given the status of the writer and the severity of her criticism, her scathing letter caused a stir, prompting a flurry of cancellations, media attention and a rambling, evasive response by the newspaper's publisher, Amos Schocken. In April 2008, the letter is again circulating the Internet in Hebrew, and its grievances remain as valid as ever.
As though to underscore the ongoing relevance of Linor's criticism, a Ha'aretz editorial appeared on April 15, 2008 invoking the incendiary charge of "apartheid" in denouncing Israeli policy.
Translated here below, the letter and Schocken's rejoinder give a sense of both the intensifying concern of many about the disconnect between, in Linor's words, "Planet Ha'aretz," and the real world of Israelis who do not view their country as McCarthyite, oppressive and chauvinistic. She decries a newspaper that "tries in every way possible to make me feel ashamed of my Zionism, my patriotism and my intelligence."
Letter from Irit Linor
To: Amos Schocken, Chanoch Marmari, Yoel Esteron
Today I cancelled my subscription to Ha'aretz, after years of addiction. Such a long-standing bond should end in a more auspicious manner than a notice to the subscription department, and so it seemed proper to lay out the reasons for my decision.
I accept the fact that it's a person's right to be a radical leftist, and to publish a newspaper reflecting his world view. I don't think brain damage will ensue if, from time to time, a certain reader (i.e., me) reads articles not in line with her positions. But Ha'aretz has reached a point where its anti-Zionism is too frequently becoming silly and vicious journalism. And while it is difficult for me to decide which bothers me more, I am totally fed up with both.
I am tired of reading in every television review, whether it is written by Rogel Alpert, Sagi Green, Beni Tziffer or Aviv Lavi, that the central problem with every broadcast before and after a terrorist attack is patriotic overkill, and that the military reports are serving the IDF Spokesman's office. I think the writers are wrong and boring and their factual premise is a lie, cut off from the reality in which they live.
When Benny Tziffer runs to defend Juliette Binoche, after her ignorance in matters related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was exposed in a French television program, he comes across not only as a radical leftist and anti-Zionist, but also a radical leftist and anti-Zionist of the idiotic kind, and maybe this is not the place to note that the literary department he edits is a shining example of a drab bore, but I have noted this.
When Gideon Levy blames Israel for Marwan Barghouti's transformation from a peace-seeker to an impresario of suicide bombings, this is as logical an analysis as claiming the wave of attacks on Sept. 11 was a Mossad plot. In a private conversation, he once told me that he would not travel 100 meters to save the life of a settler. It seems that for a long time his likes and dislikes have marred his reports dealing with the heart of the territories and the occupied Palestinians. Likewise, needless to say, his whole career has an incidental quality about it, since he is one of the only Arab affairs writers in the world who does not know Arabic, does not understand Arabic and does not read Arabic. He uses simultaneous translation, and that's enough. In my experience, that's amateur journalism.
Gideon Levy and Amira Hass have the Palestinian beat in Ha'aretz. While I recognize the journalistic and humanistic importance of reports like these, I have a problem with how they are carried out. In their view, Israel will never take responsibility for Palestinian suffering or Palestinian murderousness. That's a narrowminded and superficial interpretation, faulty from both a journalistic and an ethical point of view. Likewise, the two of them refrain from reporting intra-Palestinian atrocities, and there are Palestinians whom, for whatever reason, they never meet: the anti-Semites, the chauvinists, the corrupt, those involved in terror attacks. When Levy's and Hass's pro-Palestinian biases are the most prominent and consistent aspect of their reports from the territories, their articles have little credibilty for me. And because I am, forgive me, a Zionist, in wartime I don't feel like getting every morning at home Voice of Raam from Cairo.
And it's not just them. In the art section this week there was an article headlined, McCarthyism, product of Israel, by Michal Pletti. The headline itself testifies to its ignorance, with the use of the most extreme cliché. I don't think you need a lecture on McCarthyism, but Pletti and the editors of Gallery (art section) apparently do. I want to comment on this article in depth, with your permission, because after reading it, I picked up the phone to the subscription department.
The article takes for granted the existence of McCarthyism in Israel. Pletti writes on the "Mifal HaPayis [ed note: the state lottery which funds schools, community programs, etc], which withdrew its financial support from the Docaviv (documentary) festival because a Swedish director whose film was in the competition, demanded, and was granted, the right to read a declaration of support for the Palestinian nation before the screening of his film. In Pletti's eyes, this is an expression of McCarthyism. Goel Pinto reports on the results of the competition in another article, completely sure that it is a given that the director should be able to recite the declaration before each screening, but defends the festival director who capitulated in the face of threats from Mifal HaPayis. I probably am crazy, and therefore it seems to me that the shameful capitulation was on the part of the director, and maybe my fascism causes me to think that in war time the country really does not have to fund events in which declarations of support for the enemy are recited.
And more from that same article: A book store hung a sign on the door saying, We don't sell Saramago's books. Menachem Perry, the editor of The New Library, which is publishing Saramago's stories, compares this to the burning of Jewish books, and proves that he is a real liberal, because it did not occur to him to cut off communication with Saramago. But you don't need to be a Ha'aretz journalist to understand that Perry is not just a liberal, but also a Jew who is trying to make a living, and Saramago, after all, is one of Perry's top sellers. So when Perry explains why it's necessary to distinguish between the book and the author, one can suggest the reason is to prevent losses on the publisher's part. I, who am not a writer for Ha'aretz, wonder why the book store owners' response was not reported, and I suggest an answer in the owners' place: I do not have the desire to make money off of someone who compares us to Nazis. My store is a private business, and that's my right. By the way, in my view, the decision of the store owners to lose money and not to sell the bestselling books of this stupid anti-Semite is no less noble and worthy of respect than the decision of Amos Schocken to make money from advertisements for prostitution in Ha'Ir [ed: a newspaper owned by Schocken].
Additional proof that McCarthyism is a product of Israel is the establishment's persecution of designer David Tartakovar. He tells how his professional colleagues convinced him to remove political work from the Jerusalem 3000" exhibit because they feared the reaction of Sharon, who then served as Minister of Trade and Industry. And even more McCarthyistic than that is the fact that Tartakovar was so persecuted that he received the Israel Prize on Independence Day, and when Sharon was the prime minister, no less.
And, of course, Yaffa Yarkoni. The headline suggests the cancellation of the tribute performance in her honor is McCarthyism, but the article itself points out that the real reason for the cancellation was poor ticket sales. The article does not mention at all the fact that for some time Yarkoni has not filled auditoriums, and indeed, it's possible that ticket buyers, who for the most part served or serve in the IDF or support Operation "Defensive Shield," do not want to honor someone who encourages the refusal to serve and who compares the IDF to Nazis. It's the right of a private person to decide for whom he will applaud. It's the right of the Israeli Union of Performing Arts to decide not to host Yarkoni after a point. I know very well that supporters of refusal are the flesh and blood of the entire Schocken chain, and Ha'aretz in particular. In Ha'Ir, a newspaper that I will be especially happy to cancel, refusal to serve was transformed into virtuous glory that's cast as self-evident. But what here is self-evident?
Your leftness is invoked only for political positions and anti-Zionism. On the social level, Ha'aretz is a newspaper for rich people. The financial articles are conservative, the subscription price is higher than the afternoon papers (which come, by the way, to my neighbor's house much earlier than Ha'aretz comes to me). True, the unemployed received a daily photograph in the letters section, but Nira Rousso writes about expensive kitchenware and costly vacation sites, and about foods that can be prepared from fruits from a private garden. In the fashion section you can admire dresses from Kikar Hamedinah [ed note: an expensive north Tel Aviv shopping area] that cost thousands of shekels. Thus Planet Ha'aretz is a wonderful place, leftist and cosmopolitan -- only too bad that everything around it is so ugly.
After decades of reading Ha'aretz on a daily basis, I have come to the conclusion that you and I do not live in the same place. A growing number of the reports and articles in your newspaper stink of foreign journalism, which relates to Israel as an alien land, distant and repulsive. I feel that the State of Israel, in a fundamental way, disgusts you. And that's not the case for me. I don't want to subscribe to a newspaper that tries in every way possible to make me feel ashamed of my Zionism, my patriotism and my intelligence, the three qualities I most value.
Have a nice day, watch over the children and don't sit in a restaurant which doesn't have a guard.
Response from Ha'aretz publisher Amos Shocken
I was very sorry to receive your letter, both because it seems that for a long time we have caused you such great distress, and because I sometimes feel that reality has become so insane that different people see within it entirely different -- even opposite -- things, and also because I want you to remain a subscriber of the paper (Perry is not the only Jew who is looking to make a living.)
I am trying to think if one of the three people to whom you addressed your letter is a radical-leftist, as you write. For me this is entirely new, and I have never thought of myself like that. It's also strange to me that someone could say that Ha'aretz is an anti-Zionist newspaper, when in my eyes it is a model Zionist paper, and always was.
It is possible that you see within it things that aren't there, and don't see things that are? Or maybe I see in Ha'aretz things that aren't there and don't see what is there? In this strange world I see around me lately, anything is possible. I read the piece by Benny Tziffer on Juliette Binoche, and re-read, looking for how Tziffer runs to her defense (defense or no defense, he has already been disgracefully exposed as the editor of a literary section that is boring and dreary.) I look and I don't find. What I do see is a description that subtly mocks Binoche for signing a petition that she didn't read and about which she apparently has no knowledge on whose account it was written. By maybe I don't see what is in Tziffer's text? That's likely. Maybe in these difficult days, subtle mockery does not work and you need to hit over the head with a hammer? That's also likely.
I acknowledge that I didn't really understand what is contained in the headline "McCarthyism, product of Israel." Maybe it's not a very effective headline, maybe a little clichéd, but a headline in the end of the day is just a headline. "McCarthyism" entails harassment because of one's views. This, it seems to me, is the intention of the establishment to silence people with certain opinions.
You write that the "article takes for granted the existence of McCarthyism in Israel," and that Michal Pletti sees McCarthyism in Mifal HaPayis' behavior. I read the article and found an entirely factual description, without the writer's views, of a number of events that happened recently ....[ed: passage not clear] The one time the word McCarthyism is mentioned in the article is in a quote by Mordechai Virshovsky to the head of the Israeli Union of Performing Arts.
The article includes, as stated above, details on a number of cases and various opinions, and also clarifies Perry's interesting position regarding Saramango. The owners' response is not really necessary for the reader: everything is known. Saramango compared Israeli actions in Jenin to Nazi actions. The book store owners in response removed his books from their store. That is clear and understood, and it doesn't strike me that the reader needs additional information here. That's not the case, by the way, when it comes to Mifal HaPayis' behavior, and Michal Pletti included their views by quoting the head of Mifal HaPayis explaining his decision.
These are difficult days. The nerves are stressed and the threshold of tolerance is low. Thus I understand your reaction, but I think that you seriously exaggerate when you term the agreement by the director of the "Docaviv" festival to recite a letter by a film director who criticizes the prime minister, according to Pinto, and expresses solidarity with the Palestinian nation, who comes out against the prime minister's actions and calls on him to return to the negotiations table with Arafat, according to Pletty. On the assumption that this is a reasonable description of what is said in the article on the director, I don't see in these things anything that you see: declarations of support for the enemy.
I'm sure that you are not blind to the fact that Israel has difficulty explaining its position in many places in the world. Such a letter as this provides an opening both for someone to give a pointed response and to show that there are two sides to the coin. Israel can only benefit from this sort of dialogue, because the absence of the foreign director's opinion will persist in the future, particularly if his letter will not be read and his film will not be screened.
True, Perry's comparison between the removal of Saramago's books from the store and the removal of Jewish books from Germany is grotesque, but it's his, not Ha'aretz's, and every reader can form his own opinion about this comparison. By the way, in the time of Ferdinand Salin, who was a self-professed anti-Semite, there was an argument about the Hebrew publication of his book, and there are still such arguments. When we wrote in favor of the performances of Wagner's music you did not write me furiously like this, and I ask myself if Ha'aretz's position, or the fact that I read Salin's fantastic book with great interest, makes me a radical leftist or anti-Semite. Maybe yes. All that you write about Tartakovar was written by Michal Pletti, but she doesn't describe it "as additional proof of McCarthyism," and she did bring a quote from Tartakovar who says that censorship on the part of the establishment is not widespread in Israel.
I want to be a little careful and not term this McCarthyism, and maybe in general it is preferable not to call these and other incidents by generalized names, but under the article that prompted you to call the circulation department was a news item by Ori Eilon (that maybe you didn't see because of your anger), that told how the CEO of the broadcast authority reprimanded the director of television and her director of news on a broadcast interview with Tarya Larson. Today Ha'aretz published a news item that in normal days I would have said was remarkable, but in our insane days is just slightly remarkable: 43 professors from Ben Gurion University demanded to cancel a lecture by Yossi Beilin that was entitled "The image of the Jew in the 21st century." Probably you are right. Why do we bother with Michal Pletti's story's when we have stories like this?
I ask myself on what basis you say that you "very well know that the supporters of refusal [ed: soldiers who refuse to serve] are the flesh and blood of Ha'aretz in particular and the Schocken chain in general." This surprises me because I am convinced that I read in Ha'aretz an editorial that expressed a clear and unequivocal stand against refusal. By the way, when I read (in Ha'aretz) a reasoned legal article by Michael Ben-Yair in favor of refusal, or when I saw on television an interview about refusal with Ami Ayalon, I did not categorize them as radical-leftists or anti-Zionists, at least not until I got your letter. Now I am no longer sure.
In the issue that prompted you to call the circulation department was an extensive news item by Amira Hass on atrocities, murder without trial and wounding of Palestinians by other Palestinians. I can suppose that, under pressure, you did not see this news item. In any event, I did not see that Amira Hass makes allowances for Palestinians. She wrote quite a bit also on the corruption there, and also on their joy after terror attacks.
Gideon Levy's reports have to be read, in my opinion, essentially as a description of the effect of the Israeli occupation on the lives of the Palestinians. I very much hope that he will travel 100 meters to save the life of a settler, but until he faces this test I am prepared to be satistifed with his articles. In my opinion, it is the duty of every Israeli citizen to know these things, and there is nothing, in my opinion, in writing or publishing these things that is radical leftist or anti-Zionist. There are people there, they have lousy lives day-to-day, and the Israeli occupation is one of the most substantial things in their lives. I think that we need to be able to report this matter even without looking at the objectionable Palestinian refusal to give up on their right of return. But maybe I am mistaken.
If left is "land for peace," then we are left. But I ask myself who leads social policy more, Ha'aretz or the Likud and Shas. With hesitation (lest you will think that I am misled), I want to suggest to you that if the leftist platform of Ha'aretz and its economic subsidiary [ed: Ha'aretz business section called The Marker] were adopted, the economic situation of all levels of the population would improve. The Zionism of Arik Sharon, of Eli Yishai, Efi Eitam and their colleagues is completely clear. Sharon said there isn't anything to talk about, including even the evacuation of isolated settlements. This is a flag that definitely can be waved, but it is clear that a resolution of the conflict, or any movement in that direction, will not be. Tourists, then, will not come, there will be no work in the hotels, foreign investors will withdraw from Israel, Ma'ariv will reduce its employees wage by 10 percent, Ha'aretz will cut, and this is still before Silvan Shalom's economic program takes effect on the economy. It's clear who will be primarily harmed from all of this.
The economic platform of Ha'aretz supported them; platforms that you label conservative (so be it, what difference does it make how they are labeled?) are positions whose adoption by the Israeli government over the past thirty years has raised the standard of living of all strata of the Israeli public. The revocation of the Israeli product protections caused a reduction in the prices of consumer products (true, at times at a cost of closing local factories that produced the same products at inferior quality and at more expensive prices), and the raising of the quality of Israeli products as a result of the competition provided an opening for considerable export. In the end, employment grew. Those who were once called unemployed became something many in Israeli society can admire.
Consistent preaching on the shrinking of the government's involvement in the economy led to a flourishing of initiative and growth in the economy. The privatization of public business services that Ha'aretz supported allowed, among other things, for everyone to hold in his hand a cell phone, with an affordable price for international calls. The pressure on the government to manage a budgetary policy brought an end to inflation in Israel, even if this position obligates us to oppose various strikes for additional wages. Not that there aren't economic problems and economic-social problems in the Israeli economy, but I don't have a doubt that the adoption of the economic and social platform that Ha'aretz supported and espoused for many years contributed to a considerable raising of the quality of life in Israel. Believe it or not, Ha'aretz even supported the establishment of a commercial television station. This also added employment and growth in the economy.
Check for yourself what you said about Nira Rousso and Shira Brauer. I am sure that you will find their writing is not just addressed to the top ten percent of Israelis; they also write about what the average person can afford. Travel a little in the country and you will see private gardens in all kinds of places; even in a flower pot in Tel Aviv it's possible to grow several herbs. In any event, so it seems.
True, we are more expensive than Ma'ariv and Yediot Achronot. Maybe if we were more talented we would be able to lower the subscription price and thereby get a larger circulation in a way that will allow us to pay wages to the journalists working at the paper. Attempts that we have made in this direction in the past were not successful, to my dismay.
It's disappointing for me that after all the years that you read Ha'aretz you don't see it in its own merits. It is possible that we truly are not the relatively reasonable paper, as I have convinced myself to think we are? Maybe you are right, and there is no need for me to be overly impressed by what was written about us this month on the editorial page of the Washington Post, which I am attaching for your review.
Either way, Irit, I am very sorry about your decision, and I would be happy if you would reconsider. I promise you that I will do my utmost so that Ha'aretz will continue to be a Zionist newspaper as it always was, in the good and bad years, and that before our eyes will stand, as they always have, the interests of the State of Israel and the interests of the people living in it, to the best of our understanding and our conscience.
CAMERA Corrects: An earlier version of this posting erroneously reported that the Linor-Schocken exchange was current.