THE BLOG

I'm Going to Take a Break, Sorry

For most liberal Israelis, Jeffery Goldberg's surprising tweet about abandoning Ha'Aretz and opting for The Times of Israel as a more reliable news source, was not so surprising. Most have already quit reading Ha'Aretz, which has dropped from a steady readership of 7.9% in 2005 to an all time low of 3.9% in 2016. Some liberal Israelis are still hoping the paper will moderate the radical editorial line it's adopted in the past decade or so (so radical that Goldberg referred to it as "cartoonish" and "nutty"), because they still admire some of the paper's journalists and parts of its content. Only extreme left-wingers dramatically argue that "Ha'Aretz is the last free voice in Israeli media", as they did in response to Goldberg's tweet. Most Israelis believe the local media is mostly liberal in its views, and about as vibrant and controvertial as media can be. The radical left has been using these overdramatic slogans in order to try and attract more public support for its agenda, but lately it seems that this tactic went too far and completely lost credibility. They didn't seem to work on Goldberg, either.
Unfortunately, Ha'Aretz's insistence to repel any criticism of its growing extremism has made it less and less relevant. But that's not really the point. The point is of a much broader scope. Goldberg's tweeted declaration portrays a larger sentiment, especially among Jewish journalists, who flinch when they see the hateful outcome of this radical line which was popular among the international press for a while - it simply legitimises anti-Semitism.
It's sad because the radicalisation completely missed its declared goal. The hard-line criticism of Israel began because of an attempt to fiercely push towards a two-state solution, and was a failure both ideology-wise and business-wise. Ideology-wise, because most of the Israeli public would still opt for the two-state solution if Israeli security issues were met, but cannot swallow a solution which is blind to the terror and the everyday threats Israelis have to live with. Business-wise, because a vacuum was formed in the English media arena, and the big winner who filled it is the relatively new Times of Israel. This liberal, balanced news site led by David Horowitz, formerly the chief editor of the Jerusalem Post and the Jerusalem Report, has long surpassed Ha'Aretz with an impressive readership of over 53 million in the past year (according to Similar Web), and is growing rapidly. Apparently, Goldberg is not the only one who finds it more reliable as a news and opinion source.
It seems that a line has been crossed somewhere along the way, and liberals who still believe in the two state solution have ceased to support the paper's radical, destructive voice. For example, liberal Israeli journalist Danny Cushmaro cynically tweeted an op-ed headline in the paper this week asking - "Is Israel an Evil State?", alongside a very short, one word comment: No. Others were furious at a ludicrous article by a Jewish "historian" who blamed persecution of Jews in Europe of the 20th century not on the Nazis, but on the Zionists. It chillingly suggested that Israel should not exist as a Jewish-state, a racist claim that was argued in the most intellectual rationalised manner. For Goldberg this was one nutty article too many, maybe because like other progressive American Jews, he sees what's really going on. Anti-Israeli trends on college campuses are frightening. So is the growing hatred towards Israel and Jews in general, for being associated with the "evil state". They feel that media coverage that fails to portray the complexity of the conflict isn't real criticism, it's anti-Israeli and neo-anti-Semitism
So, are the changing winds bad news for Israeli journalism, or for the feasibility of the two state solution? Not necessarily. Many believe that the overkill and over-dramatization used by Ha'Aretz and its likes achieved only hatred, not peace. The Jewish public, while opposing the occupation, cannot tolerate the justification of terror, or branding Israeli soldiers as "murderers" when they attempt to stop it. Most believe it's important to criticise Israel's policies, but apparently there's a very thin line between sane criticism and pure anti-Semitism. Or as Goldberg put it: "When neo-Nazis are e-mailing me links to Ha'aretz op-eds declaring Israel to be evil, I'm going to take a break, sorry".
Does this mean even bigger readership for the Times of Israel in the future? Probably.