End of an era: Shimon Peres (1923-2016)

The Times has a mostly fair-minded obituary. Peres may not technically have been one of Israel’s Founding Fathers (the way David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin were), but he was the last living representative of “the founder generation” of Israeli politics.

A protégé of David Ben-Gurion’s, he started his career in the final years of the Mandate as the person in charge of arms acquisition for the Haganah, and continued to act in that capacity after the founding of the state and the Haganah’s transformation from the pre-state militia  into the IDF.  In 1952 he was appointed deputy director general of the Ministry of Defense, becoming director-general (and de facto minister) in 1953 at the age of 30. He has been a mainstay of the Israeli political landscape for over six decades, ending with his term as  President (a mostly ceremonial position) from mid-2007 until mid-2014.

There is a Hebrew saying, acharei mot kedoshim (after their death, saints) — a pun on the titles of two consecutive Torah readings, acharei mot (Leviticus 16-18) and kedoshim. (Leviticus 19-20). “Do not speak ill of the dead,” if you like. I am however reminded of Oliver Cromwell, who told a painter to paint his portrait, “warts and all”. Paradoxically, because Peres was too great a man to need hagiography.

In his early career, Peres made tremendous contributions to the Israeli defense establishment and the security of the State. The Israel air force, Israel Aircraft Industries, RAFAE”L (Hebrew letter word for reshut le-pituach emtza’ei lechima, Weapon Systems Development Authority), Israel’s alleged nuclear deterrent… all came about on Peres’s watch. In 1959 he was first elected to the Knesset on the Mapai (mifleget poalei eretz Israel, Party of the Workers of the Land of Israel) ticket, and became Deputy Defense Minister (again, de facto minister, as Ben-Gurion officially held the portfolio himself).

In 1965, Peres, Ben-Gurion, and Moshe Dayan broke away from Mapai as  a new ticket Rafi (reshimat poalei Israel, Israel Workers List). After the Six-Day War, Mapai and Rafi merged into ha-Ma`arach (the [Labor] Alignment), and Peres joined the cabinet first as Immigrant Absorption Minister, then as Postmaster General and Information Minister. An intense rivalry with Yitzhak Rabin (Chief of Staff during the Six-Day War, later ambassador to the US) started with their competition for the Defense portfolio. After the Yom Kippur War and the resignation of Golda Meir, Rabin became Prime Minister and Peres Minister of Defense. Ironically, Peres was then the more hawkish of the two, fostering settlements in the disputed territories on the one hand and green-lighting the daring Entebbe Rescue on the other hand.

Peres never fared well at elections: an old Israeli joke was that “he could run against himself and still lose”. He always felt more in his element in the boardroom and carrying out diplomacy (sometimes incognito) with the high and mighty than on the campaign trail. He succeeded Rabin as party leader following the latter’s forced resignation over a (by today’s standards picayune) financial peccadillo: Rabin had maintained a US bank account from his days as ambassador, which had about $2,000 in it. (The law prohibiting Israelis from maintaining foreign bank accounts would later rightly be wiped off the books.) Peres’s triumph was brief: the general election put Menachem Begin’s Likud in power, and consigned the Labor Alignment to the opposition for the first time in history.

Peres had another shining moment after Begin’s “I cannot go on” (eineini yachol `od) resignation following the Lebanon War (and the demise of his wife Aliza Begin, to whom he was deeply attached). In the following National Unity Government, Peres and the Likud finance minister Yitzhak Moda’i put a stop to the hyperinflation that was ravaging the country. Under the coalition agreement, Peres started out as PM and Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir as Foreign Minister: after two years, the two men traded posts. Peres engaged in ample “behind the scenes” diplomacy in that era — something at which he excelled.

Following another narrow loss at the polls, the national unity coalition was continued, now with Shamir as PM all the way through. A failed scheme by Peres to topple the government in favor of a coalition of the left wing with fervently religious parties entered the Israeli political lexicon as ha-targil ha-masriach (“the stinky maneuver”, a term coined by Rabin).

After Rabin led Labor to victory in the 1992 elections, Peres became Foreign Minister in  his cabinet — the two erstwhile rivals established a surprisingly good working relationship until Rabin’s assassination. Here his main legacy became the Oslo Agreements — which must have “seemed a good idea at the time” but would become ashes in the mouths of so many of us.

Peres’s party was widely expected to win the election in the wave of sympathy and mourning following the Rabin assassination. True to form, he lost again, and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu became PM for the first time.  Former Chief of Staff Ehud Barak replaced Peres at the helm of Labor and three years later led it to victory in the polls, but left Peres on the sideline as Minister of Economic Cooperation.

Following the collapse of the Camp David Talks and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Barak lost a direct election for Prime Minister to Ariel Sharon. Peres brought Labor into Sharon’s coalition, thus forming another national unity government and holding the Foreign Ministry once again.

His record as foreign minister was mixed. While his personal diplomatic skills are undisputed, FM insiders have told me he devoted little attention to the ministry’s hasbara (“explanation”, PR) activities: he was quoted as saying that a good policy sells itself, while a bad policy cannot be sold. (It is fitting that my interlocutor, who generally is opposed to Netanyahu’s policies and favors those of Peres, acknowledged Netanyahu’s running of the ministry was much more effective.)

When Sharon founded a new centrist “Kadima” party and pursued a policy of unilateral disengagement, Peres followed him to Kadima and became his ally. After Sharon was rendered permanently unconscious by  a cerebral hemorrhage, Peres became deputy PM under Sharon’s successor Olmert.

Peres had earlier run for the post of President (the largely ceremonial head of state of Israel), but lost to Moshe Katzav in the Knesset vote. Katzav was ultimately forced to resign, and eventually imprisoned, in a sexual harassment scandal. Peres threw his hat in the ring again, successfully this time. His tenure as President restored dignity and prestige to the office, friend and foe agreeing he was perfect for the position.

Throughout it all, Peres remained a workaholic with an extraordinary drive, an insatiable intellectual curiosity, and an energy level that belied his age. It was widely assumed that Peres would either die with his boots on, or shortly after finally having to retire.

On a personal note: Across Peres’s triumphs and failures, and the many decades of his career, the one constant feature that stands out to me is his fascination with science and technology. Even just a couple of years ago, he could still be relied upon to hold forth to philanthropists, VC types, and foreign dignitaries on nanotech, renewable energy, virtual reality, you name it.

Some loved him, some hated him, many of us did both at one time or another. The prophet of the New Middle East, the ‘indefatigable schemer’ (chatran bilti nil’e, as Rabin called him in his memoirs), the arms master of early Israel, the father of our nuclear program,… he was all that and more. A man larger than life. Once there was a giant. May his memory be blessed.

PS: movie buffs might be interested to know that Peres (born Szymon Persky in Vishnyeva, present-day Belarus) was a second cousin of Lauren Bacall (born Betty Joan Perske).

Police: dozens of ISIS supporters working at Zaventem airport (no April Fools joke)

Would that this Daily Mail article were an April Fools joke. (The story was earlier reported by the Belgian press in French and in Dutch. I tweeted the coverage in Le Soir.)

Police at Brussels airport have claimed at least 50 Islamic State supporters are working there as baggage handlers, cleaners and catering staff.

In an astonishing open letter, the officers said they have warned about the terrorist sympathisers whose security badges give them access to planes, but they remain employed.

The airport police, who are threatening to go on strike because of security deficiencies, also said they have raised the issue of terrorists scouting the airport to plan possible attacks.

Police at Brussels airport have claimed at least 50 Islamic State supporters are working there as baggage handlers, cleaners and catering staff. […]

The extraordinary claims come after the Mail reported how the family of two of the bombers involved in the attacks last week said they had worked as cleaners at the airport.[…]

The officers said they had raised suspicions about certain staff members including those who apparently celebrated after the Paris attacks in November that killed 130 people.

‘When we checked these people, we were surprised more than once. It was men with a radical ideology and a long police history,’ the officers continued.

‘Even today, there are at least 50 supporters of the Islamic state who work at the airport. They have a security badge and have access to the cockpit of a plane.

And get this:

An uncle of Ibrahim and Khalid el-Bakraoui last week told how the brothers had been employed at the airport and would have gained intimate knowledge of the terminal destroyed in the carnage.

The man, who asked not to be named, told the Mail: ‘They worked cleaning at the airport and in a restaurant. They didn’t finish high school in the end. They cleaned the airport in the summer months.’

Read the whole thing and weep: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3517493/At-FIFTY-ISIS-supporters-working-baggage-handlers-cleaners-catering-staff-Brussels-airport-claim-police.html#ixzz44apMn9HM

It is high time to bring back the “pole of shame” (schandpaal), the Belgian equivalent of the pillory. On second thought, perhaps the Schwedentrunk would be more fitting…

Brussels, multiculturalism, and political AIDS

But I repeat myself.
“Belgium suffers from political AIDS in the literal sense of the word”  (La Belgique souffre du SIDA politique au sens étymologique du mot.) [Acquired Immune-Deficiency Syndrome, Ed.]
Thus then Minister of Justice Jean Gol, longtime leader of the Reformist Liberal Party (PRL) and himself an ex-leftist, described Belgium’s political situation over two decades ago, in the wake of a wave of murderous supermarket shootings and a reverse-infiltration scandal that rocked the State Security (Belgium’s nebbishy domestic intelligence agency).
He was excoriated for his remarks at the time. Jean Gol turns out to have been a prophet.
The horrifying attacks in Brussels struck very close to home: I fly through Brussels a lot for work, and at one point we had an apartment there not far from the metro station where one bomb went off. A work colleague of mine was supposed to have been at the airport on the day of the attack but her daughter’s flight was rescheduled at the last moment.
From a large collection of anecdotal evidence (from friends, family, and first-hand) we learned that the Belgian law enforcement apparatus might be able to find its own derriere with a voice-assisted GPS on a good day. The story of the bomber about which the Turks (!) issued a warning, yet walked around freely in Belgium, speaks volumes. Here are two articles well worth reading, one by a Belgian businessman now living in the US, another by an expat American in Brussels. Both jibe very closely with my own observations from my younger (ahem) years in Europe.
I have guestblogged at Sarah Hoyt’s place about the psychological phenomenon of “displacement”.  In brief, this is the psychological defense mechanism of a human who is facing a problem or enemy (s)he is unable or unwilling to confront, to go seek out some 7th-order issue or “small fry” enemy, which they can than easily “take care of”, so they can “prove” they are still relevant. We see this also in the EU: faced with the twin powder kegs of Islamofascism and the potential backlash of their own populations against the elites who have nurtured that viper on Europa’s bosom (see my earlier blog post Scenes from Europe before the storm), the Euro elites continue to bury their heads in the sand and instead obsess over such issues of crucial world-historical importance as the labeling of SodaStream dispensers: whether they are produced in Israel or in the “occupied”/disputed territories. (Needless to say, a number of snarky comments could be heard on the Israeli street the day after the attacks ;))
Belgium’s way of “coping” with Islamofascist extremism appears to have been primarily to… let them do their thing as long as they did not run too wild inside Belgian borders. St-Jean-Molenbeek, the borough of Brussels where the “he-goat milkers” (Kurdish insult for DAESHbags/ISISholes) hang out,  has effectively been abandoned by the ‘natives’ and has become a no-go zone for the locals. Other areas in the boroughs of St-Josse and Schaerbeek are at the very least in the same direction, and the last time I walked near the Brussels South station, I wished I were ‘packing heat’.
Speaking of which: some idiotic MSNBC (but I repeat myself) article claimed that the arsenals held by the terrorists “prove the need for gun control”. In fact, Belgium, despite being a major manufacturer and exporter of small arms (FN-Browning in Herstal, near Liege) has among the most stringent gun control laws in the world. Depending on the source, legal gun possession ranges between 4 and 6%, and the number of carry permits is minuscule. (When I used to live there, as an arms dealer explained to me, carrying a handgun required four separate licenses: purchase, possession, transport, and carry — the latter was only issued very rarely.) On the other hand, whoever has underworld connections and/or a lot of money and no questions can procure just about any lethal hardware illegally in Brussels if one knows where to go. This is nothing new, BTW: Brussels has had a flourishing black market in firearms (as well as forged identity documents, etc.) for decades — for so long, in fact, that Frederick Forsyth could incorporate it as a plot device into his classic thriller The Day Of The Jackal, set in the early 1960s.If nothing else, it proves that disarming the law-abiding populace merely empowers criminals and terrorists. (See my earlier reflections here.)
When I first took a job in Israel many, many years ago, a number of Belgian (and other) friends could not understand our decision to go live “in such a violent region”. My response then: “don’t worry, your turn will come”. I wish to G-d I had been wrong then.
There are some signs of hope. The strongest political party now is the conservative, Flemish-Nationalist N-VA, led by an avowed admirer of Edmund Burke. (N-VA is emphatically not to be confused with the collectivist, “blood and soil” Vlaams Belang.) The current government is making baby steps to rolling back the worst excesses of “de multikul/le multicul” as brainless multiculturalism is called in Dutch and French, respectively. (“cul”=’b*tt’ in French, hence kul=‘nonsense, BS’ in Dutch.) In an opinion piece in De Standaard (highbrow Dutch-language newspaper), veteran editor Mia Doornaert even argued for getting rid of the “hapless” (“heilloze”) term “Islamophobia”. She also rightly called the claim that Muslims are the new Jews “an obscenity”.
But will the European elites be mugged by reality, or will they continue to say “après nous le deluge” (after us, come the Great Flood)?

[…] The fate of all mankind I see
Is in the hands of fools

Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying…

PS: lest you think that Islamofascism is only a threat to the West, and not to non-Islamists elsewhere, think again.

PPS: French intellectual celebrity Bernard-Henri Levy, himself threatened by extremists from Belgium: Europe might be dying.

Do not go gentle into that good night
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

UPDATE 3: Belgian soldiers standing on guard had no bullets. As “Dianne” quipped on Facebook, “it’s like a bad Monty Python skit”.

UPDATE 4: A penpal in Belgium sent me this article in Het Nieuwsblad (in Dutch), in which former Belgian minister of justice Marc Verwilghen reveals that his prior attempts to institute even limp-wristed anti-terrorist measures were blocked by former PM Elio di Rupo (Socialist Party chairman at the time, as well as alleged “Wicked Uncle Ernie“) and his party comrade, deputy PM Laurette Onkelinx, as “racist” and “creating stateless persons”.

On socialism, incentives, and kibbutzim

Mark Perry discusses the failure of socialism. Among the cardinal features he singles out is the fact that, if you allow me to translate him into engineering lingo, the system is “not robust”: all it takes for the system to fail is a few people behaving like, well, jerks. In contrast, imperfect as capitalism may be, it’s the equivalent of a piece of machinery that only works “well enough”, but keeps going and going even if severely abused — a “robust” design.

Aside from that, Perry particularly stresses the role of incentives. Now if I’m ever asked to summarize economics while standing on one foot (the Talmudic version of “give an elevator pitch”), I’d say: “Humans respond to incentives. All the rest is commentary.” I am sure Steven Levitt would like this as a summary of his bestselling “Freakonomics” series.

Periodically, people bring up the Israeli kibbutzim in this debate — socialists as an example of “socialism that works”, detractors of Israel (when speaking to conservative or libertarian audiences) as a reason to dislike Israel. Few of them actually have any familiarity with life on a kibbutz.* Unlike them, I have plenty of current and former kibbutzniks around me, and I’ve lived in a kibbutz-like community in the past.

In fact, they are remarkably similar to medieval monasteries from a socio-economic point of view, except of course for the enforced celibacy and religious orientation. Allow me to elaborate on this point a bit. For those interested in more detail, Stanford University economist Ran Abramitzky has published a number of very interesting papers on the subject just as this one and that one.

Some of the points old-school kibbutzim and monasteries (both quasi-socialist micro societies, at least historically) have in common:

  • membership is voluntary (for the first generation of kibbutzniks)
  • prospective members are strongly screened for ideological and personal compatibility
  • even when admitted, they have to go through a probation period (novitiate in monasteries, provisional member status in kibbutzim)
  • they are generally small enough that each individual member knows (almost) all the others personally, which enables:
  • a level of social control that would be unbearable to most Americans. One could go as far as to say that the economic incentive to individuals in such communities has been replaced by a social one: the approval (or censure) of fellow members.

For all the talk about them, it might be hard to believe that kibbutzim only account for a few percent of Israel’s population. Aside from speaking to the imagination, they played a larger-than-life role in Israel’s founding, and still are heavily represented in IDF combat units and in the political scene.

Considering the value that left-wingers attach to “diversity”, Dr. Abramitzky rightly points out that kibbutzim are just about the least “diverse” society one can imagine. Separate kibbutz movements existed for hardline socialists (HaKibbutz HaArtzi), moderate socialists (TAKA”M, Hebrew acronym for United Kibbutz Movement) and religious kibbutzim (HaKibbutz HaDati). Ideological rifts within a kibbutz can end, and have ended, in kibbutz splits — Ein Harod being a prominent example.

The membership of most kibbutzim were nearly wall-to-wall Ashkenazim of Central and Eastern European background — moreover, the founding gar’in (“core” [membership group]) of a kibbutz often all hailed from the same town! A few carefully vetted members of different origins might gain admission, or a like-minded group of such people might found a kibbutz of their own. A few individual kibbutzim were formed by somewhat ‘out there’ communities: Hararit, for instance, was originally founded by a group of  Transcendental Meditation devotees. (She-yihyu bri’im/”bless their hearts”.)

There are a few really large kibbutzim, such as Giv`at Brenner (secular, about 1,700) or Kvutzat Yavne (religious, about 1,100). But more typically, membership is in the range of a couple hundred — which Dr. Abramitzky points out is near the limit of the human mind’s ability to process personal relationships. Kibbutzim that grow larger than that may eventually see rifts or be weakened by attrition — or a gar`in would form and a new kibbutz would be established elsewhere.

The model of “from each voluntary and vetted member according to their abilities, to everyone according to their needs and our resources” worked, after a fashion, until the 1980s. Worldwide economic changes that made agriculture and light industry less profitable were one factor. The second (sometimes third) generation of kibbutzniks being born into a model they had not taken upon themselves voluntarily was another. Many kibbutzim started experiencing an exodus of young people, particularly the talented and ambitious ones.

The 1980s financial “Kibbutz Crisis” forced most kibbutzim to reform in order to stave off bankruptcy. Some were privatized outright and turned into community villages that just retain “Kibbutz” as part of their name. The remainder exist in one of three models:

  • kibbutz mitchadesh, or “renewing kibbutz”, where every member’s only sources of income are their own, from work or trade inside or outside the kibbutz. This is presently the dominant model;
  • kibbutz shitufi (pronounced “sheetoofee”), or “sharing kibbutz”: the old-school model rebooted (a small minority);
  • kibbutz meshulav, or “combined kibbutz”: a hybrid model with wage differentiation

A few “urban kibbutzim” have been founded in recent years, where members voluntarily associate into such a form of living in an urban setting. Some of these groups are a little weird (centering around ecological or “alternative” obsessions), others more mainstream. The key word is, however, voluntary. Such “socialism” is not scalable to a large and diverse country of inhabitants mostly by birth rather than choice.

To the extent the kibbutz/monastery form of “socialism” ever worked, it did so because it was voluntary, vetted, tightly knit, and in tune with local economic circumstances. When one or more of these factors no longer pertained, it had no choice but to transform or disappear.

(*) Footnote: a kibbutz should not be confused with a moshav, which is an agricultural community organized as a smallholders’ cooperative.

 

Foreboding

I have been filled with a sense of foreboding recently.

The lib-left Inner Party has been overreaching and playing with fire. Soon they may get a reward they never bargained for, and the rest of us may get a cure that is as bad as the disease.

When you have insanity like this going on (just the most recent of heaps of examples)

SIGNS OF CIVILIZATIONAL COLLAPSE: Danish teen fought off her attacker – now she’ll face fine… via

And anybody who speaks up is shouted down by tarring them with the “R”, “S”, or “H” scarlet letters, eventually people get so angry that they will glom onto the first demagogue who dares say out loud what they themselves are thinking, and who does not try to wish the elephant in the room away (or worse, play a shell game with it).

Furthermore, when you keep trying to muzzle people by speciously accusing them of being “racists”, “sexists”, “homophobes”,… eventually some will say “I may as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” and join truly unsavory elements.

All of this is utterly predictable to anyone with an elemental feel for mass psychology. Hence the rise of a blowhard demagogue like Trump. Note that I am not accusing him of being the R, S, or H words – I think Trump’s entire ideology starts and ends with his own 0bama-sized ego. Nature abhors a vacuum, Trump saw it, filled the void, and is obtaining the narcissistic supply from it he seeks. Think of the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of Star Trek (TOS), and what 0bama would look like in the parallel universe where Spock had a beard.

Trump may not get the nomination. If he does, he stands a very serious chance of being elected. Contrary to the prejudices of some, this prospect is giving many constitutional conservatives sleepless nights. A number of years ago, a dystopian novel named “Caliphate” (Baen Free Library Link) was published which prefigured not only the rise of an ISIS-like movement but also the rise to power of a populist politician who promptly proceeds to use the legal and bureaucratic tools put in place by his lib-left predecessor against the ones who created them in the first place.

 

And that is just the US. In Europe, I see similar things happening. Sane liberals, moderates, and constitutional conservatives alike watch in horror as a three-cornered psychodrama unfolds: between an ever more delusional looney left out-virtue-signaling each other; an ever more psychotic Islamofascism; and a yearning for/resurgence of authoritarian populist-right strongmen.

Cinema buffs may know the following eerie Chopin Prelude (No. 2 in A minor) from the Ingmar Bergman movie “Autumn Sonata”. All the preludes were given nicknames in Hans von Bülow’s edition (e.g. the “Raindrop” for No. 15 in Db major). This one was given the heading “Todesahnung”, German for “foreboding of death”.

I’m a natural “dark optimist” — worried about things that can go wrong, wanting to stitch in time to save nine, but fundamentally with a deep sense thing will turn out alright in the end.

But like in the hoary Jewish joke, “you think it’s easy being an optimist?”

 

Theater of the absurd: silent intifada edition

There is currently a bloody wave of stabbings and other impromptu terror attacks going on in Israel. The perpetrators appear to be principally East Jerusalem Arabs with Israeli (“blue”) ID cards, who therefore have freedom of movement in Israel. As usual, the Islamofascists’ useful idiots in the West and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself) ignore the suffering or blame the victim.

The Border Police (technically a branch of the IDF) is doing the L-rd’s work protecting us, and courageous bystanders to attacks have responded with whatever improvised means at hand (in one case in Ra`anana, an office worker attacked the stabber with his umbrella!).

Which makes some Americans, used to the 2nd Amendment, wonder: why no more Israelis with firearms on the street? Believe it or not, gun ownership in Israel is actually severely restricted. A detailed summary in English of Israel’s firearms legislation can be found here at the Law Library of Congress. In short, Israel is a ‘discretionary issue’ country, where one must demonstrate a need for the possession of a firearm by one’s place of residence (e.g., in the disputed territories or otherwise in the proximity of ‘Palestinians’), by one’s profession (e.g., a driver who routinely transports parties of five or more people can get a handgun license fairly easily). Other eligibility requirements include passing periodic psychological evaluations and firearm proficiency tests. Licenses are easier to obtain if one has served honorably in an IDF combat unit or in the police, especially at officer rank. As of 2012, only about 175,000 valid firearm licenses (which typically cover one firearm and a supply of 50 bullets) are in circulation in Israel (with a population of about 8 million). Twice as many licenses used to be in circulation when the population was much smaller.

IDF soldiers on active duty in combat units are allowed to bring home their service weapon (typically an assault rifle or submachine gun), since they should be available for action at a moment’s notice. IDF noncombat personnel in ‘day service’ positions (i.e., many female recruits) often travel to and from the base in uniform with no other protection than pepper spray and whatever unarmed combat skills they may have acquired on their own. This effectively makes them sitting ducks to such stabbers.

Behold the theater of the absurd: an army called the Israel Defense Forces that is effectively depriving a substantial portion of its manpower of the means to defend themselves. Had the recent stabbing attacks been attempted in my other home in the Dallas suburbs, chances are the terrorist svolochy would have been turned into sieves in short order at the hands of whatever civilians who were carrying.

The ‘logic’ behind hamstringing the IDF noncombat manpower is probably a combination of risk-averseness (in a country with mandatory service), political correctness, inventory issues, and fear firearms may fall into the wrong hands (terrorists or underworld). I dearly hope somebody has the wisdom to rethink this. A defense force that is disallowed to defend itself sounds like an… 0bamination.

Haaretz: going into economic as well as journalistic abyss

“Nightmare on Schocken Street”? Via Israellycool’s survey of English-language Israeli news sites, a fascinating article (in Hebrew) about the ever-increasing financial woes of Haaretz (which sees itself as a Hebrew-language New York Times). A few highlights in translation:

  • Over just the last two years, the paper (which had about 70,000 subscribers in 2012) lost one-third of its readership, and dropped out of the top 3 newspapers. 
  • I once dismissed somebody as “exaggerating” when he claimed “only 2% of Israelis read Haaretz”: turns out it was only a mild exaggeration, as Haaretz readership did drop to 4.8% of the population (down from 7% in the first half of 2012)
  • Several rounds of layoffs took place, and staff were notified most recently that either a bigger wave of layoffs would take place or there would be salary cuts across the board
  • In the last month alone, the disgusting anti-IDF slanders of especially Gideon Levy have caused 2,000 of their remaining subscribers to cancel the newspaper. 
  • In order to attract more readers, the paper changed its editorial line (read: became more radical) in the last two years to reach new audiences. Not only was this strategy a complete failure, but it made things worse
  • The harshest blow came as the owners of Israel Hayom took over the printing press of the ailing Maariv, and promptly started printing Israel Hayom there rather than outsource the printing to Haaretz’s printing press

Despite all this, publisher Amos Schocken (3rd generation of the family after the founder, Zalman Schocken and his son, Gershon Schocken) continues to claim that subscriptions actually “are at an all-time high”. A page from the playbook of Baghdad Bob? Aviv Horowitz (in Hebrew) has another explanation: that Schocken counts the sum of print and online subscriptions. He also points out that the online subscriptions sell for about one-seventh of the price of a print subscription.

 

If you know how to “read between the lies” Haaretz can still offer some good journalism on occasion. And I would much rather have a Haaretz as a sane, critical left-wing voice (however much I disagree with them) than radicalize itself into irrelevance and bankruptcy. However, it seems that the Schocken family decided they:

“Don’t need reason, don’t need rhyme

Ain’t nothing I’d rather do

Going down, party time

My friends are gonna be there too…”