In the mid-1970s, I spent a brief period working for an English-language magazine in Lima, Peru. The Peruvian Times was, at that time, a schizophrenic blend of business news and first-person adventure travel yarns. Guess which part subsidized the other.
The magazine's office -- just blocks from Lima's nearly 500-year-old central square -- was a hangout for English-speaking journalists passing through or stationed in the Peruvian capital. Many looked to the Times' expat staff for story ideas, context and sources.
The Times was an example of a foreign reporting truism -- which is the reliance correspondents have on local journalists for ideas and contacts. This is particularly true for those new to a nation and those who cannot fully function in the local language.
Its a false comparison because Haaretz ("The Land" in Hebrew) has limited circulation, is unabashedly and consistently left wing in its news columns as well as its editorial positions, is hostile toward religious orthodoxy -- no small thing in a nation where religion plays an enormous role in public life -- and has no where near the domestic influence or corporate wealth of the Times.
What it does have is influence in international liberal circles, which I'd say includes the majority of the Western correspondents working in Israel.
Haaretz strongly opposes the right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, in particular its policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank. On this issue, its editorials and columnists are often quoted by those in the international media who trend liberal-left.
As such, Haaretz wields more influence internationally than it does within its home nation, giving it outsized importance in the international debate over Israel -- which is why Haaretz should be a subject of interest to American consumers of Middle East news.
Let me be clear. My intent here is not to attack Haaretz or its views, some of which I agree with (Israel's ongoing settlements policy, in particular). Rather it is to underscore the influence local media, even one with limited appeal at home, can have in shaping the international media agenda when its views are in line with the prevailing foreign media mindset.
Haaretz -- sometimes spelled Ha'aretz -- is also published in Hebrew. I subscribe to the online English edition, often checking it several times a day. I do this specifically to understand the Israeli left's perspective, just as I read even more left-leaning and also extreme right-wing Israeli media on a daily basis in an effort to understand the full range of views in Israel.
Additionally, I have friends who once worked at Haaretz and others who work there now. I've also ghost-written op-eds for liberal American Jewish leaders that were published by Haaretz.
Earlier this month -- and the catalyst for this post -- prominent Israeli journalist Shmuel Rosner published a column in The New York Times saying much of what I'm reiterating here. Here's the top of that piece.
TEL AVIV -- Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper. Admired by many foreigners and few Israelis, loathed by many, mostly Israelis. Read by few, denounced by many, it is a highly ideological, high-quality paper. It has a history of excellence. It has a history of independence. It has a history of counting Israel’s mistakes and misbehavior. It has a history of getting on Israel’s nerves.
Still, it is just a newspaper. The story of the people vs. Haaretz — that is, of a great number of Israelis’ growing dislike for the paper — is worth telling only because it tells us something about Israel itself: that the country’s far left is evolving from a political position into a mental state and that the right-wing majority has not yet evolved into being a mature, self-confident public.
Consider an incident from mid-April. Haaretz published an op-ed by one of its columnists. It made a less-than-convincing argument that religious Zionist Israelis are more dangerous to Israel than Hezbollah terrorists. And yet, the response was overwhelming. The prime minister, defense minister, education minister and justice minister all denounced the article and the newspaper. The president condemned the article, too. The leader of the centrist party Yesh Atid called the op-ed “anti-Semitic.” Leaders of the left-of-center Labor Party called it hateful. The country was almost unified in condemnation.
Further down in his oped, Rosner -- who previously worked at Haaretz for a decade, including as its U.S. correspondent, and who I'd categorize as a centrist (in an Israeli context) -- wrote this.
Four factors have converged to make Haaretz more annoying to Israelis today than ever before. First, the country is less receptive to a left-wing agenda as most of its citizens tilt rightward. Second, the country feels it is under an unjustified and hypocritical international siege and so is less forgiving when Israelis are perceived to be providing Israel’s critics with ammunition. Just recently, Jewish Israelis ranked “left wingers” as one of the groups contributing least to Israel’s success. Third, Israel’s left is very small, and also feeling under siege. Fourth, the left’s frustration with Israel makes it bitter and antagonistic. It makes it more prone to test the patience of other Israelis by upping the rhetorical ante in its criticism of country, leaders and groups.
The takeaway here is simple. As with everything else in life, it's best when reading the news to consider the source.
That's even more the case in this age of down-and-dirty online -- not to mention often lightly edited, if edited at all -- news. And no, I'm not saying this is particularly Haaretz' problem.
What I am saying is that it's misleading reporting when foreign journalists present Haaretz as an influential player in contemporary Israeli politics.