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Jewish Journal

Remnick on Haaretz

by Rob Eshman

February 24, 2011 | 6:18 pm

"Self-Portrait with Goat," Durar Bacri, 2008.

There is a lot to admire in New Yorker Editor David Remnick’s portrait of Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper and its editor Amos Schocken.

But the first kudos have to go to the New Yorker’s art director, who illustrated the long profile with a near double-truck photo of Schocken standing in his office in front of a huge canvas by the Israeli Arab painter Durar Bacri. Schocken’s stance nearly mirrors that of Bacri in the painting. This is about the Jew who identifies with the Arab.  This is about the shared scapegoat between them. This is about the very real Tel Aviv office giving on to the imagined Palestine countryside. You almost—almost—don’t need to read another word to understand where the piece will eventually take you.

But do read.

Remnick explores not just the complicated character of Schocken, but all the characters- the spot-on Hebrew word would be tipuseem—who make up the distinct, countercultural, sober-minded and darkly idealistic editorial team of Haaretz.  New Yorker profiles seek to explain the macro by digging into the micro. What you come to understand by reading about a small circulation daily written in a language spoken by a relative handful of the world’s people is how Israeli society itself is shifting, the tissue that connects Israelis one to another dissolving, and the country fragmenting into ever more incorrigible tribes.

There are a lot of ways to tell this story.  Last week I had breakfast here in LA with Dan Ben-David, who can tell it with a Power Point in a way that will leave you just as depressed and convinced.  Ben-David is the head of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.  He was born near Tel Aviv, and educated at the University of Chicago.  One set of his charts shows that Israel by 2045 will have a primary school population that is 89 percent Haredi and Arab.  Meantime, its secular population is disappearing, with the most educated taking jobs elsewhere at four times the rate of professionals in other countries. The high-tech boom Israel has enjoyed is the product of a well-funded educational system that has fallen apart.  It will take strenuous and immediate government action to revitalize it, Ben-David told me, and there is no indication that the current Israeli administration is committed to doing so.

So when Remnick writes (and bv the way, when does the editor of the New Yorker find the time to do so?) that Haaretz may become “an exile in its own land,” he is echoing not just one unusual man’s professional path, but the fate of a nation.  That’s what makes the piece so powerful.  That, and the goat picture.

Two [oops, no Three] small quibbles:

1. Remnick neglected to report on Haaretz’s English-language web site’s influence in the Diaspora.  The last time I checked, it was second only to The Jerusalem Post in the amount of traffic, but I’d argue it has a more influential audience. (Outside of Israel, jewishjournal.com is #1 in traffic—just saying).  He did mention the viciousness of the Talkback comments on the site, but when you dig into the actual comments, they seem to be from the same hardcore Jews and Christian Zionists who patrol the Web, defending every perceived slight against Israel.

2. Haaretz was not the only Jewish paper to have reporters inside Cairo from the beginning of the Tahrir Square Uprising.  We had one on the scene, and another Egyptian outside the country in constant cell phone contact with the protesters.  Click here to read one.

3.  Remnick forgot to mention one of Haaretz’s other standouts: Natasha Mozgovaya, the paper’s very astute U.S. correspondent.

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