Editor’s Notes: An editor’s responsibility

By David Horovitz October 1, 2004

A mission statement for The Jerusalem Post

Almost 15 years ago, in November 1989, one of my predecessors as editor of The Jerusalem Post, Erwin Frenkel, published an editorial in the newspaper entitled ‘The ‘Post’ and its Detractors.’ Written in response to bitter criticisms of the Post and its reporting issued by the then-prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, the editorial detailed the obligations of a free press in general, and a free Jerusalem Post in particular.

‘Newspapers and politicians, especially those in government,’ the editorial began, ‘never have silken relations. At least not in free countries. What politicians seek to conceal or disguise, the press seeks to disclose or scrutinize.’

After all, Frenkel went on in his magisterial style, ‘The Jerusalem Post, like the rest of the Israeli press and the free press everywhere, ministers not to the government or the party in power, but to the nation which the government serves.’

Publication of the article, which also reiterated what had been the Post’s traditional editorial support for ‘territorial compromise over the areas captured in the Six-Day War as a vital interest for the ultimate security and welfare of the Jewish state,’ sparked a storm within the newspaper. The Post’s publisher, Yehuda Levy, who had been appointed by the paper’s new owners Hollinger and was a supporter of Shamir, decided he could not ‘live with’ it, and asked that Frenkel omit it from that week’s issue of the Post’s International Edition. To many of the Post’s journalists, this seemed like blatant intervention in a free press: the ownership of a newspaper, motivated by its political interests, attempting to prevent the editor from expressing his opinions in the paper’s columns. In the escalating dispute that followed, some 30 members of the Post’s editorial staff resigned, myself among them.

It should be noted at this point that the Post, through much of its previous history, had been held far more firmly in the thrall of political influence, being directly bound to the Labor Party.

In that context, the terms of my appointment as editor, effective today, are worth stressing. As a condition for taking the position, I sought and received an explicit assurance of editorial independence from the Post’s publisher – a representative of the same company, Hollinger, whose previously dominant figures are now sidelined amid alleged financial scandal. This newspaper is read, in print and online, by millions of people in Israel, the Middle East, and throughout the Diaspora, most of them Jewish and/or supporters of Israel, anxious to better understand the country and its complex challenges. Whatever your politics, I hope you share my pleasure in the avowed confirmation of this newspaper’s editorial integrity. It is a privilege I will not surrender easily.

It is a privilege, moreover, that I do not intend to compromise by linking the Post to one or other political party or politician. In a country as politically unstable and confused as today’s Israel – where a ‘right-wing’ prime minister is desperately championing what was until recently the radically left-wing policy of unilateral withdrawal, and where he and much of his own party are at fundamental odds over what it is they stand for – any such editorial association would plainly be foolish.

Rather, the Post, a repository of many fine journalistic minds, will try to use its combined brainpower to formulate positions on the key issues of the day that it believes best serve the wellbeing of Israel and the Jewish people. We may be hard to pigeon-hole. So much the better.

I regard it as an immense responsibility to be editing The Jerusalem Post at this fragile juncture in the short history of modern Israel. We continue to suffer terribly amid the strategic terrorist onslaught of the past four years, and face challenges to our very legitimacy around the world, but the greatest threat to our existence, as our history in Temple times demonstrated and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin nine years ago confirmed, stems from internal hatreds, from an absence of moderation in our domestic climate of debate.

With that in mind, as today’s Israel agonizes over which policies will ensure a secure, predominantly Jewish and democratic entity, seeks formulae for religious harmony, and faces a very real risk right now of tearing itself apart in the struggle over the fate of the settlements, I will do my utmost to ensure that the Post serves as a platform for a wide range of opinion pieces, constructive dialogue drawn from across the political spectrum, whose common feature is their writers’ eschewing of incitement and of the vicious derision of those with differing views. We will not fan the flames of internal hatred.

Similarly, honored that you, our readers, come to The Jerusalem Post to learn the details of Israel’s daily development, and conscious that you make personal, business and all manner of other decisions based on what you read here, we will strive to maintain the highest reporting standards, with coverage and analysis as informative and fair-minded as we can make it. English is not the main language of Israel, but it is the language most widely spoken by Jewish people. The Jerusalem Post is the most resonant name in daily English-language journalism in Israel and the Jewish world, in an era when this article, and every other, can be accessed globally in an instant. We at the Post acknowledge the responsibility, and relish the opportunity, this brings us.

Shabbat shalom.

© The Jerusalem Post