Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Tel-Aviv Post: Breaking news editor at the Jerusalem Post

I have got a job as a "breaking news editor" at the Jerusalem Post.  Twenty years ago this would have been my dream job and it still goes quite a long way. Basically you spend all day listening to, and watching the news and then post it on the website.  Some of the material is just feeds from Associated Press, and others are articles by Jerusalem Post staff which you post to the website, but a certain amount needs to be written by the editors and a lot of the AP stuff needs adjusting to reflect Israeli interests. also the editors decide what goes where and how important things are.  Oh and you get to approve the talkbacks.

At the moment the Post offices are in Jerusalem, and boy are they filthy. They've had the same offices since 1932 (when they were called the Palestine Post).  Outside there are loading bays which I assume were where once the paper would have gone onto lorries (trucks) every day for delivery round Israel.  But times have changed and the post is no longer printed there and its readership have mostly moved to HaAretz.  However I am told the website gets 200,000 clicks a day.  According to this site, they get 500,000 unique visitors per month (that is different individuals accessing the site).  The paper version sells 12,000 a day and 40,000 at weekends (See my source). It used to sell 70,000 a day. Apparently the site is popular with evangelical christians in the USA. 

The Post is supposed to be moving to Tel-Aviv next month, but for the moment I have to drive out to Jerusalem on my motorbike which is now getting a bit old for this kind of journey. Basically the time has come and possibly gone when I should get a new one.

Fortunately the Post's offices are near the entrance to Jerusalem, so there are no traffic issues once I get there. Over the years the neighbourhood where the offices are located has become haredi.  My guess is they can sell the offices to make way for apartment blocks and make a bit of money on the move.  Anyway the general location (and the poor wages) means that I am finding it hard to find somewhere to eat lunch and yesterday I wandered into a mall where everyone was haredi.  That is to say everyone but me and the Arab security guard at the entrance was wearing side curls, black silk jackets etc.  The women were all pushing prams followed by chains of children. It wasn't like a stetl, it was like an alternative universe, imagine going into your local shopping centre and finding everyone dressed in almost identical black 17th century outfits  - and unshaven. It is a little threatening at times, though you quickly realize there is no reason to be afraid. 

For some reason British-English is a common language round there and I even saw someone driving a car with UK number plates.   You also hear a certain amount of Yiddish and see children playing and talking Yiddish, though I would say that Hebrew and English are the dominant tongues.  Maybe the time will come when all haredis speak English, or they will create a Jewish version of English (Yiddlish?) rather like Ebonics.  Over time it seems to me that nearly all the world's Jews are moving to either live in Israel or the English speaking world.  At present 80% live in Israel and the USA.

The Jerusalem Post is like a UN of the English speaking world. You find yourself sitting next to an Australian, an American and a Canadian.  There is an Englishman but he's leaving as he doesn't want to move out of Jerusalem.  

One good thing about going to Jerusalem is that the city is so bizarre its liking going to another country.   So several times a week  I get to feel like I've been abroad.

P.S.  If you want to read more about my time at the Post see How I won and lost a global scoop


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Religion and Socialism in the Middle East conflict

It used to be, that when Arabs and Jews went to war, socialist Jews would fight socialist Arabs. Kibbutzniks were disproportionately represented among the commanders of the Israel Defence Forces, PLO factions were all called the Popular Front and the parties which ruled the Arab world described themselves as socialist. Israel was totally under the thumb of the Labour party and in the Six Day War it was socialist Nasser against the Kibbutznik Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.  

Now that Middle East socialism seems to be in terminal decline, the religious have taken over.  Israeli officers facing Sunni fundamentalists in Gaza or Shia fundamentalists in Southern Lebanon are likely to live on the West-Bank and share a devout belief in a single invisible deity with their bitter enemies. However there are differences, for whereas the Islamists are likely to represent the most fanatical Moslems of their respective peoples, the most fanatical of Jews - The Haredis - steer clear of military service.  

Eshkol and Nasser were, of course, also nationalists as are the settlers and Islamists so in that sense there has been continuity in the conflict. What has changed over time is the identity of the most extreme nationalists.  Where once the Nationalist Socialists dreamt of Empires that resurrected ancient values now Religious Nationalists seek to restore the Caliph (Osama Bin Laden and Hamas)  and return the Islamic world to its stature in the post-crusader times while the most extreme Jewish nationalists dream of rebuilding the Jewish temple.   

The Haredis (As Ultra-Orthodox Jews are known) have managed to avoid military service and have tried to steer clear of nationalism but this may be beginning to change.  Reports say that within the next twenty years secular Israeli Jews will become a minority and the pressure on Haredis to contribute more to the military is growing.  

The army in Israel is its great melting-pot. After the mass migration in the fifties, the major fault line of Israeli society was the Sephardi - Ashkenazis cultural and economic divide.  Military services helped limit the damage, it was the first point of contact and, under conditions of danger and with few women to cause rivalries, military buddies crossed ethnic lines.  Today the Sephardi-Ashkenazi issue remains sensitive, but a growing percentage of Israelis are the product of mixed marriages and the conflict is clearly healing.
In the nineties Russian immigrants became a noticeable presence in the army at a time when there were complaints that too many weren't Jewish, that 'their' culture was undermining Israeli values. However the propensity of  boys getting killed on the front to have Russian names made it clear that the new immigrants had brought with them Soviet second world war traditions and were giving more than their fare share.  Today is the anniversary of the Nazi surrender and hundreds of Soviet veterans will be marching in Jerusalem,while wearning Jackets covered in improbable quantities of medals.  

The two major fault lines of Israeli society are now the Arab-Jewish divide and the Ultra-Orthodox - Secular divide.   A recent article in HaAretz warned that within twenty years these two groups may form the majority in Israeli society and there is concern that the military burden may become the burden of a minority.  As a result there have been calls to ensure that Haredi children learn English and Maths, while the army is putting together special programs where Haredi men can serve in the army without having to abandon their lifestyle. It is still too early to tell, but we may yet see the most fanatical Jews fighting the most fanatical Moslems. 

Although nationalism is clearly the major force in the conflict, it is not purely nationalist but also religious.  Once the socialists started resolving their differences, the orthodox took over the conflict taking it to new places.  I believe that any efforts to achieve peace need to take that into account and seek to incorporate religious ideals in gestures of peace.  


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Am I using the right site?

There is a small visitor counter on this blog which you can see lower down the page on the right hand side.  At the moment its been viewed about 320 times in a couple of months which is hardly a very impressive statistic.  So I've started thinking about trying to promote it and am wondering if I should change the blog's location. In the mean time is pretty easy to use and I don't want to start moving around without a good reason.

I've registered with who want this code in the blog: 2C6XKHE5EY5D  So there it is guys.   Lets see if I can't find a few more readers...


Recreating ancient kingdoms: Arab Nationalism vs Zionism.

Although Zionism and Arab Nationalism are at loggerheads over Palestine (or perhaps Southern Syria), the two have a certain amount in common...