Reading Haaretz (Voyeurism)

Online Zionism (and online anti-Zionism) is getting dirtier and dirtier. I have two sets of mixed feelings about the recent decision by Haaretz to charge for online content, the second more serious than the first. One is practical-pecuniary. The second one is psycho-political.  Am I going to pay for it, and maybe just maybe it’s time to stop looking.


On the one hand, I am going to miss the free content, and I think Haaretz is going to lose a lot of international readers, which is too bad. Haaretz occupies a unique niche. It represents a small sliver-community of liberal opinion and readers in Israel, a small country. But it has managed to punch above its weight, given, I think, the ubiquity it acquired from its online presence. Now that it’s no longer free, fewer people will read it. Might this mean that Haaretz (and with it liberal, left-center Israeli opinion) will shrink to its natural, miniscule proportions?

On the other hand, it’s not that I don’t see the point behind the decision to charge for content. Maybe this really is the beginning of the end of the new media if by new media we meant something open-sourced and free for which no one has to take responsibility. Or it’s the end of critical thought and critical culture in a media environment that encourages the pretence that all information is equal. Soon all that’s left is going to be the New York Times, The Jerusalem Post, Mondoweiss and the jerks at Tablet. Oh well.


The second bit of ambivalence relates to the obsession with Israel on the part of leftwing American Jews like myself. Because now I have to ask why, in the first place, am I, an American Jew, following so closely and intimately Israeli politics and culture. I think there’s an answer to this, but, truth be told, I’m beginning to feel like the guy in the back seat watching other people go about their business.

I didn’t always feel this way about Israel. I come from a Labor Zionist household and grew up in Habonim. When I was in high school, my father subscribed to the Jerusalem Post, back in the day when it was a liberal, center-left newspaper. (This is not to say my father was liberal. He wasn’t.) I spent multiple years in Israel after high school and have been reading the Israeli press pretty much since then. So maybe I’ll now subscribe to Haaretz. Or maybe I won’t. I am going to need to think about this.

My dear fellow American friends, forgive me for saying this, but maybe this is one way to wean myself from (an) (my) (our) almost life-long obsession with Israel. Haaretz-online has been the medium that allowed self-important leftwing busy-bodies like myself to cop an “insider’s view of all things Israel –politics, culture, society. It’s a smutty version of what Jacob Neusner called “vicarious Judaism.” I see the voyeurism especially now that I’m on Facebook. As a medium, Facebook is giving me a more “objective” view of what this kind of behavior looks like –objective in the strict sense that I can see myself in others by watching them watching Israel with the obsession with which I have watched Israel over 30 (!!) years. Every little incident, any bit of racist legislation or every little pedestrian human rights abuse, it all goes right up on Facebook, and then we can get all indignant about it –as if we’re all not already reading Haaretz ourselves. We are worse than voyeurs. We dress it up as “politics” and share it with others.

The problem is that Haaretz remains the unparalleled platform not just for Israeli news and politics. It’s also a source for news and reviews relating to Diaspora affairs, Jewish history and Jewish culture and also, occasionally, Middle Eastern culture and politics. As a professor of Jewish Studies, I’m pretty sure not to subscribe would be a big mistake. And it’s not like I want to not know what’s going on in Israel, which is to say that I have professional reasons compounded by personal reasons to not not subscribe. I think I can get the department to pay for my subscription as a research expense. I’ll continue to watch. I’ll sit in the back and peek through my fingers. Almost as bad as starting a blog, it’s in such incredible bad taste.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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6 Responses to Reading Haaretz (Voyeurism)

  1. Jessi Roemer says:

    “…allowed self-important leftwing busybodies like myself to cop an ‘insider’s’ view of all things Israel …” Oh dude, I’m so with you. WTH is the matter with us? On the other hand, in the face of the ridiculously polarized hegemony of the Jewish Right about Israel, Haaretz has been the one thing we can point to and say, “See? It’s not just me. Real live Israelis have reported this!” We re-post every Haaretz report of human rights abuses because it’s proof that when we decry the occupation we’re not just spouting anti-semitic propaganda. As for why we still care at all, I think it’s kind of like “You can take the girl out of Brooklyn …”

    • zjb says:

      Hey Jessi: I guess I’ve just come to the point where I’m done arguing, or done with all those imaginary arguments with rightwing stick figures in my head. I don’t even think it makes sense to oppose the Occupation. It just is. Let’s just say the rightwing won. Personally, I still think it’s a terrible idea, but if you support a one-state solution, send your money to them, and they’ll do the work for you.

      • qolyehudi says:

        Dear Zachary

        Though I’m not particular left-wing (or maybe I am, I’m not so sure myself), I would still encourage you to support the left-wing media in Israel. No matter how frustrated I can get by having thrown their annoying articles in my faces by “pro-Palestinians,” who want to “prove” to me how racist Israel is, it is still important to have a critical voice, and not only that, but to have a nuanced discussion in a country all too often drowning in ideological onesidedness. And we certainly also need Jews m’hul, in order to keep us a little on track, especially those of you who know how life is here.

        To add. When you state that “I don’t even think it makes sense to oppose the Occupation,” then I think you’re totally right. Not in the “the right-wing won” sense, actually I believe that the whole settlement movement (and I guess that you’re referring to the settlements, when you write Occupation, right?) is going to be the factor that makes the right-wing loose in the end, because the settlements are forcing the Palestinians and Israelis to coexist. It is already happening, le’at le’at. Of course, sudden violent protests can pause it, but the more we deal with each other, the more we will have to keep on doing that, dealing with each other.

        All the best.


  2. ysara says:

    Why we care at all? Good question. You’re probably a minority in your generation, y’ole dinosaurs. I’ll tell you why, dear friends. Because while Israel is way out there, and it’s oh so bad for the Jewish people, it’s also oh so important for the Jewish people. And, ma la’asot, we are. Jews, I mean. I know it sounds provincial, but we are and can’t shake it – part of a continuing national story, the one we were raised on in Hebrew school shmaltz, in Bubby’s shmaltz/gribbenetz/tears, in Habonim, in the C/Ob/Y Jewish studies departments. I’m as lost as everyone as to what to do between two valid narratives: the centuries of Jewish persecution (hey, how many of you are from Podolia… and what were your relatives doing in the early 20th century? mine was living 900 lives trying to cross into Bessarabia and into the protective arms of America and Palestine… ), and the harsh realities of Jewish power as well as the protections provided by modern democracies. I’m not about to throw one limited narrative in the trash in favor of another limited narrative, can you hear me? Free Haaretz was helping lots of Diaspora Jews hanging to Israel by threads of varying thickness, to hammer out a third narrative. And now? I see the Haaretz move, justified as it may be, as bad news, tartei mashma. Israel matters, like it or not. Otherwise, the lion (prok yat amakh mi-pum ARYAVATA) will eat Pierre.* Or at least it might. If not “ale uvneh” “pay and connected stay” (?)
    *(idea: Sendak’s Pierre as an allegorical rendering of his own biography, i.e. the traumatic loss of his extended family… surely someone’s wasted time on this ; – ))

  3. Yonatan Benhaim says:

    This is simply a non-issue. People, it costs shekels, lots of them, to produce unique high-quality content every day, pay the writers and editors, translate and put it online and print English and Hebrew paper edition for everyone to read. All this money has to come from somewhere, and it’s ridiculous for anyone to think that Ha’aretz under any conceivable business model defy the laws of gravity and continue to give its web content away (including to well-heeled Diaspora Jews) for free. We pay for clothes, groceries, books and everything else… why not also Haaretz?

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