While these words are being written [Sept. 20], the employees of the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv are on their way from the Maariv House to the Azrieli Center [a landmark skyscraper in Tel Aviv, where the current owner of Maariv, the IDB Holdings group, is located], on yet another desperate protest march intended to draw public attention to their plight [as the deal to sell the newspaper is finalized]; they seek to raise public awareness to the fact that, although it's a newspaper that is under discussion here and even if it's the media (which many loathe) that is on the agenda, the daily's employees are ordinary people with families to care for, with mortgages to pay and debts to cover, with children, lots of children, with dreams and hopes and with duly deserved rights.
Up till now, I have not taken part in any of these demonstrations. And not because I have any doubts whatsoever about the justification of this struggle. Indeed, I believe that the struggle waged by the Maariv employees has every justification in the world. It's simply that I cannot call a "thief" someone who invested more than 300 million shekels within a year and a quarter in an honest attempt, and driven by a genuine conviction, truly believing that the [foundering] newspaper could be saved and that every effort should be made to save it. Nochi Dankner [the owner] did not set out on a hopeless suicide mission [when he took control of Maariv through his IDB Holdings over a year ago]. He did try to come to the rescue and save the [financially strapped] newspaper (and take advantage of the opportunity — why not, indeed — to make a nice profit for himself). Alas, his efforts have failed and he has not managed to save the paper; as a matter of fact, he has almost committed financial suicide himself trying to save it.
Dankner made quite a few mistakes in the management of Maariv; however, none of these were made intentionally, with evil intent. It's a mix of lack of understanding of the business of journalism, arrogance and naivety that tripped him. We [the Maariv staff], too, are doing many mistakes in the struggle to save Maariv, but these are understandable mistakes. Thus, for instance, I could not but indulgently smile at the declaration yesterday [Sept. 20, announcing in a front-page piece titled “You’re ignoring us; from now on we’re ignoring you”] that as long as the situation remains as it is and until further notice, the names or pictures of Israeli ministers will not be published in the paper’s news pages. After all, that's precisely what they [our cabinet members] are interested in. In the free press, ministers are supposed to be mentioned quite often — disapprovingly rather than favorably. We [at Maariv] are by no means the agents of any political party and Maariv is not a party bulletin; in fact, we are the watchdog of democracy. However, in light of what's happening right now, the watchdogs will most probably be driven out in a short while and we [in Israel] are going to be left with the biased pamphlets alone — with the newspapers where ministers are mentioned only sympathetically, unless they have done the wrong in the eyes of Their Eminences [the owners of the political party mouthpieces].
They say that, economically, Maariv has no right to exist. The truth is that there is something to it. However, the right to exist is not supposed to be merely economic. There are things whose right to exist is not based on economic considerations. Not everything has to be measured on the scales or evaluated in the light of profit and loss tables. There are countries in the world where it has been realized on governmental level that the media needs help to adapt itself to the collapse of the [familiar] economic model and adjust to the deep structural changes required. Alas, in Israel the very opposite is happening. The government is the catalyst speeding up the disintegration of the media, pushing on the process and, to a large extent, responsible for it. The legislators and ministers of Israel will forever bear the guilt of the injustice done to the ill-treated workers of Maariv, the wronged employees of Israeli TV channel 10 [which is facing closure], their colleagues of the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz [who are threatened by imminent layoffs] and all the rest of them.
The culprits are well known. Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] we have already put on the infamous list. [On top of the list] is another known figure, Sheldon [Adelson, American Jewish business magnate]. The readers of this column are familiar with the facts and aware of the inconceivable situation where a foreign billionaire arrives here [in Israel] and streams hundreds of millions with the purpose of undercutting the flourishing market of free media in a democratic state in the name of his master, who is himself a part of this democratic system. And mind you, don't get confused; the fact that the media crisis in Israel is far deeper than in other countries and has evolved at a much swifter pace should be attributed to none other than Sheldon Adelson and his huge fortune. In other words, it should be written on the name of the Netanyahu family. At the same time, the Israeli cabinet ministers, each and every one of them, as well as virtually all members of the Israeli parliament also have their place on this list of shame. They are the collaborators. They have seen what's going on, they have heard the outcry, but they have chosen to look the other way. They were confident that they were on the safe side. And they feared the revenge of the bullies of the free daily Israel Hayom [owned by Adelson] and the fury of the madam [the prime minister's wife, Sarah Netanyahu].
Anyway, Bibi is not going to stay with us forever and Adelson too will depart some day. It's the State [of Israel] that is here to stay — a state where Maariv has been published for 64 years now, under any circumstances and in all weather conditions. These people, who share in the responsibility, both collectively and each personally, for what's happening here to the media, for the dying democracy, for undermining the freedom of expression, for the gloomy reality awaiting us, where we are going to have one single newspaper and half a TV channel, while all others hail the regime, leading us all to utter degeneration – these people will ignominiously go down in history. I have been with Maariv for 27 years now. I have spent my entire career here at Maariv. It is my first home — not the second. Those who have never engaged in this line of business, those who have not fought in the trenches of journalism (confronting the most bitter foe one can imagine), those who have never woken at 5 each morning to wait, with their nerves on edge, to the messengers delivering the newspapers to see who has come first in the daily war for the newspapers kiosk, in the [never-ending] endeavor to capture the reader's attention and to set the agenda — those who have not experienced all these cannot understand nor appreciate what I am talking about.
These are sad days. On the personal level, I could only wish that all of Maariv's employees would be in my position. Yet, I too, had quite a few difficult moments in Maariv, and more than once I subsequently sent letters of resignation. However, when all's said and done, I have always known deep down in my heart that as long as the paper is interested in my services I will stay with it, until they turn off the last light, if for no other reason then so as not to undermine the prospects for survival of the newspaper and to carry on the [journalistic] struggle. Even today, when I am no longer dependent for my livelihood on Maariv, when all my dreams in the sphere of the media have come true, I am still here, driven by some peculiar principle and also, by no less outlandish loyalty, which is apparently inborn. The problem, however, is that I am not alone in this story. There are 2,000 workers in Maariv — 2,000, no less! The situation of the majority of them is nowhere near mine. They have no professional horizon and no other job. They do have mortgages to pay, debts to cover, children to feed and dreams to fulfill. If they receive at the end of the day lifetime compensation at the amount of 100,000 shekels ($25,500 US) instead the 150,000 shekels ($38,500 US) they duly deserve, it will be disastrous for them. Some of them are hard-working people living from hand to mouth. Part of them are too old to start a new career and others are unlikely to find another job.
Last Friday [Sept. 14], I watched on TV a heartrending feature article, a real sob story about the goings-on at the Phoenicia Glass Works plant. Like many other viewers, my eyes filled with tears when Shimon Akrish [one of the plant's workers about to lose their jobs and only source of income] was telling that he could not fulfill his promise to his daughter to buy her a new bed in place of the broken one she had because he simply didn't have enough money. Well, ladies and gentlemen, Maariv's workforce is four times larger than that of Phoenicia Glass Works. We [at Maariv] have four times more such moving stories as that told by Akrish. Throwing the Maariv employees out to the street without an alternative job or at least full compensation would be no less than inconceivable, outrageous villainy.
True, it may well be that to save the newspaper, the [basic economic] model should be changed and a (very) large number of employees should be laid off. However, they should be given the opportunity to survive the day after too. Hadn't we [at Maariv] been forced to cope with the present crisis by courtesy of Adelson's casino ventures, we could have adapted the paper to the modern era gradually, step by step, over a number of years.
Maariv has already discarded hundreds of workers. But when it has to be done all at once, at a stroke, it is much more painful and far more cruel. Not every organization nor every body can withstand such an operation. I hope that as one with us [at Maariv] you will pray for the survival of the paper, for the salvation for its workers and for the life of whatever is still left of democracy [here in Israel].