NY Times deplores loss of leftist dominance of Israeli media

The Israeli newspaper scene, like its U.S. counterpart, is reeling from multiple shocks.  After 64 years in circulation, Maariv is on death's door.  Even more worrisome, at least from the perspective of the New York Times, is a drastic slimdown of Haaretz, a small but highly influential ultra-left paper that has been bleeding more and more red ink.

In an Oct. 5 dispatch to the Times, Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner reports that for the first time in three decades, Haaretz ceased publication for a day because of an employees' strike against sharp job cuts.  In introducing Haaretz to her readers, she describes it fondly as "the flagship broadsheet of Israel's left-wing intelligentsia."

That it is, but there's more to Haaretz than Kershner lets on.  For one thing, this is a newspaper that has inflicted untold damage to Israel's security because correspondents of Western media in Israel quote it more than any other news source.  If you're a reader of the Times or the Washington Post, it's a fair bet that. nine times out of 10, citations of newspaper editorial, columnist and pundits are plucked out of Haaretz.

Haaretz's  menu of anti-Israel poison pills ranges from opposition to Israeli security measures, like the West Bank separation barrier, and excuses for Palestinian misdeeds to demonization of the Jewish state's religious side and a harsh view of Zionism.

If Haaretz were to disappear, it would leave Kershner and other foreign correspondents without their favorite go-to sources to hammer Israel in their dispatches.  No wonder Kershner took up pen to commiserate.

"Media experts speak of an ominous trend, a once diverse news bazaar that is becoming more concentrated and prone to political influence," Kershner writes.

And whence pray tell would come such deplorable political influence?  "In particular," Kershner writes, the economics of the print media have been skewed by the arrival five years ago of Israel Hayom, a free national newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson, a conservative American billionaire who is a staunch supporter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuv.  Israel Hayom, viewed as pro-Netanyahu, now claims the widest distribution of any Hebrew newspapers on weekdays."

What Kershner actually deplores is not concentration of media outlets, but a shift away from leftist dominance of Israel's media.  Israel Hayom serves as a welcome counterpoint to Haaretz and its virulently anti-Bibi agenda.  It also serves as a corrective to what used to be the No. 1 circulation paper, Yediot Aharonot, which also tilts to the left.

Despite Kershner's tears about media concentration and an attendant loss of ideological diversity, Israeli consumers now have more choices on the political media spectrum.  It's rather odd that Kershner fails to mention the Times of Israel, an all-digital newspaper with a centrist bent and probably the best news purveyor among Israeli newspapers on the web.  Nor when it comes to diversity, does Kershner mentions Arutz Sheva, another news sheet on the web, which provides readers with interesting articles about religion and Judaism in Israel.

If anything, there is now more media diversity in Israel.  It's just broadening in directions that Kershner, with her secular, left-wing views, finds off-putting.  Too bad.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers