The leftist Israeli magazine +972 wants to sound the alarm on a Jewish state it believes is destroying itself
This past December, as other Israeli publications summed up 2011 by nominating television stars, singers, and athletes as person of the year, the online magazine +972 chose a very different set of honorees: Tawakkol Karman, Asmaa Mahfouz, Razan Ghazzawi, and a handful of other young female activists who helped shape the Arab Spring. The piece—written by Lisa Goldman, the magazine’s cofounder, and heavily reported over several months in Cairo earlier this year—was a perfect reflection of the magazine’s virtues. It was strongly political, rejecting the mainstream Israeli view of the Arab Spring as a potentially disastrous development for the Jewish state. Instead, it celebrated the activists and their accomplishments, faithful to the magazine’s view that democracy is the only long-term guarantee for regional peace and stability. The piece was widely read, receiving copious attention from bloggers and generating traffic on Twitter.
But not in Israel.
Most of those who blogged or tweeted about the piece were residents of Arab countries. And most of these Arab readers neglected to mention that the celebratory piece was written by an Israeli journalist and published in an Israeli political blog. Israelis, on their end, largely ignored the piece, as they do nearly everything +972 does. According to Noam Sheizaf, +972’s editor in chief, only about 20 percent of the magazine’s readers are Israeli, a testament to the growing unpopularity of its progressive politics in a nation governed by a coalition, led by the Likud, of those who place land and faith above all else.
Rejected by the Arabs, ignored by the Jews: This is the reality with which the magazine’s 15 or so writers have to contend, writing, as they do, in English for a largely American audience. The magazine’s name is no coincidence: It is a tribute to Israel’s international calling code and an acknowledgement that, increasingly, any serious conversation about Israel’s policies is to be had outside of Israel’s borders.
Sparking that conversation is +972’s purpose. The magazine was founded last August,
almost by accident, when Goldman, Sheizaf, Ami Kaufman, and Dimi Reider met in Tel Aviv and agreed to collaborate. At the time, all were working journalists—Goldman and Reider were writing on a freelance basis for a host of international publications, Kaufman was an editor at several Israeli newspapers, Sheizaf was a political columnist for the local edition of Time Out, and all had blogs in English that aimed to provide Israeli news and commentary for an international audience. What began by posting each others’ stories on Facebook quickly evolved into a joint platform. From the first, the +972 crew agreed on an unorthodox journalistic ethos: All the magazine’s bloggers have complete freedom to write whenever and whatever they want. The magazine has a top editor, but the bloggers can fire him or her if they please. And whoever comes on board does so gratis. Other writers were quick to join. The website traffic monitor Alexa shows that visits to the magazine have grown exponentially since its inception, more than doubling in the past few months alone.
The magazine’s loose, horizontal structure, however, is not altogether porous: Underlining everything +972 does is a dedication to promoting a progressive worldview of Israeli politics, advocating an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and protecting human and civil rights in Israel and Palestine. And while the magazine’s reported pieces—roughly half of its content—adhere to sound journalistic practices of news gathering and unbiased reporting, its op-eds and critical essays support specific causes and are aimed at social and political change.
“I think there’s still a chance to resolve things,” said Sheizaf, 37, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “but it’s not going to happen without dramatic pressure from abroad. Left on their own, Israelis will continue the occupation and the current political trends forever.” That’s why Sheizaf caters the magazine to English-speaking readers around the world. “It’s good to internationalize the conversation,” he added. “I believe in this thing we do. I think to bring honest, grassroots voices in English out of Israel, is of the essence.”
Just what these voices might say is unpredictable. Some, like Yossi Gurvitz—a veteran Israeli journalist and former Orthodox Jew—support the one-state solution that would turn Israel and the West Bank into one nation, with equal rights for all its citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. Others, like the American-born Larry Derfner, a former writer for the Jerusalem Post, define themselves as liberal Zionists and support a two-state solution.
“I feel we have a very wide range of opinions [within the left],” said Sheizaf. “If we were more hot-headed, we’d fight each other. But compared to Israeli society and its nationalism and consensus and racism, we’re very focused. This hobby of the left, of having a fierce debate between people standing an inch away in the same ghetto, these arguments are interesting, but not enough to break the package.” And so, while +972’s bloggers often find themselves on opposite ends of their political camp’s most urgent questions, they realize that, for the most part, these differences are nearly invisible to the average American readers.
Plus, Sheizaf added, theirs isn’t an experiment just in politics, but in journalism as well: With traditional media pressed for funds and readers, the magazine’s renown—including frequent mentions in the New York Times—stems in part from its innovative journalistic practices.
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