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    SUMMER '95
Starting Up at the Post

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"You do realize I have been attacking Yitzhak Shamir" I told a famously hawkish, and yet visibly unimpressed David Bar-Ilan as we sat in his office where he had just offered me to join the Post as business editor.

"You're welcome to your opinions," said the world renowned pianist who could not imagine in his wildest dreams that much less than a year hence – this was summer '95 – Yitzhak Rabin would be murdered, Binyamin Netanyahu would be prime minister, and he, the Post's editor, would be the prime minister's strategic adviser. Anyhow, David couldn’t care less about my views -- the country was anyhow full of gullible lefties – he needed a business editor, appreciated my Columbia Journalism education and foreign publications, and gladly agreed to my condition that as business editor I would also write regularly Op.Ed's.

And so, as soon as I joined the Post I launched two columns. One, slugged "World Beat," was about the international economy. The other, originally slugged "On the Agenda" and later renamed "Middle Israel," became synonymous with me, so much so that people often actually refer to me by that name.

While "On the Agenda" discussed the Israeli economy – the first item championed the banks' eviction from non-banking activity – I also began writing political columns on the Op.Ed pages. The first of those, headlined "Foolish false prophecy," was about the Left and Right being equally messianic, an argument that made then Economics Minister Yossi Beilin so angry he refused to cooperate with a profile we wanted to write about him.

As a matter of fact, this was in a nutshell the very raison d'etre of my column: the insistence that the historic Right and Left are equally wrong, and that the Middle Israeli public -- the one that works, pays taxes, serves in the army, does Miluim, tolerates otherness, compromises for peace and fights enemies – actually shares a consensus much broader than meets the eye. That consensus, as I described it in Sept. 27, 1996, seeks to balance economic freedom with social compassion, cultural liberalism with respect for tradition, and diplomatic pragmatism with military resolve. Over the years, however, Middle Israel also discussed anything and everything, from the deposed Eduard Shevardnadze's career to the decline of international soccer.

From the onset it was clear that I would be a bit of a strange species at the Post. Having hailed from the business press, published in Hebrew, and carried no passport other than the standard-issue Israeli one, which at the time was signed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, I did not quite fit the mold of Post journalists who, whether Right, Left, religious, secular, Jewish or Gentile – carried a plethora of passports, from Canada and Ireland to New Zealand and Zimbabwe. To some, my Middle Israeli views made me even more peculiar, not so much within the paper, but beyond it, where people are often addicted to schism and happier fanning intra-Jewish acrimony than nursing it.

Meanwhile, back at the Post's decrepit building, I gradually earned some of the best friends a journalist can only wish to have. Some of them, all true professionals, are no longer with us; from Sam Orbaum – the Zionist version of Art Buchwald – through master copy-editor Alec Israel, to Moshe Kohn who was a walking fountain of Judaic knowledge, and letters editor Georgie Arazi, whose slow approach to my cubicle always ended with a good laugh over some particularly wacko reader's comment, as well as Alex Berlyne, who encouraged my attraction to the essay genre, and of course David Bar-Ilan, who never took himself too seriously, a rare phenomenon in this profession, what's more that he had all the reason in the world to feel head and shoulders above most of his colleagues and competitors, not to mention his many detractors.

This blog, an extension of Middle Israel, is dedicated to them.


Middle Israel