When The Times of Israel, a new Web-only, English-language Israeli newspaper, hit the Internet in February, its glossy design and professional graphics moved many to wonder what well-heeled backer might be behind this latest entry into Israel’s crowded media market.
As it turns out, Seth Klarman, another wealthy American Jewish investor, is following in the footsteps of Sheldon Adelson and Ron Lauder in acting on his belief that coverage of Israel within Israel itself is unbalanced and unjustifiably hostile — and that he can do something about it.
In a statement to readers of the new media outlet, Klarman, the paper’s financial backer, wrote that he would have no editorial control over the publication. But he also made his motives clear.
“My own interest in Israel has become even stronger post-9/11, when the threat of terrorism and the danger of radical Islam collided with a global campaign on many fronts to delegitimize the Jewish State,” Klarman wrote. “As a longtime student of the history of anti-Semitism, I know this blind hatred is never the fault of Jews….”
The surprising background fact is that Klarman’s involvement with Israel is basically new. He took his first trip to Israel only seven years ago. But the wealthy investor defies simple categorization. His statement on the paper’s launch seems to toe a familiarly hawkish pro-Israel line. But Klarman also describes himself as an opponent of Israel’s policy of establishing exclusively Jewish settlements on the occupied West Bank, calling it a mistake “from the beginning.”
“I don’t think he’s ideological,” said Barry Shrage, president of Boston’s Jewish federation, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, to which Klarman has been a major donor. “It doesn’t pay to stereotype this man.”
Soft-spoken and publicity shy, Klarman bears little resemblance to more flamboyant Jewish mega-donors. His tone, observed in videos of interviews posted online, is almost professorial. At 54, he’s relatively young. And though he matches other major donors in the scale of his giving — his foundation made more than $20 million in grants in 2010 — Klarman is relatively unknown outside his home Jewish community in Boston. That’s now set to change.
The mid-February launch of The Times of Israel gains Klarman entry into a small but growing club of prominent American Jews who own Israeli news outlets, among them Adelson, who owns the English and Hebrew daily Israel Today, and Lauder, who is an owner of Israeli television’s Channel 10.
The Times of Israel is a serious new player in a field crowded by two long-established English-language Israeli newspapers, The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz (with which the Forward maintains a partnership). Klarman’s paper will also compete with American Jewish outlets carrying Israel news, including the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the Forward.
The paper gains significant credibility from the involvement of its founder and editor, David Horovitz, former editor of the Israel-based English-language magazine The Jerusalem Report and, most recently, editor of The Jerusalem Post. While The Jerusalem Report was seen as center left and The Jerusalem Post as center right, Horovitz told the Forward that the new publication will be “inclusive. ” He also challenged the characterization of The Jerusalem Post under his editorship as right of center.
“We are independent; we’re not attached or affiliated with any political party,” Horovitz said of The Times of Israel. “It’s an independent, fair-minded journalistic venture, and I think it’s incredibly important to give people a sense of the options that Israel faces and create an informed and constructive debate.”
A few weeks into its run, The Times of Israel’s website leads with hard news, but its heart seems to be in its features. Aside from its section on Israel and the Middle East, The Times of Israel features a Jewish travel section, a section on Jewish life worldwide and a section on Israel’s high-tech sector. The paper also has a sprawling op-ed section that invites the public to apply for their own blogs to be hosted, in a Huffington Post-like arrangement, on the paper’s website.