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Shalem gave these journals $2,500 per edition, which covered half the cost of the production. The students raised additional funds themselves, sometimes reaching out to campus Jewish groups to make up the difference.
David Hazony shared a Yahoo listserv for the editors and founders of the journals with the Forward. It provided a glimpse into the world of the fledgling pro-Israel publications. One message thread from 2005 dealt with transparency about the journals’ backers. Sol Adelsky, editor-in-chief of The Michigan Israel Observer, sought advice after a supportive faculty member “cringed” upon learning that Shalem was funding the journal.
“From my experience, I think it’s always best to be transparent,” Weiss, who was starting The Current at the time, wrote in one e-mail. But then she contradicted herself: “Also, from now on, better not to bring up the Shalem name. Tell them its [sic] coming from Azure — from a grant given by Hertog, who also owns half of The New Republic.” Aharon Horwitz, an adviser for the Azure Student Journals Project, replied that the editors must be “totally, totally transparent” about Shalem. “Explain that there is no, absolutely no, editorial control on the journals,” he said.
In an interview with the Forward, David Hazony also stressed that the journals were run independently, with the student founders soliciting and editing the work of their peers. “The mandate was that there needs to be an Israel focus or a Jewish focus,” he said. “We put no restrictions or limitations on the content, and we did not involve ourselves editorially.”
But Strusberg said that there was one major caveat: The student journals were barred from printing material that denied Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Before the journals went to print, Strusberg reviewed every article for anti-Zionist messages. “We wanted to make sure that at all times the journals were essentially pro-Israel,” she said. “You could never publish an article which was simply condemning the state’s very existence or right to exist.” Luckily, Strusberg said, she never came across an article of that sort.
Breger, who founded Kedmah, said that she never once felt censored by Shalem in publishing her journal. “We had complete editorial control,” she said. “We decided everything what we were and weren’t going to publish.”
Perhaps because of its position on a campus where Israel was a hotly contested issue, The Current quickly became the most high profile of the student journals. Weiss and her staff published book reviews, neighborhood meanderings meant to evoke The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” column as well as essays about Israel and Judaism. Though decidedly Zionist in perspective, the publication did not eschew criticism of its own movement.
In The Current’s second issue, Weiss wrote that Zionism’s adherents did themselves a “huge disservice” by not touting the movement’s liberal values, such as human rights.
According to Strusberg, the journals continued to be affiliated with Shalem until 2008, when the center shed them to focus its efforts elsewhere. Several of the journals, including Kedmah and The Current, are still in operation.
In the years since The Current’s founding, several of its editors have gone on to write for major news outlets, many of them taking strikingly similar trajectories. Weiss, Feith and Hirsch all completed the Robert L. Bartley Fellowship Program at The Wall Street Journal. Weiss then served as an assistant editorial features editor there, which is Feith’s current position.
Feith also worked as an assistant editor at Foreign Affairs magazine, where Hirsch is currently a staff editor.
The Current alumni also frequently write with and for each other. Tablet, where Weiss is an editor, sometimes features the work of Hirsh and David Fine, The Current’s editor-in-chief. In 2011, Weiss and Feith shared a Wall Street Journal byline criticizing Vogue magazine for profiling Syria’s first lady, Asma al-Assad. Hirsch and Rosen shared a byline in The New Republic in 2010, when they revisited their original beat: Columbia University. The article raised questions about the university’s Center for Palestine Studies, which had just opened. In part because of its affiliation with Massad, they wrote, the center was in danger of becoming a “clique of like-minded academics whose defining commonality is hostility toward Israel.”
The most recent Current alumnus to make a media splash is Rosen. His attack on Mondoweiss in The Atlantic focused on one of its staff writers, Alex Kane, whose work recently appeared on The Daily Beast’s Israel blog, Open Zion, edited by author Peter Beinart. Rosen took this as evidence of “anti-Semitism entering mainstream discourse on Israel and Palestine.” Atlantic senior editor Robert Wright called Rosen’s article an instance of “neo-McCarthyism.”
“The term for this maneuver is ‘guilt by association,’ and it has an unfortunate history in American politics and intellectual life,” Wright wrote.
Asked what, if anything, Rosen’s article said about The Current and the Azure Student Journals Project, Strusberg said the article reflected a certain style of bulldog journalism. “I think there is a tradition that people that came out of that journal were brave, outspoken and said what they believed because it was important to them,” she said. “If a young person feels they can tackle an issue, that is a great thing.”