For the past two years, increasing numbers of English speakers worldwide have been turning to The Times of Israel for news and analysis on Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world. Beginning this week, Arabic speakers can do the same.
The Jerusalem-based online newspaper’s founding editor David Horovitz announced on February 4 the launch of The Times of Israel Arabic. “We’re not exactly sure how The Times of Israel Arabic is going to be received in the Arab world. But we do know what its goal is: to report Israel, the region and the Jewish world accurately and engagingly for Arabic readers wherever they may be — precisely as we have been doing for two years for English readers,” he wrote in an op-ed.
“This is really important. No one else is doing this,” Horovitz told me a day later. According to the editor-in-chief, the Arabic edition of his publication surpasses other efforts by Jewish Israeli publications to gain readership in the Arab world. “Yediot [Ahronot] published in Arabic for a short time, and i24 has an Arabic site — but they’re TV news,” he noted.
Horovitz is particularly excited by the fact that The Times of Israel’s popular blogging platform and its attendant open exchange of ideas will carry over to the Arabic edition. “There’s no other [comparable] Arabic site that allows people to blog,” he said. “We are really going to encourage Arabic bloggers to contribute.”
So far, Horovitz, with the support of his U.S.-based capital partner Seth Klarman, has brought on three staff members for the Arabic edition: editor Suha Halifa, and two translators. They have been translating and posting content from the English site that they believe will be of greatest interest to the Arabic-speaking world. For instance, one of the first stories to appear was one about the enduring popularity of legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum among Israeli Jews of Middle Eastern origin, including members of the younger generations.
I write for The Times of Israel, and one of my articles appeared in Arabic translation on the homepage of the Arabic edition on its first official day of publication (there was a soft launch a couple of weeks earlier). The article was a profile of Saba Soomekh, a young professor who studies her own Iranian Jewish community in Los Angeles.
However, Horovitz expects that The Times of Israel will eventually also do original reporting for the Arabic edition, which will in turn be translated for publication on the English site. “It can feed in both directions,” he said.
On the technical front, the Times of Israel website had to be completely rebuilt for the Arabic edition, primarily because of how the Arabic language is written and appears on screen. Although the overall design and organization of the site is the same, font sizes are different. “It involved all-new coding,” Horovitz pointed out.
It’s far too early to know what kind of reach and impact The Times of Israel Arabic will have, but Horovitz reported that it was already getting thousands of page views in its first day online. Analytical tools showed that people were clicking onto the site from nearby East Jerusalem and Palestine, and further away from countries like Egypt and Iraq.
Horovitz’s goal is to inform, engage and stimulate readers in Arab countries. “This is more important than ever in today’s Middle East,” he said.
An online newspaper that brings Israel to Arabs in their own language will not bring about peace all on its own. But it is one important effort being made to try to build bridges.
As a veteran newspaperman, Horovitz is doing his part. “I believe in the power of journalism,” he said.