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The New New Republic

One of the most hands-on pro-Israel media personalities in America has sold his magazine to one of the most hands-on pro-Israel media personalities in Canada.

Martin Peretz sold the last of his stake in The New Republic to CanWest, the Winnipeg-based media company owned primarily by Leonard Asper and his family. Peretz, who has been both part owner and editor-in-chief, is staying on as editor-in-chief under the new owners.

The New Republic, a Washington-based opinion journal, had a long history as a mouthpiece for the political left. But since Peretz bought the weekly magazine in 1975, he has turned it into an intellectual playground for the hawkish Democratic center. The new owners, CanWest, own multiple daily newspapers in Canada, which are known for reflecting the Aspers’ laissez-faire economic positions and pro-Israel views.

The sale to CanWest caps a tumultuous year at The New Republic. Last year, Peretz hired a new editor, Franklin Foer, who has quickly taken the magazine away from its early support of the Iraq War. Earlier this year, Peretz’s two co-owners — financier Roger Hertog and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt — sold their shares to CanWest. At the same time, the magazine has been ramping up its Web site and carrying out a substantial redesign, and soon it will be cutting back to a biweekly print schedule.

Through it all, Peretz has been famous for the controlling hand he exercised at the magazine as both owner and editor, most of all when it came to issues surrounding the Middle East. The magazine frequently published columns by Peretz on Israeli and Jewish topics. More recently, he has built up his activity with a new, personal blog on the magazine’s Web site, called The Spine.

It remains to be seen how this will mesh with the Aspers, who are known for their own controlling managerial style. In 2001, CanWest ran into criticism when the company began distributing uniform editorials from its head office in Winnipeg for all its subsidiary newspapers.

Some CanWest editorial staff complained that they were barred from running articles and editorials that were critical of Israel. The Aspers further gained the ire of some journalists with their cost-cutting attention to the bottom line.

In 2004 the Aspers attempted to buy The Jerusalem Post, but the deal soured after Leonard Asper worried that his co-owners would not stick to the paper’s “conservative political position,” according to court papers.

The relationship between CanWest and Peretz may be able to grow on more common ground, given their shared support for Israel and antipathy for Israel’s detractors. During a speech in 2003, Asper criticized what he described as the anti-Israel bias of most media.

“I do not lightly come to the conclusion that antisemitism is part of the reason for the anti-Israel bias of the media,” Asper said, “but the evidence suggests it is indeed a major factor.”

Not at The New Republic.

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