This is the way they express themselves in private conversations and this is what they think. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman calls Haaretz "Der Sturmer," the notorious Nazi propaganda tabloid; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu considers Haaretz one of Israel's two greatest enemies, along with The New York Times. Even the denial issued by Netanyahu's bureau over the remarks by Jerusalem Post editor, Steve Linde, was weak and foggy: "Iran is the greatest enemy," with nary a word about Haaretz.

That is to be expected: the attack on Israeli democracy will not pass over Haaretz. Netanyahu and Neeman are expressing their worldview. They want Israel without the High Court of Justice, without nonprofit associations, without Haaretz. There is no point in explaining to them and their ilk the task of the press, particularly when the other protective mechanisms of democracy are being increasingly undermined. They will not understand.

A person who excoriates one of the world's most widely-admired newspapers, The New York Times, attests more to his own character than to that of the object of his assault. But we shall say this to both of these individuals: Your Israel, the one you are shaping now, owes a great debt to Haaretz. No other media outlet gives Israel a better name than the one you attack. No other whisper coming out of Israel engenders so much respect for Israel because Haaretz is one of its newspapers.

Sometimes, it is even misleading. Quite a few people throughout the world mistakenly think Haaretz is Israel. No, Haaretz is not Israel, unfortunately, but it is a different voice - the minority voice, which must be heard. It proved every day, both locally and to the world, that Israel is not only Avigdor Lieberman.

One day of Operation Cast Lead gave Israel a worse name than everything that has ever been written in Haaretz, including articles by this writer. One month of Netanyahu in the prime minister's office and Neeman as justice minister will do more damage than all the critical articles combined.

A great danger now threatens some of Israel's media outlets, but the closure of only one of them will change this country's image unrecognizably. It is not the most popular, far from it, but in certain respects it is the most important. Israel without Haaretz will be a different country. There are no other media outlets about which this can be said with such certainty. If Channel 10 closes - perish the thought - Channel 2 will fill the void; if Maariv shuts down, Yedioth Ahronoth will do the same work. If Haaretz distorts itself or closes, Israel's image will also be distorted.

To be immodest for a moment, the cultural and artistic life of Israel would look different without Haaretz's Gallery section and the literary supplement; social protest in Israel would look different without TheMarker; Israeli democracy would look different without the newspaper you are reading at this moment.

Israel's greatest enemy is now standing guard, perhaps more than any other protective mechanism. Who covers racism like Haaretz does, or legislation, the occupation, corruption, exploitation and discrimination? Imagine Israel only with MK Danny Danon? Who would expose the shameful expulsion of 2,000 Cote d'Ivoire citizens, the lack of Amharic-speaking welfare workers, the role of Arab architects in Israeli life and David Vogel's just-discovered book, all of which were covered in Friday's Haaretz? It's not what you thought it was, and certainly not what the prime minister thinks - and this is what they call "Der Sturmer" and an "enemy of Israel"!

In the spring of 1964, I published my first lines in the weekly children's publication Our Haaretz. "One day a friend comes over. I want to play with him and who pushes himself in the middle? My brother, of course." Eighteen years later I joined Haaretz. I have no idea whether the newspaper is proud of me, but for the information of reader Netanyahu, I am so proud to write for Haaretz and so proud that Israel has Haaretz.

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