Haaretz at 100: Israel’s National Poet Praised the Paper for Shunning Fake News

In 1933, Haim Nahman Bialik lauded the daily – and its left-wing competitor Davar – for eschewing ‘harmful exaggeration’

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A statue of national poet Haim Nahman Bialik, Ramat Gan, Israel.
A statue of national poet Haim Nahman Bialik, Ramat Gan, Israel. Credit: Eyal Toueg
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Haaretz “has virtues found only in the most important newspapers in the world,” Haim Nahman Bialik once said. “One of them is that it doesn’t pursue sensationalism.”

But Bialik, who is lauded as Israel’s national poet, whose 100th birthday would have been celebrated this week, didn’t have an equally positive view of the press as a whole in the 1930s.

“In recent years, parts of the press worldwide have been seized by an evil spirit of pursuing cheap sensationalism and adapting to the needs of the market,” he said in a 1933 speech. “This press, which is found mainly in America, spills sewage mixed with poison all over its front pages. Every morning, the reader is ‘honored’ with a bath of sewage.

“Fortunately, this press hasn’t conquered the entire market. In the Land of Israel, fortunately, it’s a minority. Haaretz, and after it the workers’ paper Davar, both these newspapers, which serve as a voice for the decisive majority of the Jewish community, know how to educate their audience and maintain a proper orientation, unfalsified and devoid of harmful exaggeration, and also how to preserve our national assets, our cultural heritage and its lofty, elegant tone.

“For these virtues, and for the aspiration of raising its readership to a high cultural level, we must first and foremost thank Dr. Glueckson.”

Moshe Glueckson became Haaretz’s editor-in-chief in 1923 and was the first editor to really leave his stamp on the paper. Bialik gave his speech to mark the 10th anniversary of Glueckson’s entry into the job.

In a piece written in 1921, Glueckson also referred to what he saw as Haaretz’s special role.

“Haaretz sees its main mission as giving form and expression to the Jewish people’s national needs in general and to the needs of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel,” he wrote. “It will strive to serve as a faithful mirror of our situation at present and to spark national and public thinking about this issue for the future.”

Haaretz’s uniqueness, he added, is that “it’s here to provide for the public’s needs, but not to do its will, be dragged after its tendencies or rouse its emotions through shock and sensationalism. Haaretz wants to serve as a bridge between the different parts of the nation, but it doesn’t want to flatter any one of these parts or paper over its sins or defects.”

The paper will offer “love, respect and assistance to all those who do the nation’s work,” regardless of what class or segment of society they come from, he continued. “But it won’t assume the job of serving as a sworn attorney for any segments of society and won’t refrain from criticizing or finding fault with any of them when it sees a real need for this.”

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