Yoel Marcus, Veteran Haaretz Reporter Who Broke Some of Israel's Biggest New Stories, Dies at 90

Yoel Marcus, 'one of the greatest commentators in the history of Hebrew journalism,' has worked as a reporter for more than 60 years and revealed plans for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Yoel Marcus.
Yoel Marcus.Credit: Yanai Yechiel
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Yoel Marcus, who for decades worked as a journalist and commentator for Haaretz, died Tuesday night at age 90.

When he received the Sokolov Prize for journalism in 2017, the citation described him as “one of the greatest commentators in the history of Hebrew journalism, whose decades of work, especially at Haaretz, established a record of assertive, influential, independent and courageous writing. While he enjoyed unprecedented access to decision-makers but at the same time maintained an appropriate journalistic distance.”

His funeral will take place Friday, 12:00 P.M., at the Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv.

>>> The Journalist Who Witnessed Israel's Entire History

Yoel Marcus, left, with David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir at the nighttime launch of the Shavit 2 rocket in July 1961.Credit: Reproduced from Bamahane

Marcus was born in Istanbul in 1932 and later immigrated to Israel alone at age 11 with the Youth Aliya program. He fought in the 1948 War of Independence and entered the field of journalism two years later with an article in the Ha’olam Hazeh weekly. From there, he worked at a series of different newspapers that have since folded, among them Ha’Herut, Ha’dor, Davar and Zmanim.

In the early years of his career, he interviewed or reported on many of the leaders of the young state, among them David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol. Later on, he grew close to Yitzhak Rabin, Menahem Begin and other leaders.

He began working for Haaretz in 1965 as the paper's Western Europe correspondent. In 1968, he returned to Israel to assume the role of political correspondent and op-ed writer. Later, he became the newspaper’s Washington correspondent. In the final years of his career, he exclusively wrote in its opinion pages.

Several weeks before the outbreak of the First Lebanon War, Marcus warned readers it was about to happen.

“In that article, Marcus described with surgical precision the plans of the Menahem Begin government to initiate a war in Lebanon, which in fact broke out three-and-a-half weeks after it was published,” wrote Haaretz’s current editor-in-chief, Aluf Benn.

Yoel Marcus interviewing then-IDF Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin. Credit: Reproduced from Bamahane

“He reported all the details, warned about the impending disaster and succeeded in getting all of it past the censor without having to remove or change anything. It’s hard to imagine a bigger achievement for an Israeli journalist covering the country’s leadership and foreign affairs and defense matters.”

In 1983, Marcus revealed that Begin had confined himself to his home and planned to exit from political life in an article headlined “A sad exit from history.”

“Because of the connection between me and Begin, I was the first to report his stepping down as prime minister,” Marcus said. “He suddenly stopped coming to the office, and I reported that he sat at home all day in his pajamas, and that, for all intents and purposes, had retired from political life. It was a big, global scoop.”

But Marcus’ biggest scoop came in 2004 when Ariel Sharon revealed to him his plans for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which he hadn’t even yet told his party.

Marcus was afraid he might get beaten by the competition for the scoop. His editors, Hanoch Marmari and Yoel Esteron suggested an idea that was bold at the time and published the story first on the Haaretz website.

“I said, yes, that’s an idea. I wrote a bombshell story quickly, and we published it,” Marcus recalled. “Within minutes, it was the lead story in the world media, and I started to get phone calls from The New York Times and other newspapers.”

Haaretz Editor in Chief Aluf Benn said: "Yoel was a unique voice at Haaretz and in Israeli journalism in general, rising above us all with his sharp, precise, humor-filled writing and scoops."

"Even when he was 'a columnist,'" Benn said, "he never stopped for a moment working as a reporter with the notepad and pen and hunt down exclusive stories. He had sensitive ears and eyes and an indefatigable will to outdo his competitors inside the newspaper and outside of it."

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