New CEO of Haredi Website Eyes Deeper Ties With Religious Communities Abroad

Haredi advertising mogul Meir Gal buys Behadrey Haredim, one of Israel's two ultra-Orthodox websites, for an estimated NIS 10 million.

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Behadrey Haredim, a Haredi Internet site and forum board, has been purchased by advertising executive Meir Gal for an estimated NIS 10 million. The new owner intends expanding the site’s activities in overseas markets.

“There are very deep ties between the Haredi communities abroad and in Israel and we are striving to develop in all these places,” Gal said about his plans for the website.

Gal will become the site’s CEO, with former CEO Guy Cohen retaining a minority stake in the company.

The website, which claims to have about 700,000 hits a month, was founded in 2002 by Haredi journalist David Rotenberg, who still serves as its editor-in-chief. In its early days, it served as a forum board for controversial topics within Israel's Haredi community, but six years ago it was bought by Cohen, part-owner and CEO of Global Networks, and it became a web portal with general content and news. The website's main competitor is Kikar Hashabat, which was founded by Haredi journalist Mordechai Lavi and has been half-owned by Ynet, the website of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, since last year.

Gal, 35, is the son of pioneeering Haredi ad man Benny Gal, who built Gal-Oren BSD into one of the largest advertising agencies catering to Israel's Haredi sector. In recent years, Gal has managed the agency and served as a senior adviser to Likud politician Gideon Sa’ar, when the latter was education minister. Gal said that he no longer works with Sa'ar, who is now minister of the interior, and that he would leave his job at the ad agency to focus on managing the website.

"There are tens of thousands of websites in Israel, but only two for the Haredi sector,” said Gal. “In Israel today there are two growth engines, the Internet and the Haredi sector. Behadrey Haredim can combine the two of them and benefit from both trends.”

Official rabbinical pronouncements forbid most members of the Haredi public to surf the web, but in practice there is lively activity on Haredi Internet sites.

In its early days, the website provided a key stage for vocal members of Israel's Haredi community, who often used it to level criticism at the community's leadership, undermining years of accepted consensus opinion in the Haredi world. Today, the website operates with unofficial approval from the rabbis, who occasionally monitor the content posted on the site. “The reality of the situation created solutions that enable us to operate in cooperation with the leadership of the Haredi public,” said Gal.

A big challenge for Gal will be to capture a bigger share of the advertising market, which will mean cultivating ties with the leading ad agenicies and companies. Haredi media attracted only about 5 percent of total ad spend last year, amounting to some NIS 170 milion, even though the ultra-Orthodox community accounts for 8 percent or more of the population.

Behadrey Haredim had ad revneues of just NIS 4 million in 2011, according to a report by Channel 10 news. Most of the revenue came from maintream advertisers, rather than from businesses in the Haredi sector.

“The money allocated to the Haredi sector is tiny and on a trial-and-error basis,” said one ad executive, who asked not to be identified. “The level of clicks, and even more actual purchases online, is below its potenital.”

Screenshot of the Behadrey Haredim web portal.Credit: Screenshot

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