Editors Defend Choice of Former Israel Police Officer as Publishing House CEO

The editors responding to resignation of firm's senior editor, writer and translator Ilana Hammerman, over appointment of police officer to publishing house CEO.

Editors at the Am Oved publishing house said they hoped concerns surrounding the controversial appointment of the firm's new CEO, police Brig. Gen. (ret. ) Yaakov Brei, would turn out to be groundless.

The editors, Moshe Ron, Tirza Biron-Fried and Yuval Shimony, were responding to resignation of the firm's senior editor, the writer and translator Ilana Hammerman, who quit because of the appointment of a former senior police officer to head the publishing house.

Yaakov Brei - Tomer Appelbaum - 05012012
Tomer Appelbaum

Am Oved is owned by the Histadrut labor federation's Hevrat HaOvdim. Former Am Oved board chairman Ron Feinstein, who was the first senior person in the company to resign over Brei's appointment, claims that it was forced on the publishing house by Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini.

However, the three editors wrote that although they were surprised by the appointment, they believed "it might be possible to separate between the problematic way and everything that became entwined in it and the man himself."

The three also said they hoped that Brei would continue the traditions that had made Am Oved such an important part of cultural and intellectual life in Israel. They said they would continue to "stand guard over its values."

The three said they were sorry to see Hammerman leave Am Oved, and that "now of all times it is important for her voice to be heard."

Hammerman worked at Am Oved for more than 25 years, and founded its book series Proza Aheret and Teuda. She recently retired, but had planned to continue editing the two series and working as a translator. Instead, she will be parting ways with the publisher entirely.

In an interview published in Haaretz on Wednesday, Hammerman called on Am Oved's editorial board to speak out against the appointment.

Brei had most recently served as deputy director of the Investigation and Intelligence Division of the Israel Police, and Hammerman said she was resigning because of the symbolism in appointing a former senior police officer as CEO of a publishing house owned by a public body at a time when the "identity and autonomy of civil society in Israel is dimming."

A petition has been launched on the Internet calling on Am Oved's board of directors to reconsider its decision "to give in to the Histadrut and to appoint a worthy CEO."

The petition notes that publishing in Israel today is in a deep crisis "due to the 'duopoly' of Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim," the country's two leading bookstore chains. The chains, the petition says, are responsible for the fact that most of the revenues from sales goes to the stores."The response of most publishing houses is to bring out more books, at low cost and paltry sums to to authors, translators and editors. The outcome is low-level editing...Am Oved has maintained a high level, respecting authors and readers. Ofer Eini must not be allowed to destroy a magnificent enterprise established by [Labor Zionism founder] Berl Katznelson. We must save Am Oved."