Maariv Staff Protest Outside Former Publisher's Home Amid Newspaper's Impending Closure

Anxious Maariv workers bring their struggle to the Savyon mansion of ailing newspaper's owner Ofer Nimrodi, but there's no one home.

A day after the big demonstration outside the Maariv building, about 30 of the newspaper's staff brought their protest to former publisher Ofer Nimrodi's villa in Savyon on Wednesday.

With the newspaper due to be sold, the workers learned that most of them will lose their jobs, but then came the reports that their severance pay and pensions had disappeared somewhere in the Maariv building corridors. Several journalists I spoke to were close to panic.

One of them was the reporter Kalman Libskind, who castigated last summer's social-justice protest, branding it a conspiracy concocted by American advisers.

On Wednesday, Libskind stood outside the ex-boss's mansion, looking frightened. When I asked him for a quote he sent me to Maariv's union head Haggai Matar, who led the protest. Ultimately, we're all salaried employees with pensions (except for those who aren't).

Matar told the demonstrators that Nimrodi had been disturbed by the protest outside the Maariv building and had told the union that he would propose at the newspapers' board meeting that the money obtained from selling the paper would go first to the workers.

"How come you weren't there? We blocked the Maariv bridge yesterday," a colleague from Maariv specializing in American celebrities asked me. "It was the biggest journalists' demonstration in Israel's history."

The name Nimrodi appears on a golden plaque on the gate outside the Nimrodis' home, dubbed "the white house." Security guards stood behind the gate. One of the protesters guessed the password for the gate, and tried it. The door suddenly opened. We all could have stormed in, but we froze. Then it turned out that one of the protesters was an undercover agent for Nimrodi, who hastened to close the gate.

"Ofer, wake up, pay the money," the protesters shouted. Bored Savyon children had a field day, riding around on their electric bicycles and shouting "demonstration."

It's weird demonstrating against your boss or ex-boss, instead of toadying up to him or at least acting respectfully, as you're expected to. It happened in Haaretz on Tuesday morning, when dozens of journalists demonstrated in the building during a board of directors meeting on the executive floor.

Nimrodi wasn't at home on Wednesday. The demonstrators complain that at the critical moment the editor Nir Hefetz had left the country.

One of the demonstrators, who is in charge of distribution in the Bat Yam area, complains that Nimrodi didn't sell Maariv to (American businessman and Israel Hayom publisher ) Sheldon Adelson when he wanted to buy it. "If he had made the deal, we would have been the strongest newspaper in Israel now," he says.

We can't even see the huge mansion from behind the "white house" walls, where we are standing. The estate is estimated at $30 million and has a swimming pool, a wine basement and tennis and basket ball courts on 37 dunams.

"It's depressing seeing such wealth," says Matar. He says the union has been permitted to bring an accountant to inspect Maariv's books yesterday. I ask if he's not afraid the demonstrations and belligerence will scare off the buyer Shlomo Ben-Zvi, but he doesn't blink.

"An investment without the workers' involvement doesn't interest us. I would be happy if an investor is found and Maariv is saved, but it is necessary to put money into a trust fund for the workers, otherwise the deal's no good," he says.

The difficult situation in the printed media wasn't caused by Maariv. Even to write this story I had to make three calls before I was authorized to take a taxi to Savyon for NIS 85. At the end it was agreed the paper would pay one way. I hitched a ride back with Yoav Ribak, head of Maariv's newsdesk, and asked him how they can put out a paper with the sword so close to their neck.

"I really don't know," he says. "It comes naturally."