Jewish Press Scandal: Writer Crossing the Line, or Haredi Version of BDS?

Whether or not Yori Yanover was fired because of political pressure - the case exposes fault lines in a changing Orthodox community.

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NEW YORK – The Jewish Press, the largest and oldest Orthodox newspaper in the U.S., fired one of its most prominent writers Monday after publishing an opinion article critical of the Haredi community. Before firing the reporter, Yori Yanover, the politically right-wing publication pulled the article and apologized for it, calling its own headline “incendiary and insulting.”

While the newspaper’s executives say that Yanover was fired for being offensive one time too many, he says that The Jewish Press bowed to “the Haredi version of BDS.”

Yanover, who wrote for The Jewish Press from Netanya since moving to Israel with his family two years ago, published his sharply worded article early Monday with the headline, “50 Thousand Haredim March So Only Other Jews Die in War.” In it he took aim at the tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews who participated in a prayer rally in lower Manhattan on Sunday against Israel’s plan to draft Haredim.

The reaction to his piece was fast and fierce, said Naomi Mauer, publisher of The Jewish Press.

“There was a mass hysteria,” she said in an interview with Haaretz. “Everybody was aggravated, most of all we were. We were getting more phone calls and emails than we could handle. Some people were irate about the article, and other people were saying ‘go for it.’"

Haredi website The Yeshiva World News quickly posted an editorial saying Yanover’s article “had a headline befitting Der Sturmer Magazine, not The Jewish Press.” The editorial went on: “Never before has the thoughts of so many sages been trampled upon with such hatred.”

“For heavens’ sake,” Yanover said in response to the Der Sturmer comparison. “They pull out the Auschwitz pajamas every time someone says something they don’t like. I am the son of a Holocaust survivor.” His article, he said, “was not an anti-Semitic statement but an anti-Haredi leadership statement.”

In response to the furor, Yanover’s prayer rally article was yanked, as “at least 10” of his other pieces have been over the past year or so, Yanover told Haaretz. Soon after that, The Jewish Press fired him.

This is “Haredi BDS, against Zionists who talk back,” said Yanover, whose writing is often snarky and frequently insightful. “They use serious economic power to twist the arms of an aging newspaper simply because they can.”

When his philosophical musing on the murder of Satmar property owner Menachem Stark was published in January, it too was quickly pulled off The Jewish Press’s website - because a Jewish Press advertiser, who had been a yeshiva classmate of Stark’s, threatened to pull his business from the paper, Yanover said.

In response to Yanover’s prayer rally article, Mauer said, “no advertisers threatened to pull out. We have gotten a lot of emails from people and advertisers criticizing the article on the website. On the other hand, we get a lot of emails from people and advertisers all the time about articles they feel are overboard. This particular episode in our opinion showed us that we can’t trust Yori to tone down his rhetoric.”

It was, Jewish Press general manager and managing editor Jerry Greenwald told Haaretz, “the last straw.”

Whether or not Yanover’s firing has more to do with his brash style or political pressure, the episode exposed Orthodox community fault lines, as a growing Haredi community that is, on the whole, non-Zionist wields increasing influence in contrast to a fervently pro-Israel modern Orthodox community, whose voice has long been represented by The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press, whose outgoing voicemail message says it is “America’s largest Jewish weekly,” has print circulation of 50,000 copies a week and, according to Greenwald, online readership of 2 million views each month.

Mauer’s father, Rabbi Sholom Klass, and his father-in-law, started The Jewish Press as a weekly newspaper in 1960 out of an industrial space located at the edge of Park Slope, Brooklyn, N.Y. The newspaper’s offices moved to Borough Park several years ago. Rabbi Meir Kahane was its editor for a short time and a columnist for many years, until his murder in a Manhattan hotel ballroom in 1990. Ronald Reagan was also a Jewish Press columnist at one time.

But while it was for decades the most prominent Orthodox newspaper, it is now part of an increasingly crowded Orthodox media landscape, which also includes Haredi newspapers Hamodia and Yated Neeman.

“The Jewish Press has lost ground to other print media, especially in the Haredi part of that market and is battling to stay relevant in a paper printed on Tuesday night that is being read on Friday night,” said Elie Rosenfeld, the CEO of Joseph Jacobs Advertising, an ad agency specializing in Jewish media. The “Haredi community’s influence is growing in the media landscape as it is in the political landscape.”

Yanover agrees. The Jewish Press’s share of the market "has been cut aggressively by Mishpacha and Ami magazine on the Haredi side, which both have very attractive products. They are killing them” in terms of readership, he told Haaretz. In modern Orthodox communities in the Five Towns on Long Island, in Queens and New Jersey, “modern Orthodox publications are doing the same thing from the left.”

The Jewish press has “been under siege for the last several years. The only thing they know is to capitulate to the money that still comes in,” said Yanover, who was born in Israel, served in the Israeli army and came to the U.S. at 21 to attend NYU film school. He was the editor of Lubavitch News Service from 1998 to 2001, and in 2008 published a quirky work of fiction called “The Cabalist’s Daughter.”

At the end of the day, firing Yanover was not a result of Haredi pressure, Mauer told Haaretz. “He definitely was one of the popular writers on the site, but there is a point where someone crosses the line and has to use seichel (common sense).”

A rally against the Haredi draft bill in Ashdod. February 6, 2014.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Yori Yanover.Credit: Yori Yanover
A screengrab of the Jewish Press op-ed that got its author fired.
Yori Yanover.Credit: Yori Yanover

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