In a Web of Lies, the Newspaper Must Live

No printed newspaper would rush to publish that Gideon Levy's father collaborated with the Nazis, but such a story recently appeared online.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

This is the first time I have ever been pleased that my father, of blessed memory, is no longer alive.

My longing for him has increased over the years, but the moment a friend sent me a link to the Rotter news site I was glad that he was dead. The popular Hebrew-language news site had published, under the heading, "Is it possible that the Nazi past of Gideon Levy's father is causing his supporters sleepless nights?" a report, according to which Wikipedia had "censored" information about my father's "Nazi past" in the entry under my name.

Wikipedia had published, for one day apparently, information planted there, that my father, Dr. Heinz Levy, had collaborated with the Nazis and therefore was awarded the position of district legal adviser under that horrific regime. When he came to Israel, he changed his name from Heinz to Zvi in order to blur his past, it added. All of this was reported by Rotter and a picture was added of the page in Wikipedia before it was "censored."

I was in shock. I have been the subject of quite a few aspersions before but never anything like that. What can be done about slander of this type? How does one start to refute a revolting lie which in another second will spread like wildfire among the virtual thorn fields of the Internet?

My father, who was a Zionist and loved Israel, even if he had difficulty fitting in, came here on the illegal immigrant ship "Prosula," which was tossed around at sea for months, and was marooned in Tripoli and Beirut where its passengers were arrested; there they were transferred to another ship, "Tiger Hill," which was sunk upon reaching the shores of British Mandatory Palestine. It was the last ship to reach those shores before the start of the Holocaust.

Before he left on his desperate journey of escape, my father took leave forever of his parents (and his fiancee ) at the railway station in Prague. Sofie and Dr. Hugo Levy were murdered during the Holocaust and all trace of them was lost. My father, who was born in what they called Sudeten Deutschland, was indeed a candidate for the post of district legal adviser, but did not get the post because the Nazis came to power. For that reason, he received a pension from the German government. So, now, try and prove that he wasn't a collaborator. Had he still been alive, this would have killed him. And so I am pleased that he could not read the "report" in Rotter.

Rotter is one of the 100 most widely visited sites in Israel and was headed by Rabbi Dr. Yeshayahu Rotter until his death. It has a "forum evrechim" ( a forum for yeshiva students), an "exclusive forum," and a "news forum." The item about my father was published in the "scoops forum."

Wikipedia published the information, even if only for a very short time. Only the decisive intervention of Haaretz's lawyer, attorney Tali Lieblich, who sent a sharply worded letter to the management of Rotter, led to the (immediate) removal of the slanderous item. Not everyone has a lawyer, or a friend who brings to his attention the fact that he has been slandered on the Web. From my point of view, the affair has ended but it has not concluded: The reports about my father are continuing to circulate on the Web.

No newspaper in Israel would have printed an item like that without first investigating it. This is an important lesson for those who worship everything digital and want to bury the print newspaper: Internet democracy is a danger to the public. At the moment, there is no future for serious and responsible journalism without a printed newspaper. Internet may be the present and it may be the future, but if all we are left with is the digital version it will mean an end to journalism that conducts itself according to professional standards. It will be the end to investigative reports, to a hierarchy, an end to journalism as persuasive factor and foundation stone of democracy.

Anything goes on the Internet - lies and truth, what is most important and what is tasteless, all in one basket. What is written on the Internet can never replace what is written in the [relatively authoritative and reliable] newspaper. No Internet site can ever replace the "Radio of Kunstater" that announced the blaze at the Histadrut labor federation building in Tel Aviv in a skit by the satirist Ephraim Kishon. It is true that the building was not burned, but we believed that radio like we will apparently never believe the Internet - and rightly so.

It is a lost battle, the final battle. They will not continue indefinitely chopping down trees in the rain forests to create the newspaper that will bring yesterday's news to our doorstep. But as long as we still value the spirit of journalism, let's continue to stick with this unsophisticated relic of the past, the newspaper, that would not rush to publish that Gideon Levy's father collaborated with the Nazis.

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