The Jerusalem Post, which christens itself as Israel’s only English language daily, nevermind Haaretz’s daily English edition, has an ad for subscriptions that crops up somewhere in every print issue which reads, “The Best Hebrew Newspaper is Actually in English.” This is an insult to everyone whose brain has developed past the reptile level, because it is painfully obvious that the Jerusalem Post is the journalistic equivalent of the coelecanth, the long-thought extinct jawed fish that suddenly showed up in a fisherman’s net in the last century. The Jerusalem Post, you see, is the overseas resurrection of an at least semi-extinct American journalistic form: the yellow paper, the style pioneered by William Randolph Hearst, the style whose entire purpose is to sensationalize, to misreport, and to fan the flames of antagonism. Someday, when Israel’s film industry matures, there will be a film that opens with J-Post founder Gershon Agron muttering his dying words, “Nitzan vered,” which will of course turn out to be the name of his favorite gun from his Jewish Legion days or something.
The Jerusalem Post today is a repository for error-ridden reporting, questionable writing, morally reprehensible editorializing and the most reactionary commentators this side of al-Jazeera. The paper is by all accounts produced by a journalism-challenged, mostly unpaid pool of 20-something indentured servants trying to make it in Israel, all presided over by the tyrannical, megalomaniacal Caroline “Grendel’s Mother” Glick, alternately howling far-rightist propaganda in the language of demons and feeding upon the blood of the aforementioned pseudo-journalists for sustenance. The modus operandi for commentary is “Let’s get some minor rabbi or right-wing demagogue to talk about an issue with which he’s not familiar,” which yields such editorial gems as a full-page article about how cowboy movie hero and drunkard John Wayne would be rolling over in his grave to see modern movie cowboys tenderly making loving to each other in between riding horses and shooting Injuns (yes, that was an actual editorial about Brokeback Mountain). For cultural news, the formula is simple: “Get one of the indentured servants to call that hip-hop guy with the website, or that foul-mouthed kid on Jewlicious if he doesn’t pick up, and ask them their opinion, then selectively misquote them and spell their names wrong.”
What I’m trying to say is, the Jerusalem Post sucks.
But I was willing to tolerate that suckiness, because I read Haaretz, which, true, may give voice to moronic leftist demagogues like Amira Hass, but at least it has journalistic standards. But not anymore. Because yesterday, the Jerusalem Post published what for me is the final straw.
And I quote:
It drives me to despair.
Friends arriving from England whom I haven’t seen for the eighteen months since I was domicile there always challenge me with the same question.
“I suppose you speak Hebrew now?” or some other nonsense such as “I expect you listen to the news on TV, read the newspaper and so forth in Hebrew”.
And then I tell my story about how when I received an official-looking document with a sum of money boxed at the end of it, I proceeded to go to the Post Office to pay before something or other got cut off. On my way I met my neighbor and casually asked which service I was paying for. It was a statement of my first month’s earnings!
Things that arrive in the post are swiftly divided into those that need paying and the rest – that go in the bin.
Notes from school are also swiftly dealt with. If my son doesn’t have any idea what they are about (and often he doesn’t) then I look for a date on which something might be happening and try to work out what is happening. If there is no date and no sum of money, then clearly nothing much is required of meâ€¦into the bin.
…But do Israelis really understand what it is like to become an illiterate at the age of 50 plus. I look at the newspapers people are reading next to me on the bus, I look out of bus windows at the shop signs, posters on the billboards. Total bewilderment. In the supermarket I ponder whether the offer is two for the price of one or one free when I buy two.
My months of agony at ulpan were curtailed when, fortunately, I got much-needed work. And now, like every other good Israeli, I work endless hours for what my employers know can’t possibly be a living wage. So when do I have time or energy to learn this impossible language that has not the faintest ring of familiarity to someone deeply imbued in Latin-based languages?
Even the people I work with occasionally throw the “You must learn Hebrew” dictum at me. Well of course I must…
…or must I?
…Hebrew has, of course, been a way of uniting a polyglot people in this country of millions of emigres from around the world. We have bonded together in this particular Babel by making Hebrew our national language.
But never mind me learning Hebrew. I don’t have to prove my Zionist credentials. I’m here!
What about the appalling level of English among native born Israelis? English is not spoken nearly well enough here in Israel. That’s something to worry about.
Do you know what drives me to despair, lady? You. Fuck you. Yes, you must learn Hebrew. Yes, you do have to prove your “Zionist credentials”, because by “being here,” you mean “in a city full of English-speakers, in a neighborhood full of English speakers, working in a job for English speakers,” which sounds an awful lot like London! You don’t like the fact that people speak Hebrew here? You don’t appreciate the historically-unprecendented revival of so ancient a language as the mother tongue of millions of people? You think the world should revolve around your status as an Anglophone? GO HOME. How dare you have the chutzpah to insist that Israelis should learn to speak better English, especially given that most Israelis already speak it? Can you imagine what would have happened to this country if every immigrant came to it with your fucking disgusting air of high-class English entitlement? Picture an Israel where the Yekkes demanded public life be conducted in German, and the Moroccans in Arabic, and the Persians in Farsi, and the Russians in Russian, and the Indians in Marathi, and the Ethiopians in Amharic. You think Israel is a bureaucratic nightmare now?! But of course, none of these immigrants made any such demands. They said, “We are in Israel now, and in Israel they speak Hebrew,” and they proceeded to learn Hebrew – with no complaints, with no wounded sense of entitlement, and with no self-centered newspaper editorials. Because that is what you fucking do when you immigrate to a new country. Do you have any idea what the early chalutzim (that means “pioneers”, by the way) went through to make Hebrew a spoken language again? Do you have any appreciation for how hard it must have been for them to set aside Yiddish or Russian and swear to themselves from that point on to speak only in Hebrew, which at that point didn’t even have words for many common items? They suffered through malaria and nighttime Arab raids and heavy-handed British occupation and worked full days, all the while forcing themselves to will Hebrew into a spoken language, and in the space of a few years creating an entire Hebrew state – and you can’t even be bothered to learn supermarket offers, because your language is more important! And you have the gall to claim you’ve fulfilled your Zionist credentials?! Go. To. Hell.
It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to the fact that learning a new language is hard. I’m learning one. But therein lies the difference: I’m trying. I may not be fluent yet, but I’ve lived here for six months, and I speak more than a lot of my fellow Anglos who have been here for years. Why? Because I try. I read things written in Hebrew. If I see a word I don’t know, I look it up. When I go to the market, I speak in Hebrew. When I’m on the bus or in a cab, I speak in Hebrew. When I go to the bank or the post office or to the Bezek store, I speak in Hebrew. I listen to other people speak Hebrew. I watch English movies with Hebrew subtitles to learn how things are said. And not only is none of that particularly demanding, it’s in fact rewarding and even exciting. It’s a thrill when you understand TV programs or news articles or jokes, when you can make yourself understood in a foreign tongue for the first time. And why do I do it? Because I, like (one would think) most ideological immigrants, want to assimilate into the new place I have chosen to live. Never once has it occured to me to demand that the natives accomodate me by better speaking my language. Learning the language is my job, not the job of the middle-aged Ethiopian woman at the bank who has already learned a new language and a new culture. Why, of all the dozens of groups of immigrants to this country, are only the Anglos so entitled that they don’t have to do what everyone else did and learn the language?
Which brings me back to my initial point: no self-respecting newspaper would give prominent voice to such galling, offensive nonsense. Only the Jerusalem Post, which is, remember, the best Hebrew newspaper in Israel.