Today is my birthday and I thought it would be appropriate to spend few minutes reflecting on the year that has gone past, not so much personally although its been an interesting if not economically challenging year, but more from a professional perspective.
Many of you reading this have known me for long time- a few probably going all the way back to elementary school, and of course many of you are new readers who I have never met. When people asked what I do over the years it has never been a simple answer. I am sure my children sometimes are jealous of their friends who can answer the question what does your Father do, by simply saying doctor, lawyer, businessman etc. My identity is more complicated. Am I an educator, a historian, a software developer, developer,businessman, political activist, or a journalist? Over the last 40 years I have been a little of all of these things to a greater or lesser degree. Circumstances of my life at various points have changed that mix, and in the last year that mix has clearly changed- today journalist probably comes first, with historian and software developer coming after.
My identity as a journalist developed rather late in life- a little over ten years ago, when I first started writing my Israel Update, that soon became a weekly radio appearance and three years ago I started writing a regular column for Newsweek. Today, I am also an economic correspondent for subscription web site on emerging markets, plus a regular guest on i24News where I appear on a regular basis, mostly talking about the election and of course since the Trump inauguration about the Trump Presidency.
Which brings me to what I actually wanted to write about and that is reflecting on being a journalist is such partisan times. Being a historian is easy. I am one of those people who do not believe in relativist history, at least for events that have taken place during the last 200 years. Events are events, we have enough information today to say that with the exception of a few security related events there is not such thing has fake history. Yes, history can be interpreted differently, ie how much weight should we give to the economic causes of the Revolutionary War as opposed to the political need of people to feel represented. However, two hundred years later I have no problem laying out the facts and giving my interpretation, but so labeling it.
My role as a journalist seems more complicated. First, of course we do not have perfect information on events that are taking place. Second when you report news you are being selective. My column in Newsweek is a perfect example. I have had the luxury of having a regular column titled Tel Aviv Diary which appears under opinion. That luxury frees me from having to be comprehensive and allows me to add opinion to what I write. But what should I write about? How critical should I allow myself to be of my own government? It’s always a difficult line. If I was writing in Hebrew for an Israeli daily or Israeli web site, there is no question I would be much more critical than I am in Newsweek. There is little that I like about our current government in Israel, and no one with the exception of President Rivlin who I respect. How strongly should that come through in my writing? What stories should I write about- both keeping into account what is interesting and what might be of interest to readers of Newsweek?
When I lived in the US there was always the question- what right did I have to criticize? After all I was not living in Israel. But now that we have been back for over five years those questions are no longer relevant- but still it’s sometimes hard to be as critical as I would like to be or maybe should be.
Which brings me to the last question and that is about the Trump Presidency. I have had a section on my web site about Presidential elections since 1995 and have written a book on the History of Presidential Elections, thus I have tried to be as non partisan as possible about American politics. However, as the recent election campaign was reaching towards its conclusion and I began to fear that there was an actual chance that Donald Trump could win, I felt I had to write an article on Why a Jew Should Not Vote For Trump. It ended up being one of the most read articles in the Times of Israel in 2016, and while it did not accomplish its goal it propel me into the partisan maelstrom. In my many appearances on i24 News I have worn two very different hats, that of a historian of the Presidency, which of course come natural and as a foil to a guest Mark Zell who is the Head of the Republican Party in Israel. I have been amazed at thr slavish support that Zell and others have given to Trump. On Wednesday I listened as he said that Trump has been acting very Presidential since day one- and that his inaugural address was not dark, after all he was there and I was not. What position should I take to the person I believe is a danger to the world and should never have been elected to the Oval Office? The detached historian? the partisan journalist? The political activist? Difficult choices in very complex times.
I live in a country I love and have loved almost all of my life, but it is led by a Prime Minister who is under criminal investigation and in all likelihood is going to be indicted sooner rather than later. My country of birth, whose history I have studied my whole life and who I have always thought to be the greatest country on earth is being led by a man who is wholly unequipped to do so, and whose corruption may be deeper and wider than anyone can imagine.
The Chinese have the curse – you should live in interesting times – For journalists this is always far from true, but sometimes even for a journalist/news junkie like me it becomes more than even we want to deal with. As I enter the 63rd year of my life – I am not sure what to hope for both for America and for Israel. Living in Israel is never boring, but today that can be said for events throughout the globe. I can just hope in the next year that I can do a good job explaining these events to my readers and listeners. It will be a challenge.