My dear friends,
Back in the days when I was alive, we used to view objectivity as something to be expected from every intelligent and educated person. The news media included more than a score of newspapers which represented all the different political views, but the one state radio station, and afterwards our only TV station did their best to give the impression of objectivity. In fact, our first local media star was this affable newsman who told us the news almost every evening on the one state owned television station, broadcasting from Jerusalem, and all of us… the religious and the irreligious, the left and the right, the rich and the poor, we all believed him and liked him, if just for the fact that he was willing to enter our homes, and let us know what the heck was going on. Of course, we knew he didn’t tell us everything. If a certain well known general was having an ecstatic affair with his secretary, we didn’t expect to hear about it in the news. That sort of thing was whispered to us by our next door neighbor. But we made do with just the essential bad news which was summed up at the end of the day.
This week, one of our pioneer journalists passed away. Or as we say it in Hebrew, went to his own world. That’s a nice way to say it; nicer than ‘dropped dead’, or as the cynics would say it in our own tongue, ‘turned into a corpse’. Uri Avneri was one of the front line newsmen back when we first re-established the Jewish state, editor and publisher of the first innovative newspaper in our land, a politician, and a man about town in Tel Aviv, hobnobbing with celebrities on first name basis. He was such a lover of peace, that he had no reservations about getting together for hugs and hot coffee with a known murderer.
He wasn’t a ‘New Journalist’ like Tom Wolfe or Norman Mailer. He was a provocateur who liked to break the toes of clay idols and didn’t find fame any more attractive than infamy. The ‘new journalists’ tried to present the story they found from a subjective view point. They shared with us the very personal way they captured and understood the story. He wrote as if he were imparting facts, but he was so wrong that most of his contemporaries didn’t even bother to knock holes in his arguments. They were obvious. He mixed facts, lies and fantasies with abandon. He would cook up stories which included social rumors he heard in the local clubs and bars, a few pictures of naked or half naked women, and a full rack of accusations and revelations of corruption, whether true or not, about any member of the establishment and especially those he saw as his enemies; that is, his brothers and his sisters.
Though I belonged to the opposite camp from his, I loved him for his childlike innocence. He seemed to me as if he was starring in his own hand made movie, and a wonderful hero to himself. Though he had almost no sense of humor, he had a vivid imagination, and it was most amusing to see the ways he found to offend his fellow citizens by provocation arm in arm with absurdity. He wrote his own story, and if it didn’t make me chuckle , it often made me smile. Of course, now that the news media keeps pounding away at their agenda, his newspaper would not stand out or be noticeable. But a lot of his ideas became popular among the lunatic fringe, and I believe there are still some parliament members here who quote him without the bother of attribution.
As we get old we watch our own familiar crowd thin out, drop out, and disappear till there are just a few of the old crowd left, and then they too get frail and eventually die and are buried. He was one of the last who had something unique to say or something memorable to contribute to the society I enjoyed so much when my country was just getting on its feet. In those days, I felt affection for many who had different political leanings or worldviews. But these days the hostility and the belligerence of the opposing camps has alienated me, and it is hard even to listen to their arguments. When there was just one fellow like Avnery, he contributed to a sense of balance to our society. Maimonedes said you can’t really call a place a city unless you have at least 10 bums around. I say, what’s the point of having a king if you don’t have a court jester.