Through his books (At
the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians
and Muslims in the Holy Land) and his work in The
New Republic, Yossi Klein Halevi is one of Jewish journalism's biggest
His first book was Memoirs
of a Jewish Extremist: An American Story about his journey from
the Jewish Defense League to moving in with a non-Jewish woman.
Both books received sterling reviews.
Yossi's writing reveals his personal obsession to be at the center of
what's going on with Jews, to prove that he's braver and smarter and finer
than other Jews, and that his life is what the universe revolves around.
The New York Times described his first book as "a drama central to
the very soul of Jewish life."
Samuel G. Freedman describes the central question of book two as: "Can
faith solve what armies and diplomats could not?"
The question was answered in the years following its publication by an
unambivalent no as Israel was wracked by Islamic bombers.
Klein moved from an obsession with killing goyim and Arabs in his youth
(the subject of his first book) to violating Jewish law by praying and
laying tefillin in Churches (in his second book).
He moved from terrorizing his fellow Jews in his youth when they would
not join in his JDL/Betar extremism, to declaring
gentle charedi Uri Lupoliansky too intolerant to be mayor of Jerusalem
because he would not meet publicly with a group of Reform rabbis and celebrate
Israel Independence Day.
Though his writing is beautiful and his self-revelation moving, Halevi
has never been known for breaking stories. He's best when he focuses on
himself, such as in his two books and his 1985 movie Kaddish
directed by Steve Brand. "[Brand] was then a senior producer at “20/20.”
The film is a bio-doc of Yossi Klein HaLevi’s early years [in New York];
his pathological family history, produced by a horrifying world history,
and also, the contemporary events that formed his paranoid-visionary consciousness.
It’s one of the earliest examples of children-of-Holocaust-survivors literature
(though it’s a film). It was a genre just then emerging from a cohort
recently become aware of itself. It does have one curious blank spot;
while it deals with his Soviet Jewry activism, including his chaining
himself to the Soviet emigration office in Moscow’s Red Square, it totally
slides over that he did much of this as one of the founding members of
Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League."
"Yossi personalizes almost every story he writes," says a peer.
"Though he did straight reporting for years for the Jerusalem Report.
"He has a spiritual vision he incorporates into his journalism.
Yossi is one of the few Jewish journalists who's seriously thought through
the conflict between secular journalism and the demands of Judaism's laws
against lashon hara."
Yossi has been widely acknowledged by his peers for more than two decades
for the beauty of his prose and the depths of his spiritual insights.
In 1965, Yossi joined Rabbi Meir Kahane's Jewish Defense League. It meshed
with his paranoid view of the world.
I asked Orthodox screenwriter Robert J. Avrech
about Yossi Klein Halevi and his book Memoirs
of a Jewish Extremist. Robert and Yossi attended the same yeshiva
at the same time (BTA):
Yes, I read the book. It was accurate and exactly mirrored my experiences.
I knew who he was, but I kept my distance because he hung out with the
Betar, JDL guys. They used to go to the basement, behind the lockers,
and smoke cigarettes and discuss how they wanted to kill Arabs and goyim.
All of them were children of Holocaust survivors. Their collective pathology
was so naked, so raw that we who had American parents, kept a respectful/fearful
I was not part of any group. I was solitary, poetic, sensitive; I would
sit in a corner reading "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."
One of my Rebbeim once caught me, as I had it hidden inside my gemara,
he leafed through it and grimaced: "Avrech, what are you readng?"
"It's great literature."
"How would you know?"
"Um, it's taught in all the universities?"
"Goyim and goyishe kups. Your father, does he know you read such narishkeit?"
I guess he's aboout to find out, right Rebbe?"
"Such a smart boy."
By 1975, Klein had moved out of the JDL and decided to become a journalist.
He submitted a story on the Jewish Defense League to the Village Voice.
He was told to develop it.
To learn how to write characters and scenes, Yossi studied fiction at
City College of New York under novelist Mark Mirsky, "a young writer
of brilliant, excessive novels about Jews and sex and mystical transcendence."
(Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, pg. 202)
These fictional techniques are evident in most of his writing. His two
published books are memoirs, a medium that is a troublesome amalgam of
fact and fiction (how can one accurately recreate conversations from decades
previous?). At the beginning of his memoir, Yossi writes this Author's
Note: "All the events and characters in this book are real. Some
of the characters' names, as well as some identifying traits, have been
changed, especially those of former militants of the Jewish Defense League.
Most now lead quiet and respectable lives -- very different from their
teenage years and the events described here."
Unfortunately, during his books, Yossi never lets us know when he is
inventing names and identifying traits. So we don't know what is fact
and what is fiction. That makes it difficult to fact check his work.
In the fiction class at City College, Klein met his future wife, non-Jew
Lynn Rintoul. They spent the night. They moved in together.
With friends such as Jonathan Mark, Yossi created New Jewish Times in
1980, funded by shady entrepreneur "Marv Steinhartz" [fictional
name for a real man]. The paper came out six times and then folded when
Steinhartz withdrew funding.
Somehow we managed to sell two or three thousand copies per issue,
mostly on Manhattan newsstands. We even got a few subscribers -- though
we rarely mailed them copies, because no one felt like going to the
post office. We avoided the phone, assuming the caller was either an
irate subscriber demanding a refund, a photographer who hadn't been
paid, or a writer whose piece had been entirely rewritten and published
without his consent.
I wrote most of the paper under pseudonyms, together with my coeditor
Jon Mark - a romantic in love with country-and-western music, loser
baseball teams, and the Orthodox Jewish life he'd left and couldn't
reinhabit. Jon also wrote the classifieds: "Long Island synagogue
looking for rabbi with goatee to speak on Saturdays... Sexy yeshiva
girl seeks boy to knit yarmulkes for. All colors...
We looked for Jewish nightmares. We published the paranoid fantasies
of a gay Jew imagining a Nazi-style roundup on Christopher Street and
a poster by a pair of former Soviet dissident artists of America under
Our office -- an expensive, near-empty loft on lower Fifth Avenue;
Marv wanted a "chick" address -- was a drop-in center for
people with obscure obsessions, most of them disaffected Orthodox Jews
who kept the passion if not the practice of Orthodoxy.
Finally, Marv stopped paying us too; and in April 1981, eight months
after we began publishing, we quit. I felt relief. We'd started the
paper with a noble vision and ended with debts and lies. It was the
JDL syndrome: All means were allowed to a self-sacrificing elite, operating
on an exalted plane beyond conventional morality. (Memoirs, pg. 211,
Yossi published in the Village Voice. Later, in the Long Island Jewish
Halevi and Rintoul moved to Israel in August 1982. She converted to Orthodox
Judaism. She took the name Sarah. Their first child, Moriah, was born
Yossi got crazier. The Soviet Jewry emigration to Israel sparked his
fantasies of winning back what the Nazis had done.
He moved to the south of France to find equilibrium. He was largely subsidized
by Long Island Jewish World publisher Jerry Lipman and other Jewish publishers.
Halevi could write about whatever he felt like. He'd mastered scene and
characters. He wrote like a novelist. He wasn't weighed down by the mundane
concerns of regular journalists who wanted to do things like nail down
facts and break stories. Yossi was always more concerned with himself,
his feelings, his spiritual vision, and the movement of God in history.
It was 1989. The Berlin Wall had fallen. He moved throughout Eastern
Europe, countries he'd demonized for years, interviewing people. He was
deeply moved. His paranoia diminished. He was fired up by the possibilities
of reconciliation between Jews and non-Jews. He wrote some of his best
Having living in Israel for most of the time since 1982, Halevi's now
an associate fellow at Jerusalem's neo-conservative Shalem
Center. "He's New Age right-wing," says a peer, though most
journalists place him in the center of Zionism. "He's not as paranoid
as he used to be."
How come he doesn't break stories?
"He isn't interested. He's more on his own spiritual journey, looking
for the underlying spiritual meaning of things, the movement of God in
world history. It's not the kind of stuff that produces headlines."
Halevi has a non-Jewish female Indian guru in Jerusalem.
His journalism rarely concerns the major Jewish organizations and rarely
mirrors normative Jewish journalism. He's written stories that nobody
else would even have thought of, such as about Jewish converts to Christianity.
He uncovered a whole community of Christians who were mainly born as Jews
and were now leading Orthodox halachic lives as Christians. There were
Jews around the world who had converted to Christianity and wanted to
come to Israel out of identification with the Jewish homeland. According
to this stream of Christianity, Christianity is just Judaism fulfilled.
Jews who become Christians still regard themselves as Jewish and obliged
to keep the Torah. They followed Peter more than Paul. They laid tefillin
That is the stuff Yossi likes. Stories about spiritual seekers.
From Israel, Yossi, an Orthodox Jew, replies to my interview request:
"I looked up your web site and have to admit to being troubled...by
the lashon harah aspect of your work. Why is it important to know the
private lives of Jewish leaders? Would that make better Jewish journalism?
What is Jewish journalism? Does it have a commitment not only to truth
but also lashon harah?"
I reply: The private lives of Jews and non-Jews become legitimate fodder
for journalism when they affect the community at large. For instance,
if a Jewish leader has an affair that affects and weakens his work, it
becomes legitimate. It becomes particular legitimate when the subject
is a master at using blackmail to bully people into doing his will. Midah
k'neged midah (measure for measure). Alcoholism, gambling, sexual sins,
temper, rudeness, etc all become legitimate when they affect the general
After emailing him several times, Yossi finally replies: "I think
that Jewish journalists need a serious internal discussion about the ethics
of the profession and lashon harah. It’s not at all as straightforward
as you put it – especially the notion midah k’neged midah, which is not
in our hands but in God’s hands to do."
It is much easier to accuse another of lashon hara than to spell out
a definition of lashon hara that one's own work can then be examined
by. If we held by the Chofetz Chaim, most of your work, as well as mine,
would be forbidden.
Well, where do you draw the line on reporting the private lives of
public figures? When someone's drinking problem affects their public
work, and therefore the public, how do you decide when to report on
it? Substitute "drinking" with "sex" or "drugs" or "gambling" or "temper"
You raise important points. I recently wrote an article about the Kabbalah
Centre which was full of lashon harah – I felt it was a necessary warning
against fraud and even evil. But clearly one man’s warning is another
man’s lashon harah. My criterion would be whether we really need to
know the personal lives of our leaders – unless they are moral leaders,
for example, say a rabbi who preaches taharat hamishpacha and is cheating
on his wife. That becomes a public need to know issue. If the head of
a Jewish organization is cheating on his wife, I fail to see how that
impacts on the community. That’s where I draw the line on journalists
and lashon harah.
Interviewing Yossi was like trying to get blood out of a stone. I would
have to email him several times to get a few sentences in response. Those
sentences were usually written like he was simultaneously eating dinner,
reading the newspaper and talking to his wife.
When I finally gave up on getting any thoughtful response from him and
published what I had, he was aghast that I had published emails that he
thought were off the record. I pointed out that I identified myself as
someone who was writing a book on Jewish journalism (and that I linked
him to my 40 interviews on this topic on this Web site) and that I was
asking him questions for my book, so there was no reason for him to assume
our emails, unless clearly stated otherwise, were off the record.
I told him that if ever cared to give some thoughtful responses to my
questions, I would be happy to replace what I have with that.
I don't expect to receive these thoughtful responses before the coming
of the Messiah.
Yossi thought the emails were a preliminary discussion to doing an interview.
But what Yossi was most concerned about was that his email might have
seemed offensive to a Jewish leader with whom he had "good relations."
But I had already edited out any such explicit reference on this page
as a favor to Yossi and his relationships with the powerful. He didn't
bother to read this page before sending me an email protesting its existence.
As Yossi was so concerned about making an inadvertent remark that could
hurt his relationship with a powerful Jewish leader, I wanted to get a
list from him of other Jewish leaders he claims to have a "good relations
with" with so that readers can better judge where they want to trust
his writing. This is obviously a journalist who writes with fear and trembling
about those powerful people who are useful to him.
I've already seen in his book the kid-glove treatment he gave Muslims
who he needed to fulfill his ecumenical thesis (religion as a path to
healing in the Middle East, AKA that Christians, Jews and Muslims around
Jerusalem are searching for the same God). An ecumenical approach to the
Middle East is beloved by the mainstream media which made Yossi a star
for being deadly wrong (the second Intifada and the Islamic world's reaction
proves that many Muslims worship a very different type of God and moral
system than do normative Jews and Christians and that religion, particularly
Islam, in the Middle East is frequently more of a barrier to peace than
Publisher's Weekly review of Garden described Halevi as "exuding
yearning for commonality and love."
Library Journal wrote: "Through his dialogs with the religious leaders
he interviews, we come to understand the wish of most people of faith
to bring unity to a land and people torn by discord."
As my emails with Yossi progressed, I saw a pattern of Yossi not wanting
to give offense to persons and groups useful to him, making me question
his credibility. Were his deferences out of pious concern for not uttering
lashon hara or were they canny alliances to advance his career? As I started
asking him these tougher questions, he terminated our interview.
In my research for this book, I've found that "lashon hara!"
reprimands are the first refuge of careerists. They are a tool for avoiding
Here are some of the emails that I sent Yossi that he would not answer:
* In retrospect, do you think you were too soft on the Muslim community
in your [Garden] book?
* Aside from matters of lashon hara, how has being frum affected your
journalism and your enjoyment of journalism?
* Who do you think is telling the story of American Jewish life with
all its passion and depth?
* If we held by the Chofetz Chaim, most of your work, as well as mine,
would be forbidden...
* I am particularly interested in a listing of Jewish leaders who you
fear to offend, so that readers can judge where they want to trust your
writing. You seem to display a pattern of handing out selective deferences
to persons and groups useful to you either as a way of advancing your
career or out of pious and selective observance of the laws of lashon
With a mind to Yossi's pious concerns about lashon hara, I read his books
and found they are chock-full of riveting personal details of weakness.
In fact, as far as lashon hara is concerned, they are indistinguishable
from other memoirs. For instance, this paragraph on page 208 about the
poor sucker who funded Yossi's 1980-81 paper New Jewish Times:
The answer was Marv Steinhartz [fictional name], a young businessman
who'd made his money running private hospitals. Steinhartz was what
they called in Yiddish a chazir fesser, a gluttonous consumer of pork,
an expression that described not merely his diet but his being. Marv
was always on the make -- for quick bucks, quick lays, quick highs.
A cigarette dangled from his thick lips, a Humphrey Bogart effect ruined
by traces of spittle. His favorite words were "chick" and
"chic," and he pronounced them both the same way. "The
chicks will be lining up at the door if we put out a chick product,"
he said, explaining his vision for the newspaper.
Evidently Yossi's concerns with lashon hara only apply to the work of
Yossi's friend, Jonathan Mark from The Jewish Week, responds:
Two points. You can't bust Yossi for writing Lashon Hara about "Steinhartz"
at New Jewish Times. Yossi was using a pseudonym for the real individual,
who was every bit as sleazy as described. That Yossi doesn't use the
person's real name can only testify to Yossi's discretion, a remarkable
kindness in this instance. You can't "lashon hara" someone if you hide
that someone's identity.
Second, not all "scoops" are the same, and it's meaningless to hold
Yossi to an arbitrary standard for what a writer should be writing.
Knocking Yossi for not having scoops is like busting DiMaggio for not
dating redheads. Give the man credit for what the man's done.
Let's go way back in time, even aside from his work at the Village
Voice and New Jewish Times. In the mid-1980s, when I was senior editor
at the Long Island Jewish World and Yossi was sending in pieces there,
I remember some of his essays that foretold the intifadah when most
everyone in Jewish journalism was still writing about the West Bank
like it was Willy Wonka's. Yossi, better than anyone else, gave a clue
that the West Bank was about to blow. In the Jewish World, and elsewhere,
he wrote essays from Europe that were startling, journeys through the
end of the old Eastern bloc, and the Europe we knew, or thought we knew.
Over the years, he's written about the Jewish Defense League and the
Soviet Jewry movement in ways that were a revelation, and before anyone
else. He's been able to explore the souls of Jews, Christians and Moslems
in Israel in stunning prose and reporting that ought to be studied --
proof that no one can write, or interview, about the landscape of the
soul as well as he can. His analytical pieces in this current war have
been consistently wise -- free of rant, party or predictability. In
each of these areas he was either first, or as good as anyone in the
ring. Just because he doesn't look for front page stories on schemes
and scams within Jewish organizations and Jewish leadership (I'm glad
that others do) doesn't mean Yossi ought to be questioned on not "breaking
stories" in the simplest sense of the term. Instead, Yossi has broken
through and illuminated every key Jewish turning point of the last 40
years, with a clear, distinctive writing style, a voice all his own.
It's a tremendous loss for this book not to have had a serious conversation
with Yossi about what Jewish journalism ought to be about.
Yeah, I'm his friend, as I'm friends with a lot of people in this book,
and a lot of them have inspired me, but when his collected works are
published it would be the first book I'd hand out in journalism class,
Jewish or otherwise.
Each of us has a special relationship with someone in the Jewish community,
or a special respect for someone, and, like O'Henry's story of the cop
who didn't want to arrest the old friend he met under a street light,
we'd prefer that another journalist do what has to be done. There are
limits to the benefit of being an outsider and an alien within the community.
The best of us are in and of the community. That's where we get a lot
of our stories and where we learn about the life and issues that our
newspapers should be covering. You have to pick your spots about when
and whom to jeopardize.
If in the big and tough world of Jewish journalism not one other journalist
can do the story, if not a single publisher chooses to publish the story,
if no members of an organization care about abuses of leadership or
management, then Jewish community doesn't deserve to have the story
done, and our community can die a corrupt and dull death.
We should be more in alliance as a journalistic community. If a story
can't be published in New York it should be published in Philadelphia
or Phoenix, with a byline or without a byline, or on a blog if that
be the only venue. There's no reason any story shouldn't get out, somewhere.
If a Jewish leader wants to pressure a journalist, fine. We ought to
be able to be pressured and not give a damn. But if any one journalist,
not backed up by his publisher, can't stand up under personal or financial
pressure, also fine. I understand. Another newspaper or journalist surely
can be found to step up and get the story out.
If we invested as much energy in figuring out how to share stories
and support each other, we'd have more power than any Jewish leader.
And if we weren't so patronizing and condescending to the idea that
we have of our readers, if all of us were instead the kind of newspapers
that earned the love and devotion of our readers, and showed on a consistent
basis that we love and are respectful and devoted to our readers in
return, than no Jewish leader would dare pressure us because we'd have
the Jewish people on our side and no leader could stand up to that.
But how many of us can say we really love, respect and are devoted
to the Jewish people, both as journalists and in our private life? How
many of us can use the word "love" in conjunction with Jewish journalism,
and keep a straight face? How many of us can say we are loved by the
people? When the readers believe that they are loved by us, and that
we understand them, that we are them, then they'll trust us when we
write about what's unpleasant because the reader will know, from years
of trust, that what we're exposing or investigating is being done for
the holiest of reasons. On the other hand, when so many of our week
to week stories are silly and unsophisticated, we lose that essential
trust and reservoir of good faith that we need to call upon in a tough
spot, or when under pressure. We've convinced readers and leaders, who
read us regularly, that our papers are silly and unsophisticated and
alien, and therefore can be pushed around.
It reminds me of a story from some old Democratic convention. A rally
had started on the floor for a candidate, with a marching band roving
through the aisles and placards waving in the air. The chairman boss
of the convention began to gavel the convention to order: "Will the
guests of the convention please come to order!" Bangs the gavel. "Will
the guests of the convention please come to order!" Everything quieted
down. Then one guy in the balcony screamed into the quiet -- "Guests,
hell! We're the people!" And the arena exploded with excitement and
the boss with the gavel didn't stand a chance.
The trouble is, not enough Jewish journalists today are "the people,"
but are "guests" at the convention. Imagine walking into The Wall Street
Journal and declaring yourself a journalist who doesn't understand or
know anything about business, or doesn't care about the future of business.
You'd be laughed at.
Imagine walking into The New Yorker and telling them, without shame,
that you never heard of Fitzgerald because he wrote 70 years ago, or
that you don't like reading. You'd be told, "Kid, this isn't your kind
A sports reporter would be laughed at if he walked into The Sporting
News and said he didn't like going to games, or didn't know who Bob
Feller was, or about the Giants-Colts sudden death game in the 1950s.
Imagine trying to cover any team and not being conversant with that
team's history. Yet, aside from the Gary Rosenblatts, J.J. Goldbergs
and some others out there, many Jewish journalists and editors, especially
the younger ones who are often highly assimilated, couldn't tell you
who Achad Ha'Am was, or who Jabotinsky was, or who Itzik Manger was.
They don't go to shuls -- of any denomination -- and they don't send
their kids to Jewish schools. They don't know Israel's landscape and
they don't know Jewish neighborhoods, other than their own, if indeed
they even live in one. They couldn't tell you anything about chassidus
or the Lubavitcher rebbe except "outreach" and the messianic crap of
The rebbe was arguably among the most important rabbis in the last
500 years, let alone the last century. And yet these journalists couldn't
write one paragraph, not one paragraph, on the Lubavitcher rebbe's ideas
and policies in the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s or 80s. They couldn't write
or refer or understand the echo of most any Jewish idea that happened
the day before they showed up for their first day of work in a Jewish
But these same journalists walk in like the cock of the barnyard and
want to write about the Jewish people, the rabbis, the Jewish arts.
But they're like sportswriters who don't love the game, and it shows
in their writing and in their editing.
People get into Jewish journalism because it's journalism, but they
don't know the team, and they don't know the fans. They don't know where
the bodies are buried and they don't know where the treasure is buried.
You look at the choice of stories, the absence of savvy, the absence
of communal memory, the many writers who cover Jewish communities as
if the writer just landed from Mars, and you tell me: Are we the guests
or are we the people?
Answer that question honestly and you'll understand why many Jewish
newspapers and Jewish journalists are insecure.
When all of us, not just a few of us, are as immersed in community
and know as much about the community as Malcolm Hoenlein does, and have
cared about the community as long as Malcolm has -- going back to his
teenage days in the Soviet Jewry movement -- and are as sure of our
place in the inner Jewish community as much as Malcolm is, and are as
personally invested in our synagogues, in our neighborhoods and in our
schools as Malcolm is, and if our readers knew that, and if Jewish leaders
knew that, then we could deal with any Jewish leader with so much Jewish
pride and dignity that pressure would be powerless.
Larry Yudelson writes Luke:
I've been a big fan of his since I first stumbled across a piece of
his in an issue of Moment 20 or so years ago. He's definitely after
a bigger, deeper picture than nailing some exec. I've written, somewhere
or another, that his book that you linked to is one of the more important
Jewish books of the decade. His recent stuff is behind the New Republic
log-in screen; his earliest, classic stuff was in the New Jewish Times,
that he and Jonathan Mark and Elli
Wohlgelernter put out in the early '80s. It's worth seeing the movie
Kaddish , made
about Yossi during that time period. He wrote some very interesting
stuff for the Long Island Jewish World in the late '80s and early '90s,
including some coverage of Eastern European communities at the moment
the Communist bloc was collapsing. Then he went on to join the Jerusalem
Report, where he wrote some lengthy, interesting pieces.
Some of his more recent work has been linked to from my blog: See here
His most classic pieces cannot be found on the web.
Silow-Carroll writes on Protocols:
Luke's unhinged response to Yossi Klein Halevi proves why YKH was right
to be wary of Luke's views on Lashon hara. (Full disclosure: I've met
Yossi a few times, but otherwise I don't know him well.) YKH may not
approve of Lashon hara, but at least when he engages in it he puts it
through the rigors of journalism, which demand that a writer carefully
research his case, assemble his research as accurately as possible,
and allow the subject of his research to respond to charges and characterizations.
That may not fly with the rabbis, but it would with a good editor, and
journalism is not the beit midrash. If you want to see the difference
between loshon hara and journalism, compare Luke's unsubstantiated allegations
that Yossi is in the tank with Sasha
Weinberg's rigorous takedown of David Brooks in Philadelphia magazine.
Andy, apples and oranges. What I am doing so far about Jewish journalism
and what that Philly mag piece did on David Brooks is like comparing
talk radio to NYT journalism. We're working in different mediums. I
have not attempted to write a comprehensive fact-check on Yossi, so
your comparison is not valid. I gave impressions, which is what bloggers
do, and I gave the raw material of emails.
If that's what bloggers do, then that's what's wrong with blogging.
If my "impression" of a certain cop is that he is taking bribes, do
I just go ahead and post it on my blog? If I suspect a rabbi is diddling
his students, do I just throw his name out there as apederast? Maybe,
per LSAT, I don't know what Loshon hara is. but do any of these apply:
Rechilut? Tale-bearing? Motzi shem ra? Even my lowly Reform upbringing
taught me that to destroy someone's good name is to commit a kind of
murder. Does that mean a Jew can't be a journalist? Perhaps, if this
was a rabbinically run theocracy, or if every Jew accepted the teachings
of Chazal as binding. But it isn't and they don't. But at least journalism
has an implicit (and yes, too often breached) ethical code that demand
its practitioners seek both sides, weigh the evidence fairly, reveal
the evidence accurately, and hesitate before reporting a damaging "impression."
Andy, step up to the plate and list the ethical violations I supposedly
accused Yossi of. Please list where I trafficked in lashon hara with
regard to him. I said I had an impression from our emails that he was
deferential to people in power who could help him.
Yossi Klein Halevi never breaks stories. To break stories, you have
to risk damaging cozy relationships with sources.
I did not accuse him of anything like the ethical breaches you name
in your post.
To take up your points specifically:
* Blogging is different from newspaper journalism as newspaper journalism
is different from talk radio which is different from poetry. They are
different mediums, which is why your comparison of my instantaneous
post on Yossi to some piece in Philadelphia magazine where the author
spent, probably, hundreds of hours, was wrong. Blogging can be like
newspaper journalism as can talk radio but the mediums inherently veer
in different directions. That is ok. A camel is not bad because it is
not a donkey. A blog is not bad because it is not as thought-through
as a New Yorker essay.
* Can one ethically post an "impression" that a cop is taking bribes
(without any evidence)? No.
* A rabbi diddling a student (with no evidence)? No.
* Did I destroy Yossi's good name? Of course not. I gave our email
exchange in full (except for bits I edited out for the sake of Yossi
and his precious sources). I linked to his books. I quoted supportive
statements by admirers (which take up far more space than my criticisms).
If that is destroying someone's good name, I hope it is done to me a
hundred times a day.
* I did seek both sides. I got Yossi to respond via email. I reported
his side. I reported the side of his admirers. I linked to his work.
And I offered up some tentative criticisms.
* You wrote: "Luke's unhinged response to Yossi Klein Halevi proves
why YKH was right to be wary of Luke's views on Lashon hara."
There's no lashon hara (referring to unnecessary gossip about someone's
personal life) in my report on Yossi. I don't delve into his personal
life. I offer tentative critiques of his professional life. So no, he
had no reason to run away from my questions of him and you have no reason
for supporting (on the basis of lashon hara concerns) his running away
from tough questions. Transparency and accountability are good for Yossi
Klein Halevi as well as the Jewish Federation.
When I wrote on another industry, I listed the sources I did not want
to offend. I listed the few people who I was so friendly with that I
did not want to hurt them with my reporting. I listed the people or
companies who did significant favors for me so people would know where
I was compromised. Such disclosure would be good for journalists in
general, including Yossi Klein Halevi. It was my asking for such a list
from Yossi that resulted in a reply from him that he would not give
me an interview.
Yossi is a Jewish media star. He's beloved and adulated. I can't think
of the last time anyone asked him any hard questions about his approach
to journalism. The Andy Carrolls of the world treat him with kid gloves
because he writes so beautifully about his desire that Jews, Christians
and Muslims worship God in love and peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Well, who can disagree with such sentiments, but it is no excuse for
not asking tough questions of him.
One measure of responsibility is how much damage you can do (a basic
point in a libel suit). If you write the most slanderous information
on a Web site that nobody reads, than you are not doing damage. If you
have a website getting 1000 hits a day, you have 1/100th of the responsibility
of a site getting 100,000 hits a day (of the same demographic).
I write differently when I have a business with millions of dollars
on the hook for what I write than when I write for myself.
Blogs have a different responsibility to equal time and traditional
journalistic notions of fairness than do network news shows in the 1970s
(who largely cornered the market for national TV news).
Also, as my Yossi profile shows, I can update instantly as new information
or analysis comes in, something you can't do with a weekly newspaper.
Journalist Miriam Shaviv writes: "Sorry Luke but Yossi Klein Halevi
is consistently one of the most honest, talented, thoughtful journalists
I've ever read. If anyone should be your model for good Jewish Journalism,
Isaac writes Protocols: "I'm old enough to remember Yossi Klein
& Jonathan Mark together running the "New Jewish Times," an independent,
alternative Jewish paper. Ran about five issues around 1980. Imagine what
they could have done had the web been around back then."
I ask Andy Carroll if he can name any stories Yossi has broken. Andy
I can't think of any stories he has broken, but that doesn't mean he
hasn't had scoops. But scoops are not the only definition of a good
journalist. I think his skill lies in capturing the intellectual and
social moment in Israel, as he previously did for American Jewry. I
think back to an early story he did comparing his experience at a punk
rock concert and a rebbe's tisch. It was a revealing glimpse inside
both closed worlds, which drew startling parallels between the seemingly
divergent spiritual quests of the two groups. It humanized the hasidim
and de-mystified the punks. His memoir of his days as a Kahanist was
also a revealing portrait of Jewish extremism - it gave me an understanding
of a wounded and neurotic cohort that continues to have great impact
in Israel. His current reporting on Israel provides an important window
into Israeli politics and society, especially the disllusioned left.
I regard that as a journalist's role. It's the difference between Seymour
Hersh and Lawrence Wechsler -- one breaking stories, one explaining
the world to me as no one else can.
I still think you have no basis to question Yossi's ethics based on
a brief email exchange (and then to throw it out into the blogosphere
without substantiation). If it's true that he doesn't go for the jugular,
there may be a dozen reasons before you get to "career advancement."
And it may be the first time in history that a journalist is accused
of careerism for being not aggressive enough.
If he were to jeopardize his "good working relationship" with a source,
he'd rather do it on his own terms, and not in an offhand comment to
a blogger. "Good working relationships" with sources are the basic currency
of journalism; why spend one on a mere interview with a (you'll forgive
me) relatively unknown writer who lacks either a book contract or accreditation?
In the dust jacket of both of his books, Yossi writes: "The documentary
film about his relationship with his father, Kaddish, was named by the
Village Voice as one of the top ten best films of 1985."
I suppose it didn't hurt that Yossi had been writing for the Voice for
years by that time?
Some random reflections on At
the Entrance to the Garden of Eden:
Yossi writes in the Intro: "I wanted to test whether faith could
be a means of healing rather than intensifying the conflicts in this land?"
How banal is that? Of course faith, like anything else, can be a source
of healing or conflict.
"Though raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, I abandoned ritual as
a teenager, having been shocked out of religious complacency by biblical
Yet Yossi never mentions Biblical criticism in his first book.
"My eventual decision to return to Jewish observance wasn't inspired
by any sudden realization that Judaism was the "true" faith
after all, Judaism simply was my language of intimacy with God."
That is not an acceptable approach with Orthodox Judaism. Nobody could
convert to OJ through a normative Beit Din with such an approach. It is
not an approach that will keep the Jewish people alive. Jews won't stay
Jewish simply because Judaism is their "language of intimacy with
I love it when all these people who not normative to their faith start
writing books on their ecumenical journeys, such as that "Muslim"
lesbian who wrote a book on what's wrong with Islam, yet she cannot read
the language of the religion, Arabic.
"So when I began my journey into Christian and Muslim communities,
I inevitably turned to their mystics, for whom montheism isn't a theology
but an experience of oneness."
This is why I'm skeptical of mysticism in general. It withdraws one from
this world. Its practicioners are primarily concerned with their own feelings
and spiritual highs and salvation, rather than God's demands for their
actions to benefit a wider world. Mysticism is an essentially solitary,
self-centered and solipsistic pursuit. Unless it is married to a demanding
code of behavior, it is never going to make things better in this world.
Yossi consistently misuses the word "disinterest" in the book.
It truly means unbiased. He uses it to mean uninterested.
On page 205, Yossi tells a nun: "Can you imagine the reaction when
my friends and relatives in the Orthodox community find out I've been
going to monasteries?
"Gabriel, I need to learn from your courage."
Give me a break. Yossi spent almost a decade with the JDL. He described
it in detail in his memoir. He describes many things he did that the Orthodox
community would find heinous. He glorifies in his uniqueness and never
misses an opportunity to write about how he's different. So what's another
Yossi davens with his tefillin in a church.
The last sentences of the book: "I am suddenly aware of the muezzin,
summoning me from the next hill. I get on my knees, press my forehead
to the floor, immobile with surrender."
Yudelson writes: "It's a tremendously important book; a first-person
yet profoundly humble exploration of creating a new vision of religion
and spirituality that is deeply traditional yet aims to unify, not divide."
I agree with all of that but the claim that the book is "deeply
traditional." It is anything but. The more Jewish, the more observant
of Jewish Law a Jew becomes, the less he has to do with non-Orthodox Jews,
let alone non-Jews and their religions.
Jewish Law and Neo-paganism by Jonathan Rosenblum Jerusalem Post June
Three weeks ago, The Jerusalem Post Magazine profiled[by Yossi Klein
Halevi] five Israeli Jews, each a follower of a different guru who has
discovered the secrets of the universe within the past 50 years.
Shantipi (Hindu shanti plus American Indian teepee), is a New Age alternative
to Shavuot. As described by Yossi Klein Halevi in the May 24 Jewish
Week, participants “danced and meditated, drank cardamom-flavored tea
¼ beat Arabic drums and blew shofars.
Klein Halevi finds “something potentially significant” in the New Age
festivals, with their melding of Eastern religion and selected Jewish
practices. The New Age festivals, he claims, can help bridge the void
between the Israeli secular and Orthodox worlds, ‘with new spiritual
expressions that transcend the divide.”
recent Shantipi, Klein Halevi admits, was characterized by “widespread”
drug use and public promiscuity. In that, it resembled the bacchanals
of ancient Greece, in which the participants shed all inhibitions and
Klein Halevi, who has long been enthusiastic about sycretic amalgamations
of Jewish and Far Eastern elements, gave unwitting testimony to this
tendency towards self-worship, a few years back in The Jerusalem Report.
There he describes a group of young Israelis who gather in a desert
tent for Shabbat. At the end of the evening, the group leader dances
himself into a trance, as the walls of the tent undulate.
“All distinctions merge as a desert tribe celebrates its god, celebrates
itself.” Precisely. Celebrating its god as means of celebrating itself.
After its two million dollar renovation, Bnai
David Judea offers the worst acoustics of any synagogue in Los Angeles,
along with the cutest security guards (Christians who vote Republican,
while the shul leans 80-20 Democrat).
For those who could hear him, Yossi Klein Halevi was mesmerizing Saturday
night. He delivered a 54-minute talk on the situation in Israel and then
answered questions for 30-minutes (towards the end, near 10pm, the crowd
was streaming out and at only half-strength).
I'm ready to heap even more plaudits on his head tonight than I was several
months ago on this site when I nominated him for a Pulitzer prize in literature
for his two memoirs.
I wouldn't even have gotten in the door tonight (due to the $18 price)
except my buddy spotted me a free ticket (and bought a copy of my book
to accompany him on his business travels).
Yossi spoke Friday night about Israel's turn to the East among those under
35. Those over 50 tend to look to Europe for vacations and culture. Those
under 35 tend to fly to India after their service in the IDF (Israel Defense
Force) to rejuvenate and explore their latent spirituality.
This has had many effects on young Israelis, including:
* They are more spiritually attuned and hungry than their secular elders.
* They are more open to ritual.
* They are less willing to buy into traditional schimatic mindsets (which
have wracked Ashkenazim for almost 200 years).
* Though they are open to religion and to study of Jewish text, they are
unlikely to automatically follow the dictates of Israeli's Orthodox rabbinate.
Yossi was equally eloquent Saturday morning, but that is a time in my
life when I nap, and I couldn't fully break that habit today.
This was the first time I had seen Halevi in person. I wanted to spot
some flaw in his character so I could bust his chops on my blog for not
giving me an interview for my Jewish journalism book, but he was understated
and charming (effective qualities for a journalist). There's no more sensitive
observer of the Jewish soul.
His public speaking is not flashy or false. Just one thoughtful sentence
He got a crowd of over 300 people. One old man wandered in late. His earing
aid wasn't turned on. The security guard inquired if he had a ticket.
The old man started yelling that he was the president of this and that.
There's this amazing sense of entitlement among many Jews. They expect
you to know who they are and their level of their accomplishment.
Yassir Arafat has been indispensable for not only the Palestinians
but for us...in telling us our place in the world. He's been a shadow
prime minister of Israel for 40 years.
Yossi supports Ariel Sharon. He says Sharon's approach to Israel's security
is supported by at least 70% of the Israel public (support levels that no
other Israeli politician could match). Yossi supports Israel's unilateral
withdrawal from Gaza and the construction of a fence to keep terrorists.
The fence would mean that Israel is going to retain sovereignty over greater
Jerusalem. It means that every time Israel has offered the Palestinians
an opportunity for a negotiated settlement (since 1947) and the Palestinians
have spurned these overtures, the Palestinians are steadily being offered
less and less.
Arafat made clear to us that our great victory in 1967 would not lead
to lasting peace.
Following the Yom Kippur war, Arafat started the deligitimization of Israel
that is culminating now, two decades later.
In some sense, Arafat's greatest offense against Israel happened in the
1990s when he toyed with our deepest longings and seemed to offer us legitimacy,
which we so desperately craved.
If Arafat is hated universally [in Israel] from left to right, Yossi Beilin
said he would not go to his funeral...
Arafat represented the post-Holocaust legitimization of the murder of
Jews and the delegitimization of the Jewish state.
Yossi says that only Israel's hawks can fulfill the vision of its doves.
The left was right that Israel can't continue to occupy. The left was wrong
in thinking that Israel could negotiate peace with the Palestinian leadership.
During question time, Yossi was asked about his last book (a journey seeking
peace among Christians and Muslims near Jerusalem) and about his views on
the threats posed by Iraq and Iran. He replied:
I don't believe that journey among Muslims has any relevance
[to the current situation in Israel]. The book came out 9/11. I was in
Manhattan waiting for my book party that night that never happened.
I think back to two years ago and all the apocalyptic scenarios by critics
of the coming war [against Iraq]. None of those came true. It is positive
that Jihadists are concentrating in Iraq. It is proven in Fallujah that
that war can be won. All that it requires is a deep breath and commitment.
I have no doubt that [Islamic terrorists] were disappointed that Bush
The re-election of Bush sends the signal to the Jihadist world [about
America's determination to fight terrorism].