Israeli Foreign Ministry investigating consulate in L.A.

The Inspector General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs is investigating an employee matter at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, although officials will not confirm the nature of the inquiry. 

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, would not comment on the validity of specific accusations reported in a Jan. 9 article on the Israeli website Ynet, which cites allegations of sexual harassment between two consulate employees.

“I will not confirm for you what is the subject of the investigation,” Nahshon said in a phone interview with the Jewish Journal on Jan. 12. “The Israeli article actually covered a wide range of issues. Some of them have to do with reality and others are being investigated, but I’m not in a position to tell you what are serious issues and what are just inventions or imagination.

“The only thing that I can confirm is that the Inspector General of the Foreign Ministry [Jacob Keidar] has been looking into certain allegations regarding the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, but nothing more than that,” he added. 

Officials from the local consulate general, including a spokesperson for Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles David Siegel, have declined to comment on the Ynet article, which reported that the investigation has been going on for the past two months. Nahshon, for his part, said that Siegel was not the focus of the investigation. 

“Those examinations or inquiries had nothing to do with David Siegel, as a person or as a consul general. [They had to do] with other employees, with frictions, difficulties with other employees — with regard to other employees — but not with regard to David Siegel,” Nahshon said. “His professional and his personal behavior was not under such an examination, and he is certainly not suspected of anything, and there is absolutely no shadow cast on his behavior. … He is an excellent diplomat and an excellent consul general.”

The office, located in West Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard, is staffed by several Israeli diplomats and many nondiplomatic locals. 

The Ynet article, without disclosing identities, describes the person accused of sexual harassment as an HIV-positive male, a “local [non-Israeli] worker, an American citizen, who holds a central position at the consulate as a foreign domestic worker … who has worked at the consulate for several years.” It reported that the accuser is a female worker who eventually withdrew her complaint after the Foreign Ministry began its investigation. Ynet also reported the Foreign Ministry was ready to fire the accused but that he has claimed it would be unlawful because of his medical condition. 

While the Ynet article reported that the Foreign Ministry intended to hold severance negotiations with the accused worker, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nahshon said, “I am not aware of conclusions and actions following this [overall] inquiry.”

Hebrew media is imploding, but Israeli English press booming

On Oct. 17, seven Israeli English news websites led with seven different stories.

The Jerusalem Post had a piece on Egypt’s commitment to its treaty with Israel. Haaretz's English site ran with a recently released Israeli document on Gaza. Ynet News, Yediot Achronot’s English site, led with threats to a retired Israeli security chief. Then there were the stories on the websites of the Times of Israel, Israel Hayom’s English edition, Israel National News, and +972, a popular news and commentary blog.

Twenty years ago, of these seven publications, only The Jerusalem Post existed. Two of the news outlets, Israel Hayom English and the Times of Israel, are less than three years old.

While Hebrew newspapers and TV channels are struggling, the Israeli English-language news market appears to be booming. But with the business of journalism under threat worldwide due to declining revenues, Israel's English-language media face an uncertain future.

“We see an explosion of new media because online platforms are cheap and easy to use,” said Noam Sheizaf, CEO of +972. “We couldn’t have done +972 four years ago. Times of Israel would have been a much more expensive operation five years ago.”

The past few months have seen an implosion of the Hebrew press. Maariv, a tabloid founded in 1948 and for its first 20 years Israel’s largest circulation daily, recently was placed in the hands of a court-appointed trustee and could shut down within weeks, leaving 2,000 people jobless. Haaretz, Israel’s leading broadsheet, did not print on Oct. 4 due to a staff protest of 100 proposed layoffs. Israel’s Channel 10 TV is in deep debt to the government and faces possible closure.

Many in Israel blame Israel Hayom, a staunchly conservative, freely distributed paper funded by American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, for aggravating the crisis in Hebrew media.

The tough environment “is exacerbated by the fact that in Israel we have the most generously funded free newspaper in the world,” said Times of Israel founding editor David Horovitz, who before starting the site in February was editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. “That’s made life hard for all the publications in Israel.”

The boom in English-language media in Israel is due in part to the limited audience for Hebrew-language news: Israel has fewer than 8 million citizens, many of whom prefer the Arabic or Russian press to the Hebrew dailies. Editors of English publications here say Israeli media are looking for audiences overseas to sustain their operations, and there appears to be a limitless appetite around the world for news and opinion on Israel.

“There’s an audience for news coming out of the Jewish world,” said David Brinn, managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. And because most news content is free online, people interested in Israel news will visit any number of news sites — so new publications do not necessarily threaten older ones, Brinn said.

Much of the growth of Israel’s English media has been online. Haaretz, Ynet News, Israel National News and Israel Hayom all translate their Hebrew reportage while weaving in some original English reports.

In May, Haaretz, the only one of the Hebrew papers to have an English print edition, put up a paywall on its popular English website, charging digital subscribers $100 annually for unlimited access. It’s still uncertain whether the strategy will pay off, though the paywall experiment will be expanding soon to the Haaretz Hebrew site, too.

“It’s unrealistic to rely solely on a print model to fund our journalistic operation,” said Charlotte Halle, editor of Haaretz’s English edition. “We wouldn’t be taking care of our journalistic future if we didn’t seek additional sources of income.”

Halle said the paper’s “authority, breadth of coverage, and dozens reporters and editors we have in the field” have helped attract thousands of digital subscribers.

The Jerusalem Post has pursued additional revenue opportunities by printing a range of publications beyond its daily newspaper. The Post has international, Christian and French editions — all produced, along with the daily, by just 60 employees. Most of the paper's readers are online — the Post says it garners some 2 million hits per week.

The Times of Israel, which combines original reporting with articles that repackage information reported on Israeli TV, radio and news sites, would not disclose readership statistics. But Horovitz says the site is exceeding expectations and has garnered 40,000 “likes” on Facebook since its launch eight months ago.

Horovitz says the publication’s “nonpartisan agenda” stands in contrast to the right-leaning Jerusalem Post and left-leaning Haaretz. The news coverage seeks to strike an unbiased tone, he says, while hundreds of bloggers, all unpaid, opine on a range of topics — from Iran’s nuclear program to the morality of circumcision.

“We strive to tell it like it is,” Horovitz said. “People want to know what’s going on, and they don’t want to feel like it’s filtered through some political agenda.”

With such a crowded market in such challenging times for the news industry, Israel’s English-language journalists are not without trepidation about the future. “There will be some sort of reevaluation” of the Post print newspaper’s viability in a few years, Brinn said.

Beyond competing for the same readership, the publications must vie with an ever-expanding cyber universe that occasionally breaks stories before they do.

“Social media has served to democratize the media market in Israel,” said Avi Mayer, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s director of new media and a prolific tweeter of Israel news. “When people share information through Twitter, it is a personal experience.”

While many Israeli journalists have become active tweeters, +972's Sheizaf is concerned that publications that are thriving now are resistant to change, which could hurt them in the future.

“People are not experimenting,” he said. “The readers are evolving and changing but the journalists, the stories they write, look like the stories written in the 19th century. We need to be a lot more creative.”

Citing leak, Netanyahu disbands security cabinet meeting

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded a meeting of his security cabinet after information from the previous cabinet meeting was leaked to the press.

Netanyahu ended Wednesday’s meeting early, citing a leak that led to a report in the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot that Tuesday’s security cabinet meeting included conflicting views on the deadline for a possible attack on Iran’s alleged nuclear program.

The security cabinet is made up of 14 government ministers and discusses issues of Israeli national security.

“The security of the state and its citizens depends on the ability to hold confidential and in-depth discussions in the security cabinet,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. “There, all the facts are shown, all opinions and all implications. This is a basic work tool in managing state security. Yesterday, somebody severely undermined the confidence that Israeli citizens give to this forum.”

The statement did not say when the next meeting would be, nor did it identify the leak.

Yediot’s article on Tuesday reported that Iran is continuing its quest for a nuclear weapon, and that cabinet members differed on when Iran will enter the “zone of immunity,” the point when Iran’s nuclear program becomes impenetrable.

Gilad Shalit named Yediot Achronot sports columnist

Former captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been named the sports columnist for the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot.

Shalit is a sports fan, particularly of basketball and the Maccabi Tel Aviv team.

His first column is scheduled to appear in the newspaper on Friday. Shalit also reportedly is traveling to the United States to cover the NBA finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, which began Tuesday.

Shalit was released last October by Hamas after more than five years of captivity in the Gaza Strip. In February, he traveled to the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando, Fla.

Menorah of 25,000 dominoes constructed in Jerusalem

A Chanukah menorah made of 25,000 dominoes was constructed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The menorah then fell Sunday in front of a large audience after 5-year-old Dan Ben-Simchon was chosen by raffle to push over the first piece, Ynet reported.

Menorah builders Nissim Lopez and Yogev Levy are hoping that the successful collapsing of the menorah will land them in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Resignations of key Turkish army officials concern Israel

Israeli officials reportedly are concerned over the resignation of the head of the Turkish armed forces and three other senior officers.

“This move plays right into the hands of Islamic extremists and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan,” an unnamed official told the Ynet Israeli news service, citing unnamed officials.

The official called the July 29 resignations “troubling because it means the last fortress against Islam has collapsed.”

Officials told Ynet that the turmoil in Turkey could hurt any possibility of reaching an agreement between Turkey and Israel on the Palmer Report dealing with the deadly 2010 flotilla raid that led to the deaths of nine Turkish activists, including a Turkish American, aboard the Mavi Marmara.

The resignations reportedly came following tensions between the officers and Erdogan over the army’s demand that dozens of officers held on suspicion of involvement in an alleged anti-government plot be promoted.

Hamas: Let’s discuss 1948 lines

Mahmoud al-Zahar says US president’s plan for Mideast peace similar to that of George Bush, Ynet News reports.

The difference in tone between US President Barack Obama’s two policy speeches on Mideast peace sparked outrage among Palestinian leaders Monday.

Hamas spokesman Mahmoud al-Zahar responded by saying, “Clearly Obama’s plan is no different, aside from a few small details, from that of George Bush. Now he refers to the 1967 borders as sacred, but who says we accept them, and that we won’t speak of the ‘48 lines?” he told al-Emarat al-Youm.

He added that Obama was trying to pull wool over the Palestinian people’s eyes and thus doing them harm. “Obama wants to place us within 22% of the area of Palestine,” he said, referring to the entire State of Israel.

“He speaks of land exchanges, but the issue of exchanging territory takes away from Jerusalem. He wants to give Jerusalem to the Israelis and give us just 5% of historical Palestine, which was originally our land, and this is just a trick.”


PM’s pressure reportedly tables talks on E. Jerusalem construction

Discussions on new construction in eastern Jerusalem have been postponed reportedly due to pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee tabled its talks scheduled for this week on projects to build nearly 1,000 apartments in Har Homa and 600 in Pisgat Ze’ev until May 5, Haaretz reported.

Discussions on building 942 housing units in the Gilo neighborhood and another 180 in Ramot also were postponed, according to Ynet.

The Prime Minister’s Office would not comment on the matter, and newspaper sources did not say specifically how the office pressured the committee to table the talks.

The move comes ahead of a meeting of the Mideast Quartet—the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations—scheduled for later this week.

Jerusalem municipality approves Ramot housing

A Jerusalem municipality committee approved construction plans for Jewish housing in Ramot, a neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem.

The construction approved Monday by the planning and construction committee includes final approval for 120 apartments in two buildings. The Ramot apartments are part of a plan approved in 2004 for 180 housing units, Ynet reported.

The vote comes a day before a scheduled visit by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has been critical of Israeli construction beyond Israel’s 1967 borders, known as the Green Line, because it ruins the chances for peace in the region.