Ma'ariv workers protest
Ma'ariv workers protest Journalists Association

The “newspaper crisis” in Israel took a new turn Thursday, when the daily Ha'aretz newspaper did not appear on newsstands, the result of a wildcat strike by employees of the paper Wednesday night. The workers were protesting over planned firings at the paper.

Also not being published Thursday was business newspaper The Marker, owned, as is Ha'aretz, by the Shocken Group. Speaking to Army Radio, Ro'i Katzir, an editor at The Marker and a member of the newspapers' workers committee, said that the strike would, he hoped, draw attention to a long-standing struggle by workers at the papers, and in Israeli print journalism in general, for their futures. “For a year, management has ignored the demands of workers, and we hope that they will now be ready to work with us and freeze the plan to fire workers.”

In a letter to workers before a recent union meeting, current publisher Amos Shocken wrote that he understood the workers' concerns, but that the paper had no choice but to cut staff. “We are not happy about having to fire people, and I hope you understand this. We are being forced into this. We must do this in order to preserve Ha'aretz. But if the fate of Ha'aretz will be to close down, we would all be better off if it closes down now.”

Ha'aretz has published continually since it was established in 1918, rarely missing a day of publication. The paper is considered the premier resource of Israeli print journalism, often called the 'New York Times” of Israel, but many on the right have criticized Ha'aretz for its far-left editorial policies.

Ha'aretz is the second major Israeli newspaper to cease publication for a day in protest over job cuts, following Ma'ariv, which did not publish last Tuesday, Yom Kippur eve. On Wednesday, Ma'ariv workers held a protest outside the home of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, demanding government intervention to preserve their jobs.

A proposed sale of Ma'ariv, according to sources, will result in the dismissal of most of the paper's 2,000 workers, with the alternative, according to Ma'ariv's owners, a complete closure of the paper and the dismissal of all the workers. Last week, a Tel Aviv court on Sunday froze for 30 days the sale of the paper to its prospective buyer, Shlomo Ben-Zvi. The court ruled that a period of time should be taken in order to determine whether or not it was possible to rehabilitate the paper without having to sell it, and fire much of its staff.

Ben-Zvi, owner of the Makor Rishon newspaper, agreed to pay NIS 85 million for Maariv, the paper's board of directors told the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. Workers for the paper are up in arms over the decision, because the sale would likely entail the dismissal of many of Maariv's 2,000 workers, and a cut in the pensions of nearly all workers.