Katz’s final edition: Outgoing Jerusalem Post editor shares his views on Israel's future

Though he's 'not overly optimistic about our political class' he remains 'hopeful' about the Jewish state's prospects


For seven years, he has held down a cynic’s job in a country that is known for its pessimists and is being upended by civil strife. Happily, Yaakoz Katz, the outgoing editor of the Jerusalem Post, is good at confounding expectations.

Although he’s “not overly optimistic about our political class,” he says, he remains “hopeful about Israel’s overall future”.

Katz, familiar to many as the editor — now former editor — of Israel’s oldest English newspaper, says his confidence is based on his view that Israel no longer faces the existential threats that all but defined its first 50 years.

“When you’re fighting for survival, you don’t have the luxury of worrying too much about the judicial appointments and the scope of judicial review,” he points out.

But his good cheer is also because of Israel’s strong economy and the energy independence it enjoys thanks to its offshore gas fields. In conjunction with its military security it means, he says, that the country has the space to concentrate on internal reform.

That process, he readily admits, is not going too well. “It’s the eve of our 75th birthday. We’re grown up. But what disappoints me about Israel is our hesitancy, the fact that we don’t take the big decisions that we need — even when they’re sorely needed.”

Chicago-born Katz’s arrival in Israel in 1996 at the age of 16 — he finished his high school education in Jerusalem, after which he read law at Bar Ilan University — was also an early lesson in looking at the bigger picture.

It was three years after Israel signed the Oslo Accords, and a period in which “we went from immense hopes for peace to one where buses were being blown up”.

Seven years later, there was the Camp David Summit between America, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat, which also tried and failed to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Katz believes the fact both peace plans weren’t homegrown is crucial. “We don’t have an Israeli plan with regard to the Palestinians, which for a nation that’s so creative, so innovative, is a big miss. Israelis should decide what we want to do, what is in our interests.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s five-times elected premier Benjamin Netanyahu is not acting in the country’s interests, he suggests.

The Prime Minister’s succession of terms have enabled him to “buy time”. And for the past three months “the person who holds the reins has let the country rip itself apart”.

And while Netanyahu might have put the proposed judiciary measures on hold for now — “finally pulling back from the brink of what could be a civil war” — Katz sees little chance of a deal between government and opposition that could ease the bitterness.

“The opposition is being very smart by agreeing to engage in dialogue, and they should. But the agenda is still there, and people are still protesting on the streets.”

The protests are fuelled by the ever-widening gulf between secular and religious Israelis, particularly the strictly Orthodox, many of whom are unemployed. It is a subject about which this outgoing editor feels passionate.

“When I look at Israel’s future, to me the greatest challenge is not a nuclear-armed Iran but the integration of the strictly-Orthodox into the workforce,” he says. “Their decision not to be part of it will be economically unsustainable in 20 to 25 years.

“The high Charedi birth rate means income tax for working Israelis will have to rise by 16 percentage points, to 61 per cent, just to meet the budget for welfare. If people are already paying 45 per cent, who will pay 61 cents in every dollar? People will simply leave Israel. This is something we have to deal with today.”

Put another way, the fact most Charedim evade conscription is not the most pressing problem. “The focus should be on getting them working. We must recognise that we Israelis have a common purpose and that means contributing to the economy.”

More happily, common purpose has been in evidence on the streets of Israel these past months, he notes.

The tens of thousands of mainly secular Israelis staging the protests have sometimes been accused of being “disengaged” or “post-Zionist”, of lacking patriotism.

“Yet they have reclaimed the Israeli flag. Look at them, these kids who are in the army. They want to contribute. The politicians are depressing, but the people, them I have faith in.”

The politicians who depress Katz can also be vain, he says, relaying the details of a furious phone call he once received from a senior Netanyahu aide.

The Prime Minister’s assistant didn’t ring the editor, at the time on holiday in Florida, to complain about an article the paper had run.

He phoned because the Jerusalem Post had published a letter from a reader suggesting that Netanyahu should not have taken his wife Sara on a work trip to New York.

On another occasion, a senior minister told Katz he was clearly “against him” because the paper had published what the politician deemed an unflattering photo of him.

But again, Katz sees the bigger picture. Overall, “editing this paper has been wonderful”, he says, adding that it is vital that struggling newspapers everywhere, including the Jerusalem Post, prevail.

"A free press is “one of the prime requirements for democracy.”

To this end, Katz, who was senior correspondent for the paper for many years before he edited it, will now write a regular column for the publication.

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