Since the world is not exactly overrun with liberal newspapers and bien-pensant media organisations, I had a natural curiosity, as a Guardian journalist, to hear (for once) how someone else does it. David Landau is the editor of a newspaper that is avowedly secular and progressive, and which has a set of editorial principles that would not disgrace a human rights organisation, and are certainly recognisable to an employee of the media group owned by the Scott Trust.
But there the resemblance begins to diminish, and special circumstances take over. For Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper edited (since 2004) by Mr Landau, is constitutionally Zionist, as well as secular and progressive. You’d think that being secular and progressive in Israel is the main challenge, and that being Zionist at least would be uncontroversial. But, as Mr Landau reminded us, this was Israel – where the demographic reality is that the fastest-growing political-religious group, because of a spectacularly high birthrate, is the ultra-Orthodox, who, inter alia, do not recognise the state of Israel. So, even to be Zionist in Israel, let alone secular and progressive, can be to go looking for trouble.
“Not a day goes by,” said Mr Landau ruefully (and yet also with a sense of it as a badge of courage, almost a sign that he’s doing his job correctly), “that I don’t get a call or an email saying, ‘I cancel my subscription.'” Then he added – and here I could certainly share the ruefulness – “but, of course, then they just go online and read us for free.”
Mr Landau, a solid-framed figure in his fifties, with trim beard, is himself a living link between the Guardian, for which he reported for many years, and Haaretz. But, as he emphasised, he is also a former correspondent for the Economist. His point was that, in his job, you have, somehow, to straddle ideological gulfs. Which he does in a third way, too, by being a practising Orthodox Jew – a fact that, clearly to the credit of both men, Haaretz’s publisher Amos Schocken ruled as irrelevant when appointing Landau to the editor’s post.
And this little bundle of contradictions encapsulated Mr Landau’s main theme: that the only way of negotiating your way through Israel’s impossibly self-divided body politic (let alone begin to think of the Palestinian question, and Israel’s relations with its Arab neighbours) is to invite that warring plurality of point of view in to your editorial pages. And this means, he argued, being willing to contradict yourself.