Welcome to State of Tel Aviv – an online media platform, focusing on Israel-based politics, security, religion and state issues, regional geopolitics, tech, culture and more.
As I write this at 10am, on the morning of Monday, May 16 in Tel Aviv, a city-wide air siren just jolted me with its ominous – and familiar – wail. Unaware that there was a planned test of the air raid sirens by the Home Front Command, I rushed into the building stairwell, which doubles as a bomb shelter.
And, as I stood there, my thoughts raced: “How can we still launch tomorrow even if we may be hit with rockets?”
“We will.” I told myself. “Because. That’s what you do when you live here.”
And after many months of intense planning – we are, indeed, live – and diving into the deep end.
Our feature article in this debut issue of State of Tel Aviv is written by Udi Segal, a household name in Israel.
Currently a political analyst and anchor of a major evening newscast, Segal has worked in TV and print journalism for more than 30 years. His spoken English is excellent and you will soon hear him on our upcoming podcast. This article was submitted in Hebrew and, as will be the case with much of our content, was translated to reach a broader audience.
(Our secret sauce in doing this critical translation work with the sensitivity required to remain true to the writer’s voice and intent is a man of many hats, David Hazony – see key people in ABOUT.)
We asked Segal, who is immersed in Israeli politics 24/7, to write an in-depth analysis of the “alternate” prime-ministerships of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid. Israeli political life is never dull but this very unusual alliance, which made the “change government” in Israel a reality (after four deadlocked election outcomes), has been a decade in the making.
Segal has been in the thick of things all along. He knows everyone and made a point of speaking with Foreign Affairs Minister Lapid specifically for this piece. Always sharp and direct, Lapid never disappoints.
Segal’s analysis of the Lapid-Bennett partnership comes down to this: in a country of brass-knuckle politics it is extraordinary that this “alliance of brothers” transpired, and, perhaps more so, that it is a going concern one year on. That, however, could change at any moment.
In his piercing analysis, Segal goes straight to the day after, asking Lapid what we all know to be inevitable: “What happens, when…?”
The coalition government, a crazy mix of competing interests and parties, controls only 60 of 120 seats in the Knesset. It is on borrowed time.
Stay tuned. We’ll be all over it.
In the meantime, I was taken aback – in a good way – by Lapid’s response to Segal’s questioning of him in their recent interview. I expect you will be as well.
Later this week, after you’ve had time to enjoy Segal’s feature, you will receive an essay written by me that is more personal in nature. I explore the various twists and turns that have brought me to this point where I am living in Tel Aviv and founding a media company.
As with so many life ventures, it has been a circuitous route to the present, an alchemy of personal and professional experiences. I was so fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve as the Canadian Ambassador to Israel from 2014 to 2016, a truly life-changing honor. It was beyond interesting, fun and I learned so much every day.
The underbelly of that period, upon which I will also reflect, were the malicious comments made repeatedly by numerous of my then professional colleagues (always hiding behind anonymity) and certain interests who speculated on my disloyalty to Canada; comments that continue to be made to this day.
It is disturbing, to say the least, that such antisemitic vitriol – promoting the centuries old “dual loyalty” (or straight up disloyalty) canard – is still tossed around about Jews, in 2022, so cavalierly.
Shocking, really. And, I suspect, this conduct may reflect a tolerance – perhaps even condonation – of a deeply entrenched antisemitism in many western institutions.
A Word on Art
I expect that the magnificent image featured in Segal’s article – of Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett – will make your eyes pop. The original work was painted recently by Yoram Gal, a longtime resident of Jaffa and extraordinarily talented and prolific artist. I came across him on the internet a few months ago and was mesmerized by the vibrant color, power and emotional intensity of his work. I could not stop thinking about it.
Me, Yoram and Yoni (more on him down below) met shortly after on Zoom and had a whale of time. Yoram loved the vision for State of Tel Aviv. And, here we are.
Yoram agreed to paint a dual portrait of Alternate Prime Ministers Bennett and Lapid for our launch.
I admit that his rendering of Bennett surprised me, reflecting, as it does, the weight of the top job in his eyes. There is a soft and fragile quality to Bennett’s portrait that is not conveyed in the quick photos and rush of the daily news cycle.
Yoram, too, said he did not anticipate the depth of feeling he channeled in this particular painting. He calls this work “The Hope”; evoking Israel’s national anthem and what Bennett and Lapid represent to him and so many Israelis.
But, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that Yoram Gal’s “hope”, politically and socially, is another person’s nightmare. We’ll explore all that over time.
Also in this issue are the exquisite pencil drawings of Tel Aviv artist Igor Tepikin, whose portraits of Lapid, Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu and me, enhance Segal’s narrative and this column. You can look forward to seeing more of Tepikin’s work in the future.
Not to be overlooked in the visual world is our designer and illustrator, Ioan Szabo, who has been masterful in guiding us through all manner of design issues, ever unflappable, humorous and so respectful of our vision. He also has a great doodle gracing this column today and will contribute more going forward.
Ioan has the distinction of being the sole exception to my intention to work exclusively with Israeli artists (he’s a holdover from my Toronto days). He’s just too good to give up and there’s that Canuck thing, eh?
(Oh. One more thing about Canucks. I apologize, in advance, to my Canadian friends for submitting to the will of my American colleagues who insisted on using, you know, that spelling. I won’t name names but one of my closest team members said flatly: “Viv. If you use Canadian spelling the Americans will think that you don’t know how to spell.”
Ouch. That capitulation aside, I’ve stood my editorial ground.)
I believe strongly that carefully considered visual elements make everything more interesting and accessible. Over time, I hope that our readers come to anticipate the visual and written work with equal enthusiasm.
We are committed to creating a pluralistic environment, where you will encounter a true range of opinion so that you may more carefully arrive at your own. To achieve that, State of Tel Aviv is curating content from a range of individuals with diverse views who actually live in Israel and have a deep knowledge of and commitment to the place.
We will also cultivate long-form essay writing and reportage, somewhat neglected arts in the era of small screens and screaming headlines. Rather than peppering you with short blasts of information (we are definitely not a news service and do not aspire to be) we will chew and digest. Our thoughts and analysis will be considered, not rushed, and we will develop context, character and ideas so that they are able to breathe and come to life. When you hear from us, once or several times weekly, it will be for good reason.
Our lengthier pieces will be leavened by short, punchier features. Above all, we will deliver informed insight, humor, irreverence and, most importantly, make sure your valuable time perusing our content is well-rewarded.
Our contributors speak the languages you hear frequently in Israel – Hebrew, Arabic – even Russian, French, Spanish and English – imbuing their work with a “next-level” understanding of the broader complexities of daily life here. Many of our writers are well-known in Israel – even household names – but are not familiar to foreign readers. This is due solely to a language barrier which we are bridging.
For those more comfortable and proficient in Hebrew or Arabic, their original work will be translated. In this way we can bring to a much broader audience a more authentic reflection of the range of views on so many issues here. Neither Jewish nor Arab Israelis are a monolith, not by a longshot.
We know that our readers will find this eye-opening and edifying.
The catalyst for this project is personal and not. To generalize for a moment, the significant foreign media presence in Israel is not delivering what it should. After Washington D.C. and Brussels, Israel hosts one of the largest foreign press corps in the world, yet the resulting coverage is curiously uniform. Siloed. Adhering to a “politically correct” and accepted narrative. I’ll have more to say on that in future dispatches but for now, I offer you this publication – and its soon to be launched companion podcast – as a rebuttal.
I promise that you will be surprised by the diversity of opinion we publish and present, over time, and that you will not encounter it anywhere else. I also promise that at times you will be angered by what you read; at others you will feel that the content reinforces your views. In the end, I expect and hope that you will be engaged and challenged frequently to re-think what you were certain was the only way to see things.
As a young lawyer a few decades back, the best advice I received was that in order to most effectively represent a client’s interests, it is necessary to understand the adversary’s case even better than one’s own.
Makes good sense and is sage life advice.
To sum up, this has been an adventure, I assure you. As with any startup, you go in thinking you know lots of stuff and, well, see quickly that you have yet a lot to learn. For me, the tech-related learning curve has been particularly steep, and would not have been possible without the expert guidance of my “wing man”, Yoni Leviatan (see key people in ABOUT).
We have been going flat out with a broader group for some time now, and in spite of our conscientiousness we know we will encounter some glitches in the user experience and technology along the way – it’s all part of the launch process – and we’re ready for the unknown.
We appreciate your patience and understanding as we continually work to upgrade and optimize State of Tel Aviv, while expeditiously attending to anything that fails to meet our exacting standards.
If you experience any issues or have any questions, please feel free to contact our Support team anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Thanks for staying with me to the end and please come back soon to see what we’re up to. I promise you we will not disappoint.
We may even send a friendly poke.
Have a great week.