Aherouth - החרות
About this newspaper
"Aherout" (Haherut), a Hebrew newspaper with a nationalist orientation, was published in Jerusalem during the years 1910-1917. Appearing under local, Sephardic auspices, its owners, intellectuals and community leaders alike, also took part in its editing.
The appearance of "Aherout" should be considered against an intertwining backdrop of several historical trends. The development of a journalistic public sphere among the Ottoman Jews, especially since the last quarter of the 19th century; a complementary growth in journalistic activity in Palestine during the same time period, as well as the Sephardic participation in newspapers such as Habazeleth and Ben-Yehuda's Periodicals. In addition, the dawn of the 20th century had seen the emergence of local and independent Sephardic entrepreneurs in the field publishing and printing in Jerusalem. Finally, the July 1908 "Young Turk Revolution" provided an additional catalyst for the newspaper's appearance with its heralding of more moderate regulatory restrictions and reduced imperial censorship, enabled the appearance of more newspapers than ever before.
In January 1909 the Ladino newspaper "El Liberal", marketed as a "National Bulletin in Palestine", had made its debut. Its initiator and publisher, Moshé Azriel, offered Ḥayyim Ben-Attar, a young and aspiring Jerusalemite journalist, to be his partner in this venture, as well as the newspaper's editor. Four months later, Azriel, in partnership with M.H. Ben-Naim, launched "Aherout" as well. Abraham Elmaleh, a youthful though quite experienced Jerusalemite journalist and intellectual, was likely also a partner in the early days of "Aherout" as well. The newspaper enjoyed the support of the senior Sephardic community leader Abraham (Albert) Antebi, an Elmaleh confidant. The two newspapers were strongly affiliated with each other, jointly targeting a specifically Sephardic public, while "Aherout" sought out a non-Sephardic readership of Hebrew as well. The staff of the two newspapers was mainly shared with the editors occasionally swapping positions. Initially, "El Liberal" was edited jointly by Azriel and Ben-Attar (January-March 1909). Then Elmaleh, as sole editor, replaced the two (March-July 1909). In fact, when "Aherout" was founded in May 1909, Elmaleh edited both newspapers simultaneously with the assistance of Ben-Attar. Subsequently, Ben-Attar replaced Elmaleh as the editor of "El Liberal", remaining at its helm until it ceased publication in November of that year.
Elmaleh edited "Aherout" from May 1909 till July 1910, when he left Palestine for two years, as an assistant of the new hahambaşı (the chief Rabbi in Turkish), Ḥayyim Nahoum in Istanbul. Initially Elmaleh was replaced by A.B. Rivlin, but as of September 1910 Ḥayyim Ben-Attar had assumed editorship of became "Aherout". Ben-Attar had also become Azriel's partner in this venture, whereas Ben-Naim was no longer listed as such. There is no consented explanation to the frequent exchange and turnover of editorial positions. Quite probable, however, is that Elmaleh had ended his term as "Aherout"'s editor with a parting of the ways. Be it as it may, Ben-Attar remained at his post for the remaining six and half years – nearly the entire period of the newspaper's existence. It was for a good reason that Itzhak Bezalel deemed "Aherout" as "Ben-Attar's, more than anyone else's, enterprise".
Most of the time, the editor was the only staff member of "Aherout". Sometimes the newspaper had part-time or temporary editorial assistants, such as Abraham Ludvipol or R. Binyamin, during "Language War" (1913). The latter also sometimes acted as the newspaper's envoy and representative in the Jaffa region.
Initially "Aherout"'s appeared twice a week (on Tuesdays and Fridays). This frequency grew to the point that it became a daily in May 1912. Unlike other Jewish newspapers in Palestine of the time, whose frequency of publishing was often interrupted, "Aherout" was published consistently and regularly. Its founders were willing to risk much of their own capital in seeing their enterprise survive its initial stage. Shortly after its foundation, "Aherout" became "the first commercial newspaper in the country", as described by Bezalel. It was the first newspaper that survived solely thanks to its readership, without the benefit of any institutional support whatsoever.
During World War I, "Aherout" was the main Jewish newspaper in Palestine, and sometimes (intermittently during 1915-1917) the only Hebrew newspaper that appeared in the Yishuv. Due to telegraph and postal irregularities problems during the war, the newspaper was cut off from most of its journalistic sources. In addition, Ottoman censorship resumed its strict nature at that time. Moshe David Gaon later wrote that during the war "…the simplest, prosaic question of bread was troubling and eliminated the lust for life. Everyone was preoccupied with expectations for an end and a better future. Consequently, the newspaper also shrunk in size and capacity and its liberty to express anything opposing the authorities was taken". Nevertheless, wartime issues contain irreplaceable and extremely valuable information on the social, economic, cultural, and institutional life in Jewish Palestine.
The writers in "Aherout" represented all sections of the Jewish population in the Yishuv: From the old Yishuv and the New Yishuv; Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews of various religious outlooks; residents of Jerusalem and Jaffa as well as of rural sectors. Largely, "Aherout" considered itself to have been the mouthpiece of all the country's "native sons" ("Beney HaAretz"), whether born in or resident of the country, that despite different backgrounds, shared a common denominator – the Palestinian identity. It was for good reasons reason that Bezalel subsequently highlighted the fact that the contributors to "Aherout" "represented much more diverse backgrounds than the writers in any other newspaper in the country" at that time. Since then Moshe Behar has added that "the newspaper was one of the most pluralistic and least dogmatic public podium during the Second Aliyah period. The ratio between Sephardic and Ashkenazi contributors was more balanced than in any other Hebrew publication". Indeed, all the writers in "Aherout" endorsed unity among the Jewish sectors and communities in Palestine.
The newspaper's content revolved mainly around contemporary topics including local news, discussions of social matters and of leisure. Unlike ideologically driven newspapers such as HaAchdut or HaPoel HaTzair that represented a strict party line, clear ethos and a programmatic outlook, "Aherout" accentuated its readers' (the country's Jewish inhabitants) daily life. At the same time, however, contributors of "Aherout" did not shy away from expressing ideological standpoints on various issues, and contending with opinions articulated in other newspapers. Thus, for example, during the Brenner affair (1910-1911) many contributors to "Aherout" dissented from the opinion of Yosef Haim Brenner and his adherents in HaPoel HaTzair, that Jewish identity should not based on religious commitment and that therefore apostasy does not endanger Jewish existence.
Many commentaries in the newspaper expressed ideological support of the "Political Zionism" and the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine. The very first editorial had already declared that it would "vigorously and boldly raise the flag of Zionism – the object of our soul's yearning". Accordingly, throughout the years, the newspaper dedicated special issues to commemorating Herzl, to marking Bialik's jubilee, to covering Sokolow's visit in Palestine, to Zionist congresses and so on. As a rule, most contributors to "Aherout" supported the establishment of a Jewish entity of a national disposition, under the wings of the Ottoman Empire, to which they always expressed loyalty. Such expressions could have emanated either from genuine conviction, reasons of censorship, or from a blend of both.
Furthermore, from its inception, the newspaper supported the revival of Hebrew as the national language of the Jewish people. The historical affinity between its contributors' social circles and those of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (despite the competition with HaTzvi and HaOr, both published by Ben-Yehuda's family), was distinct. The dedication of its staff to the revival of the Hebrew language is further demonstrated by noting that Ben-Attar, Elmaleh, Azriel and Ben-Naim were all active members of the association "Jerusalem's Youth". This national and cultural Hebrew organization (most members of which were of Sephardic background) was active during 1904-1905, with Ben-Yehuda's blessing. The loyalty to Hebrew was manifested in the newspaper by abstaining from use of words in foreign or other Jewish languages. This support turned into active advocacy during the "The Language War", when "Aherout" unequivocally sided with the Hebrew cohort, providing it with coverage, serving as a leading platform for its disposal, and serving as a central factor in its eventual victory of the "German" camp represented by the Hilfsverein ("Ezra") Society and its supporters.
Coverage of deteriorating Jewish-Arab relations in Palestine and the region, mainly during 1910-1911, was abundant. The emerging Arab tendency of shifting from Ottomanism to Arabism (according to C. Ernest Dawn's formulation) was complimented by a disseminating objection to the Zionist Yishuv throughout the Middle East. Among other means, this objection made use of a journalistic struggle, parliamentary protest, petitions and legal litigations. "Aherout" dealt with these phenomena by publishing some 500 articles (as counted by Bezalel) on the subject between 1909 and 1914. No other contemporary Hebrew newspaper devoted so much coverage to this issue. Relevant items in "Aherout" included news, translations of articles from the Turkish and Arab press, interviews and numerous commentaries. Most of the writers who dealt with this matter in "Aherout" shared the opinion that the national disputes should be reconciled within the framework of the Ottoman Empire – irrespective of an independent Jewish entity, being established its realm. All of those who took part in these deliberations were scared of the spreading of Arab animosity toward the Jews. They demanded that the combat against this animosity (attributed mainly to the Christians and Christianity) would be placed at the forefront of the public's daily agenda.
Most of those who dealt with the Jewish-Arab relations were Sephardic of Eastern descent. According to Hillel Cohen, these Sephardic writers in "Aherout" sought "to find the Golden Path that would accommodate cohabitation of Jews (including Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe) and Arabs in Palestine". These writers considered themselves more insightful than their Ashkenazi brethren with regard to the Arab question. They saw themselves as better conversant with Arabic, the Arab way of life, and Arab culture. Thus, they tried to utilize their exclusive and symbolic capital as the best mediators between the Hebrew inhabitants of Palestine and the Arabs of the country and of the region. "Aherout" contained many grievances against condescension and belittling on the part of Ashkenazi leaders who ignored the Sephardic standpoints on this matter, with the added caveat that such conduct was doing substantial damage to entire Yishuv.
Coverage of literary matters in "Aherout" was relatively meager. However, from time to time, the newspaper did publish poems, stories, plays, legends, reports on writers, and literary criticism. Among others, the newspaper published translations of Ladino and French belles-letters, feuilletons and literary-scientific materials penned by Jewish Ottoman writers, such as Joseph Néhama and Daniel De Sayas. Some of these compositions were later published as separate booklets. "Aherout" also published some original Hebrew literature that has recently been revisited. Such is the case with Moshe Behar's essay on the story "Flora Saporto", authored by Nechama Pochachevski.
In April 1916, Azriel, the newspaper's publisher, succumbed to spotted fever at only 33 years of age. Subsequently Ben-Attar took over publishing responsibility until he was drafted into the Ottoman army in April 1917. The publishing of "Aherout" thus ceased. While Ben-Attar returned to Jerusalem in September of the same year, his attempt to renew publication following British occupation of the city (in December 1917) ultimately failed. Ben-Attar too died at the age of 33, succumbing to Pneumonia less than a year later. Thus, both the newspaper's publisher and its editor had lost their live with the demise of Ottoman rule in Palestine.
For many years, "Aherout" was considered to have been a marginal newspaper; communal or "sectarian" in nature, to say the least. Nevertheless, "Aherout" was a central and wide ranging of journalistic sphere in the Yishuv. It constitutes an invaluable historic source for research on Jewish Palestine during the last decade of the Ottoman rule (including during WWI). In tandem, the newspaper illuminates the nature of the Sephardic and Mizrahi communities in Palestine and casts light on their strong bonds with the rest of Late Ottoman Jewry. All this at the peak of attempts by enlightened Sephardic elites to represent non-European Jews within the national Hebrew enterprise. While this ambition did not materialize, it has certainly left future generations a legacy to commemorate, cherish and follow.
Dr. Tamir Karkason
This report is based on various research works including those of Itzhak Bezalel – the newspaper's distinct historian. Thanks are handed to Dr. Amos Noy for his comments. Thanks also to Dr. Noah Gerber for commenting on the English version.