Ha'aretz (1954-1960)

[……..] With the establishment of the State of Israel, when finally the Palmach was dismantled, I still had a few months to serve before being demobilised. I was relocated to another unit. Since I refused to be trained as an officer, the allocation officer questioned me about my interests and abilities and when he discovered that I was an art student, he allocated me to the editorial staff of the Army's magazine, Bamahanne. I was assigned the job of graphic designer there. I designed the pages and when approved, sent them to the printers. I tried to smuggle in some of my own cartoons, but without success. Each time I tried to put in something of my own, Shabtay Tevet, a senior reporter of the magazine opposed it, arguing that I was the designer of the paper and that I should stick to my job.

While this was happening, I had sent some of my drawings to an exhibition of young painters organised by the Painters and Sculptors Association. In this exhibition two young artists got top prizes for their drawings: Avigdor Arikha and me. When the news of me getting top prize for drawings reached Bamahanne, it caused some soul searching in Shabtay Tevet. He could not forgive himself for not detecting a genius. This stood me in good stead later, when Tevet became one of the new media stars in the Ha'aretz daily newspaper. He started a new column of everyday life stories with illustrations. Tevet insisted that the only artist he would accept to draw the illustrations was me. Schocken was reluctant to employ somebody who was known as a member of the Communist Party. Tevet, however, insisted, and Schocken gave in.

[......] I was summoned to see Gershom Schocken, the editor of the daily Ha'aretz. He offered me my own weekly column with the title Kotzo shel Tzabar (Tzabar's Thorn). The column would be composed of drawings of everyday life events, subjects of my own choosing. Under each drawing there would be a line or two of text, no more.

This was a wonderful opportunity and also a great challenge. For me, however, it presented a dilemma. I was a socialist and a member of a left wing party allied to the communists. My mental universe was divided between the working class which I supported, and the capitalists whom I detested. Here comes a capitalist paper and offers me a proper job, not just a small vignette, an occasional illustration or an odd cartoon. This was a proper job. Should I take it and join the bastards? Since I could not decide, I went to see Moshe Sneh, who was the leader of my party. I told him my dilemma. He asked me only one question: "Do they pay?" "Of course they pay," I answered. "If they pay," said Sneh, "don't be an idiot, take the job!" Since this was a response of the highest authority, I decided to accept the job.

I started at once. On the fourth week I found myself without a subject. I had no idea what my column should be about. I phoned the editor and told him that there would be no column this week because I do not have a suitable subject. “Shimon“ he said “you don't know what a newspaper is. If you have a column on Friday, you have a column on Friday. I don't care if you have a subject or not but you must submit your column by the deadline," and put the receiver down. This was a lesson for me. I submitted my column by the deadline and I have done so ever since, with no exception. Now that I had become a columnist, I had a new way of life. I was aware that a lot of people read my column and I had a responsibility to produce a good column every week. It was a bit frightening.

My week usually started on a Saturday. This was the day I had to find a subject for my next column. Monday and Tuesday were the days devoted to research, collect ideas and make the sketches. On Wednesday, at four o'clock in the afternoon I had to finish the column and submit it to the sub-editor. This was my routine. Thursday was my day of rest and relaxation since I had already submitted the column and had nothing to worry about. On Friday morning I woke up early and started to worry. Was my column any good? I collected the daily newspapers from my front door, looked at my column and worried more: "this picture could have been done better and here was a printers' error and here was a joke that was not funny, and so on". The more I looked at my column, the worse it appeared to me. I started to panic. How could I have produced such rubbish? I was reluctant to leave home and face people because they would tell me how awful my column was. But, at the same time, I knew that I could not avoid meeting them. There was a tradition, that on Friday afternoon everyone in the media came to cafe Kassit in Dizengoff Street (this tradition has now moved to cafe Tamar in Shenkin Street). Reluctantly, I would leave home and walk to the cafe. I would go slowly and not head directly toDizengoff Street. I walked instead on Ben Yehuda Street, which is parallel to Dizengoff with my head down and in shade, trying to avoid people. However, sooner or later I was bound to meet someone I knew. That person would greet me and tell me how good my column was today. Only after hearing this, I would gain confidence, lift my head, cross over toDizengoff Street and walk proudly to Cafe Kassit.

In 1960 I decided that I had had enough of the Ha'aretz. It was not the writing of the column or its popularity that bothered me. Ha'aretz was the most prestigious of Israeli daily newspapers. My unhappiness had also little to do with lack of freedom of expression. I could have expressed myself in Ha'aretz as I could have in any newspaper. What I was fed up with was the stable itself, the glorious stable, the one known as the House of Schocken.

The atmosphere at Ha'aretz was straight, relaxed and sterile. The knowledge that I could stay there for the rest of my life, that I could write my column and draw a salary year after year until my retirement drove me to despair. It was too much of a good thing, and I wanted to live. I wanted to fight and wanted to feel that my writing made a difference to other peoples' lives. I did not get that feeling from working in Ha'aretz.