Tzipor Hannefesh

After my Ha'olam Hazze experience and the success of my satirical page there, I was thinking of starting a new satirical political magazine, similar to the French Le Canard Enchaine. The only person that I could do it with seemed to be Amos Keinan. He was still in Paris at that time. I sent him a letter explaining my idea. In return post Amos informed me that I was too late. No'ah Moses, the proprietor of Yedi'ot Aharonot had already engaged him on a similar project. And, as everyone knows, Amos added, "Moses has more money to back a satirical magazine than you have". He also told me that apart from him, Moses had already signed contracts with three other ‘high fliers' of the Israeli press: Dan Ben Amotz, Hayim Heffer and Bo'az Evron. Dan Ben Amotz was a popular columnist who had published several funny books. Hayim Heffer was popular and famous for political/satirical lyrics. Boaz Evron was also famous, but no one could remember what for.

Amos returned to Tel-Aviv after living ten years in the Paris wilderness. The satirical weekly he was talking about, was to be called Tzipor Hannefesh (The Bird of the Soul), and was to be a Friday supplement to the tabloid Yedi'ot Aharonot. The four journalists involved were all to be editors with equal rights. The contract also stipulated that they had a free hand to edit the paper, and under no circumstances could they be forced to obey No'ah Moses himself. Any interference in their independence would carry an automatic fine of 25,000 Israeli pounds. Amos tried to persuade Moses to take me on, but Moses refused, saying that his paper had never employed a Communist and never would.

Tzipor Hannefesh appeared. It was a big disappointment. It was not satirical and only mildly funny, with new and old jokes and some parodies. It lingered like that for a few weeks. Nobody could understand why No'ah Moses had poured so much money into such a flop. One morning, a few weeks later, Amos knocked on my door. He came in and said in excitement: "Shimon, now is our opportunity!" Dan Ben Amotz was on a visit to the US, and Bo'az Evron, who was the art editor, was called to do his reserve duty. Moses came to Amos and asked him to be the temporary art editor until Evron returned from the army. Amos refused. He told Moses that he knows nothing about page design. The only person who could do it properly was Shimon Tzabar. Cornered, Moses said “OK, call him in and he will replace Evron for the three weeks that he serves in the army."

I asked Amos what are my boundaries? Amos said, "None. Go as far as you like. You are not supposed to write anything. If you want something to be written, tell me and I will write it. Your job is of art editor. You have to design the paper, decide on the position of the articles, decide on the size and fonts of the headlines and send them to the printers. If there is any trouble, I will back you." He told me then about the clause of 25,000 pounds, if Moses tried to interfere with the contents of the paper.

We sat down with all the newspapers of the day spread out around us to decide the subject of that weeks' edition. Since I wanted to turn Tzipor Hannefesh into a political satire magazine, we had to devote the front page to a political topic. The main topic of the week was Mapay's yearly conference. Mapay was the leading Israeli Labour party which had been running the country since the creation of the State of Israel. Amos had decided that according to the resolutions adopted at the conference, Mapay was dead. That was enough for me. If Mapay is dead, we were going to give it a proper burial. The front page had to be enclosed in a black frame of mourning, one inch thick. There ought to be condolences from world leaders as well as obituaries. If Mapay was dead, its headquarters, known as the Red House, has to be sold by auction. We also needed a photograph of a state funeral, and so on.

We went back to the office. Amos wrote the obituaries and the condolences. I enclosed the front page with a one inch thick black ribbon all round, designed the advertisements and set all the articles in their size, font and place. No'ah Moses, the proprietor who had never ever employed a Communist on his paper, was present. He followed me everywhere. He was so sure that I was going to plant a bomb in his establishment, that even when I went to the toilet he was waiting outside. When he saw the thick black mourning ribbon around the front page, he asked me to remove it. Amos, who was in the room, told me not to. “We cannot make fun of the ruling party," No'ah said to Amos. “Well," said Amos. “if you want to pay 25,000 pounds fine, remove the ribbon." Moses begged and begged him again. At the end we made a compromise: the one inch ribbon would be reduced to a quarter inch ribbon. Amos told me to do the change, and I did. The next item that Moses objected to was an attack on Abba Hushi, the head of the Labour party in Haifa, one of Mapay's leaders. Amos refused to remove the article. Moses did not give in. He told Amos that Abba Hushi in the past had done a big favour to Yedi'ot Aharonot and Moses promised him that the tabloid would never attack him. Amos did not want to hear any of it and each time Moses hassled him, Amos mentioned the 25,000 pounds fine. But Moses did not give in. He begged Amos again to remove the attack on Abba Hushi. This went on for about an hour and I could not get on with my job. If this article was to be removed, I had to replace it with something else. Moses went on begging and Amos laughed in his face and reminded him again and again of the 25,000 pound fine. Suddenly Amos turned to his boss. “Give me a return air plane ticket to Paris and I will tell Shimon to remove the article". “You got it!" exclaimed Moses. "You cannot be trusted," said Amos, “I want it in writing!" No'ah Moses took out his pen and wrote something on a piece of paper and handed it to Amos. Amos looked at it, turned to me and said "remove the article." Moses' face brightened. He hugged Amos and kissed him on his forehead. I replaced the article with something else.

Next day was Friday. As usual, I went to café Kassit. Everyone was sitting and reading Tzipor Hannefesh. The news that Mapay was dead was news. The most powerful political machine in the country was dead. People were laughing their heads off. I also bought a paper and enjoyed my creation. In the middle of having my lunch somebody came looking for me. When I was pointed out to him, he said that Yudkowsky wanted to see me at once at the Yedi'oth Aharonot office. I finished my lunch and took a taxi to meet Yudkowsky.

Yudkowsky was someone involved in the higher echelons of the newspaper boardroom. He belonged to No'ah Moses' family and was his closest adviser. He was actually the one who suggested the idea of the satirical supplement. He told me without much ado that I had got Bo'az Evron's job. "And what about Bo'az? What is he going to do?" I asked. "Don't you worry about him," he said. "We have plenty of jobs in this newspaper. We are not going to throw him out."

The satirical supplement was a big success and helped to boost Yedi'ot Aharonot's circulation in its mortal fight against Ma'ariv. Everyone was happy except Dan Ben Amotz. When he returned from his USA trip, he realised that by being the page designer and art editor, I became the de facto editor of the satirical supplement and he did not like it. This caused rifts and quarrels that we could not settle because we were always two against two. Amos and I were on one side and Dan Ben Amotz with Hayim Heffer on the other. To give just one example: Amos came one day with an idea to use the former names of the members of the cabinet. Levi Eshkol the Prime Minister, would be referred to as Levi Shkolnik, Golda Meir as Golda Meirson, David Ben-Gurion would revert to his former name as David Green and so on. It was a brilliant idea. But to be consistent, we, the editors and writers of Tzipor Hannefesh, should also obey the rule and revert to our previous names: we would be called Shimon Hercberg, Amos Levin, Haim Finer and… but here we were stopped by Dan Ben Amotz who vetoed the idea. The reason was that his previous name was Moshe Tehilimzeiger. He was so ashamed of his name from the Galut (Diaspora) that he changed both his first and second name. This might be a trivial story, but is a good example of the flavour of our editorial confrontations.

While we were riding on the crest of popularity and success, the Government confiscated a large track of Arab land in the Galilee, under the pretext of the land being needed by the army for shooting exercises. We, the editors of Tzipor Hannefesh, decided to fight this blatant confiscation of Palestinian land. The idea was Dan Ben Amotz's. Amos and I supported it, of course, and Hayim went along with it, as usual. We called for a mass demonstration against the confiscation. On the appointed Saturday, hundreds of cars assembled and in a long caravan we drove to the confiscated territory and waited there for the police to come and arrest us because we had no permit to demonstrate and had not asked for one.

The police did not arrive, so we sent someone to the police station to inform them about our unlawful demo. Still nobody came to arrest us. After waiting for some time we returned home. A week later, we, the editors of Tzipor Hannefesh, received summons to be tried in a military court for trespassing on army property without authorisation. One by one we were brought before the military court. We all admitted the charge and were sentenced to two years probation and a 200 pounds fine.

Next day there was an editorial attack on the satirical supplement by the chief editor of the paper of which we were a supplement. The editor, Hertzel Rozenblum, attacked Dan and Hayim as hypocrites, because they themselves owned a night club/cabaret in a former Arab bathhouse in Jaffa. He also attacked Amos in connection with the bomb that had been thrown at the house of the Minister, David Pinkas twelve years previously. This was a particularly nasty attack, because Amos had been cleared by the court of this charge. Dan Ben Amotz was furious and wrote a vitriolic counter attack on Rosenblum, the editor of his parent paper. "This," said Noah Moses, "will not appear in Tzipor Hannefesh. Twenty five thousand pounds or not, we cannot allow an attack on our own editor." Dan took the article and published it the following week in Ha'olam Hazze, and was duly sacked. We, the remaining editors of the satirical supplement, refused to continue to work without him. Yudkovsky tried to entice me to return without my colleagues and offered me a huge salary but I refused.

At the end we left the umbrella of Yedi'ot Aharonot and published our satirical magazine independently. We started quite well with a circulation of 15.000 which grew every week and after two months it had doubled. There was a problem though, and that was the problem of too many editors. Dan and I clashed all the time. He did not let me run the magazine because, if he had, it would affirm that I was, after all, the editor in chief. He certainly had a point there, but a newspaper, like a ship, cannot be run by four skippers. Our quarrels at editorial meetings caused chaos. There was no doubt in my mind that our ship was going to sink at some point and it was time for the rats to abandon it. If I stayed until the very end, I would have to pay my share in the debts. There was no question that the magazine would end up in debt because the moment it became known that we were going to cease publication nobody would pay what they owed us for advertisements. I brought up the subject in a meeting but to no avail. Nobody believed that a paper at its peak circulation would fold. I left the partnership and advised Amos to do the same. Dan and Hayim who were the rich partners, promised Amos that in case I was right, which I could not be of course, they would take all the liabilities on themselves. This time Amos did not ask them to give their assurances in writing. When I announced that I was leaving there was no response. It seemed to me that each of them was quite happy with the idea that their share of the ownership of the magazine had suddenly increased from 25% to 33.333…3%.

It was not long after my departure that the circulation started to fall. At the end Tzipor Hannefesh closed down with thousands of pounds of debts. The rich partners refused to pay Amos' debts and he was in financial trouble for many years. With the closure of Tzipor Hannefesh, he and Hayim Heffer returned to Yedi'ot Aharonot where they stayed until their retirement, while I rejoined Ha'aretz for a column in the Friday literary supplement.