Does anyone read The Forward?

Notwithstanding my personal write-don’t-respond policy, a recent public call to boycott the city I call home provided a sufficient impetus to justify a deviation from my proactive approach in favor of a reactive “letter to the editor” exception to the rule.

We tend to believe that columnists and op-ed writers play the lead role in the world of ideas, with a material upper hand over those who respond to their writing. After all, it is their original content that becomes the subject matter and point of reference for all subsequent discussion. Nonetheless, it’s critical to note that, in many respects, it is not the writers but rather the editors who create, maintain and cultivate any given platform. The editors choose both columns and columnists. They set journalistic standards, inclinations and trends. And they determine whether to allow the opinions that they have grown in their climate controlled environments to be challenged.

Case in point; when Leonard Fein of The Jewish Daily Forward proposed an international tourists’ boycott of the City of Ariel, there would be room to argue that the boycotted city’s international representative should be given an opportunity to respond. Oddly enough, although I submitted my letter to the editor within a day of the article’s online publication, I have yet to see the letter posted on The Forward’s internet site.

Here is the letter, in its cut-paste entirety:

To the Editor:


I thank The Jewish Daily Forward for drawing further attention to Ariel, the City of Samaria, in Leonard Fein’s opinion piece titled Justice Calls for Boycott of Ariel. Unfortunately, I am compelled to note the misleading nature of the piece, predominantly in terms of its inconsistent rationale.


Without making a neither legal nor logical case for boycotting a full-fledged Israeli city, as the title might suggest, the author bases his tactical proposal upon two essentially unrelated precedents. I leave the response to the latter, which refers to a 1933 boycott of Nazi Germany, for Mr. Fein’s colleagues, who will doubtlessly inform him that comparisons between Jews and Nazis are to be reserved only for Israel’s sworn enemies and rejected by those who claim to be “Pro-Israel” and “Pro-Peace”. The former comparison, however, is surprisingly, if not unintentionally, instructive, thereby warranting a response from a proud resident of Ariel such as myself.


Residents of Ariel, like Mr. Fein, are inspired by the Montgomery bus boycott. Precisely for that reason, residents of Ariel, unlike Mr. Fein, continue to ensure that boycott-encouraged segregation policies do not plague our region. Indeed, our bus system is a telling example. Ever since Ariel’s public buses have been made fully available to our Palestinian neighbors, the overcrowded service has become unbearable for all, as there simply aren’t enough lines to accommodate all passengers. Despite years of dysfunctional public transportation, Ariel’s municipality remained steadfast in insisting that coexistence supersedes convenience. On August 22, two days before Mr. Fein’s piece was published on the internet, Israel’s Ministry of Transport allotted an additional 8 million NIS for the current year and 34 million NIS through 2017 to Ariel’s public transportation system, providing more bus lines to address the needs of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations.


Of course, the bus issue is merely a case study of a far broader reality. Roughly 50% of the employees at our boycott-susceptible Barkan and Ariel Industrial Parks are Palestinians. Ariel University, which is affected by the EU and State Department boycotts that Mr. Fein mentioned in his previous piece, educates over 500 Israeli and Palestinian Arabs. The list goes on, as boycotts continue to threaten our coexistence-conducive way of life.


Sadly, Mr. Fein offers theoretical rhetoric in lieu of a factual analysis, thereby suggesting that an Ariel boycott might prevent the social ills of segregation, whereas in reality it can only achieve the precise opposite. Of course, Mr. Fein is not to be blamed for misinforming the public. He and his readers are simply unaware of Ariel’s Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, as they refuse to visit and see for themselves.


Avi Zimmerman

Executive Director

Ariel Development Fund

Was my letter too challenging? Was it too disrespectful? Was it too forward?

Before jumping to conclusions as to whether or not the editorial board of The Forward found my response noteworthy, I wish to ask the general public: does anyone read The Forward? If you do, would you kindly check today’s weekly printed publication, which is scheduled to include Mr. Fein’s boycott piece, and see if my letter to the editor appears? If it does, then I’m pleased and, indeed, honored, to contribute to The Forward’s progressive dialectic, which they self describe as the “conscience of the community”. If it does not appear then I wish to encourage those who first drew my attention to the disappointing piece in The Forward. Fortunately, the Times of Israel is dominating the Israel news scene. Perhaps that’s because of their open “marketplace of ideas“, which seeks not to control the journalistic environment but to enrich it.

Feel free to share your insights on TOI blogs and Op-Eds. People will read them. 

About the Author
Avi Zimmerman is the City of Ariel's international representative. He is the Executive Director of American Friends of Ariel and the Founder of TALK17.