The Jewish Chronicle must be saved. Take that as our starting point and there is all the more chance of success. The oldest continuously-published Jewish newspaper in the world issued this statement yesterday, on the eve of Passover:
“‘With great sadness, the Board of the Jewish Chronicle has taken the decision to seek a creditors voluntary liquidation of Jewish Chronicle Newspapers Ltd. Despite the heroic efforts of the editorial and production team at the newspaper, it has become clear that the Jewish Chronicle will not be able to survive the impact of the current coronavirus epidemic in its current form.The liquidation is expected to be finalised in the coming 2 to 3 weeks and every effort will be made to ensure that the paper continues to be published over this period and the website continues to provide regular updates. The Kessler Foundation, owners of the Jewish Chronicle, are actively working to secure a future for the Jewish Chronicle after the liquidation.’
The paper’s financial troubles predate Covid-19. It had announced plans to merge with the Jewish News and, last June, had to secure additional funding from its owner, the charitable Kessler Foundation. At that time, JC chairman Alan Jacobs said the paper would ‘continue to serve our community for many years to come’. Service to the community is at the heart of what the JC does. Since 1841, it has charted Jewish life in Britain and beyond, from Emancipation to Zionism, through world wars and mass unemployment, the rise of Oswald Mosley and the Nazis, the Shoah and Israel, the colourful leadership of Immanuel Jakobovits and the growth of the Haredi sector and the clashes with secular authority. The paper itself became a part of history with its famed 1914 headline: ‘England has been all she could be to Jews, Jews will be all they can be to England’.
Under the current editor Stephen Pollard, the JC’s willingness to tackle uncomfortable matters like Islamism and left-wing antisemitism, has made the paper a canary in the coal mine. Those who chided Pollard for focusing on ‘divisive’ issues proved to be hopelessly short-sighted, though few had the good grace to admit it. Yet, even under friendly (and not-so-friendly) fire, Pollard has maintained an admirably open-minded and ideologically diverse publication. The JC gives a platform to every shade of Jewish and Zionist opinion, from Limmud to Likud.
The past five years in particular have been among the JC’s finest. No publication had kept a closer eye on Jeremy Corbyn’s career and the cranks he had associated with for decades. The JC knew what Corbyn was and was the first to warn about him. It understood what his elevation to the top of British politics would mean for British Jews and the country at large. A tiny Jewish newspaper with none of the resources of the major dailies was first on the scene and for a long time did most of the running on what turned out to be the biggest political story in decades: the descent of the Labour Party into institutional antisemitism.
Without wishing to encourage Labour antisemites in their paranoid conspiracism, it’s an open question whether Corbyn might be prime minister today without the fearless journalism of the Jewish Chronicle. Had the paper not been in circulation, or had it been edited by someone of lesser nerve than Stephen Pollard, much of what we know about Corbyn and his supporters might never have come to light, or might only have done so once he was in Number 10. There were a lot of rocks to look under and the JC’s reporters did much of the heavy-lifting.
That commitment to the truth and to its pursuit without fear or favour is why the Jewish Chronicle cannot be allowed to die. Generous benefactors from the community have stepped in before and with any luck they will do so again, but the JC’s future matters to those of us outside the community too. The paper has been an essential link between Jews and Gentiles, bringing the kind of insight and understanding that breaks down barriers.
A chronicle of Jewish life in this country is vital because Jewish life has been vital to Britain’s intellectual, scientific, political, creative and commercial development. The Jewish Chronicle is vital, too, given our present circumstances. A pandemic is killing Jews in disproportionate numbers (Jews make up 0.5 per cent of the UK population but more than 2 per cent of Covid-19 deaths), as is another pandemic: the global outbreak of antisemitism that has seen Jews attacked on the streets of London, Paris and New York. There is a need for a newspaper that asks the questions others don’t realise they ought to be asking.
The Jewish Chronicle is a Jewish institution but it is also a British institution. If saving our country from the clutches of extremists was its last hurrah, what a number to go out on. But the JC is too important for this to be the end and Jews and Gentiles alike have a stake in preventing its disappearance.