As of today, The Times of Israel appears in Arabic as well as English. Wow, that was an easy sentence to write — covering a multitude of complexities.
We’re not exactly sure how The Times of Israel Arabic is going to be received in the Arab world. But we do know what its goal is: to report Israel, the region and the Jewish world accurately and engagingly for Arabic readers wherever they may be — precisely as we have been doing for two years for English readers.
Since we launched The Times of Israel on February 14, 2012, your engagement has made it a veritable phenomenon. Month by month, the news has spread — via email, social media, even that old-fashioned concept known as word of mouth — and we’ve seen our readership grow, first in Israel where people heard about us first, and then around the English-speaking world. More than two million people regularly come to The Times of Israel to get their news, devour features and analyses, and read and contribute opinion pieces. Two million! Which is frankly astounding for a website that wasn’t here two years ago, and a testament to your interest and the efforts of everyone working and contributing here. And that number is growing month by month.
Now we’re carrying our commitment to fair-minded journalism into the Arab world, and the transparency of that effort at fairness begins with the name: The Times of Israel Arabic is called exactly that, in Arabic. Our Arabic readers will know from the top of the homepage on down exactly what we’re providing — our best effort to tell them what’s going on, good and bad. Independent journalism without partisan affiliation.
Technically, to bring you into the ToI back rooms, building the site in Arabic was no easy task. As you might have noticed, Arabic uses an entirely different alphabet and runs right to left. Letters soar upwards and slide downwards, so not even the text sizes stay the same. But we did replicate the fundamental design of the site, so popular in English, with a homepage that brings to the Internet some of those old-fashioned print values — whereby important articles take bigger headlines, pictures get displayed effectively, and features are presented a little differently from news pieces.
And as with The Times of Israel in English, we’re hoping that our blog platform will prove a popular and stimulating part of the Arabic site — drawing articles from across the spectrum of opinion. We’re inviting those of our Arabic readers with something of value that they want to say to blog on our pages, respecting the parameters of legitimate debate, joining our marketplace of ideas. I’m not sure there’s an Arabic news site anywhere that offers this kind of open platform. Again, as with the English site, comments on news articles and features can only be posted by readers who are identified through their Facebook profiles or equivalent, to avoid the kind of anonymous comments that can reduce discussion to toxic lows.
When I introduced you to The Times of Israel, I wrote that fair-minded journalism, based in Israel, has “a vital, even noble role to play in enabling informed debate over the challenges and the choices that face the Jewish state. Informing that debate is one of the prime goals of The Times of Israel.” In the context of Times of Israel Arabic, the role of fair-minded journalism in informing debate is equally vital. In a journalistic world filled with a cacophony of more and less reliable voices, we’ll do our best to present the facts and the analyses — with the best of our English content translated into Arabic; we’ll invite would-be opinion-shapers to weigh in with their blogs; and hopefully the improved understanding and communication will help us all.
I asked our Times of Israel Arabic editor, Suha Halifa, to give me her thoughts on why the site matters. She reeled off several compelling insights: The Times of Israel Arabic gives readers in the Arab world direct interaction with Israel, rather than secondhand news translated by Arabic media outlets. It humanizes Israel, with its focus on day-to-day life here. (As we’ve been gearing up, we’ve sent out some early pieces, and Gavriel Fiske’s article on the abiding love in Israel for the music of the fiercely nationalistic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum proved particularly popular, as incidentally did Jessica Steinberg’s interview with President Barack Obama’s Jewish half-brother — two articles Arabic readers most certainly wouldn’t find anywhere else.) The Times of Israel Arabic also illuminates Israel’s democracy in all its complex shades — not only the relentless arguments here about the Palestinian conflict and the challenge posed by Iran, but struggles over the place of Israel’s Arabs, over the role and status of religion, gay rights, women’s issues. And finally, Halifa said, our new site gives the Arab world a sense of how Israel views the region, the Israeli perspective on their countries.
I’ll be delighted if we manage to consistently achieve all that. To help start us on our way, please spread the word of Times of Israel Arabic’s existence; many of you, I’m sure, have friends and contacts who’ll be interested to hear about it. Again, it’s thanks to you that we got the English site resonating; now let’s set off again on what may turn out to be an even more interesting journalistic adventure.