Founding Fathom: Why do we need another journal about Israel?

On launching a global intellectual space for serious bi-partisan debate about Israel

The “global creative class” sets the terms for the international standing of a country these days. The soft power of the world’s opinion leaders – broadsheet journalists and commentators, artists of all kinds, and academics in the social sciences and humanities – is decisive in “framing” a state to world opinion.

In our networked and mediatized global society, to lose this class is a strategic danger to Israel. And the danger is real. For decades, an intellectual separation barrier has been built-up between Israel and this global creative class. The barrier is formed by a system of concepts which structure thought: “nakba,” “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid state,” “colonial-settler mindset,” Jews as an “invented people,” “Zionism is racism,” “one-state solution.” Without over-dramatizing this movement’s success, there has been a shift in opinion against Israel among opinion-formers in political parties, media, NGOs, churches, universities, trade unions and the blogosphere.

Last week BICOM (Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre) launched “Fathom: for a deeper understanding of Israel and the region,” a free quarterly journal, website and iPad app to open a new front in the fight against this simplistic and demonizing discourse and respond to a series of key intellectual challenges which we believe pose a profound threat to the future stability and security of the State of Israel.

Swaths of Western elite opinion now believe that the two-state solution is dead, and that a single Arab-majority state will be the inevitable outcome. They think Israel’s democracy has been almost entirely eroded and the country is no longer compatible with Western values. And there is much naive and simplistic thinking about the politics of the region, including the intentions of radicals led by Iran and the direction of the Arab Spring.

Fathom will challenge this lazy thinking by providing high-quality, expert information and analysis about Israel. And we will use cutting-edge publishing tools to deliver it. Industry insiders have already praised the Fathom app as a reader-friendly model for others to follow.

We will present Israeli society – often reduced to a mere caricature by parts of the mass media and civil society – as it is: complex, argumentative and fast-changing. Fathom will inject fresh thinking into the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians based on two states for two peoples, which remains the only way to balance Jewish and Palestinian demands for sovereign independence and national self-determination. In addition, Fathom will map the historic contest currently underway to define the Middle East’s political future, and explore the profound implications it bears for both Israeli security and the Middle East peace process.

Our ambition is to combine the authority of the scholarly journal with state-of-the-art publishing technology and the limitless reach of social networks. Our inaugural issue includes contributions from experts such as Amos Harel, Asher Susser, Emily B. Landau, and David Hirsh. But we also publish the film reviewer Yair Raveh and intend to showcase the renaissance in Israeli arts and cinema. And we offer more than words on a page. Our inaugural issue features video interviews with veteran Likud MK Benny Begin and American liberal philosopher Michael Walzer, both talking powerfully about their relationship to Israel and to Zionism, as well as former Shin Bet head Ami Ayalon and former defence minister Moshe Arens debating on camera the wisdom of unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank.

Since its founding a decade ago, BICOM has brought hundreds of British policy-makers and opinion-formers to Israel and the Palestinian Territories to grasp firsthand the complexities of the issues Israel faces. Exposing people to a wide range of Israeli voices with differing perspectives is the most effective way to tell Israel’s story, promoting understanding and respect for Israel’s challenges. With Fathom we can now bring those voices and perspectives direct to tablet, smartphone and computer screens anywhere in the world.

BICOM’s mission is to promote a more informed and nuanced discussion about Israel, but our journal will not always provide easy reading for Israel’s friends and supporters. By presenting a wide range of voices, we guarantee our audience there will be some articles with which they disagree. And by seeking to paint an honest and nuanced portrait of Israel as it is, we know the picture will not always be flattering.

But we and our editorial board, which includes Israeli, British and international experts with a wide range of political perspectives, believe that building a global intellectual space for serious bi-partisan debate about Israel and the region serves Israel’s interests far better than pushing a narrow party line. We intend to create a more interesting conversation about Israel – more knowledgeable, more expert and more challenging (for all parties) – that will undercut the tired slogans that are shouted in the boring megaphone war.

In that spirit we invite you to read, watch, download, and respond via our website. 


Alan Johnson is the editor of Fathom and senior research fellow at BICOM. Toby Greene is deputy editor of Fathom and director of research at BICOM.

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