Old College Try



The current issue of Azure magazine, dated summer 2008, appeared in my office recently and looked much like all the other issues of the quarterly that I've seen over the last seven or eight years. You might recall that Azure is published by the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, which is generally characterized as a think tank with a neoconservative bent that tries to come up with theories to reinvigorate Zionism for a generation that's forgotten the idealism of the early founders of the Jewish state.

And so, the summer issue had the standard fare: a sizable piece on "Henry Kissinger: The Inside-Outsider" by Jeremi Suri, and Assaf Sagiv's "The Sabra's Lawless Legacy," which was described as an effort to push Israel "past its half-century-old arrested adolescence."

Standard Azure fare, as I said. But the issue came bound in neat plastic wrap and included an accompanying brochure. A very classy brochure, in fact, more than 20 pages of beautifully produced, four-color pages dealing with Israel's need for "One College Devoted to Preparing Its Top Leaders and Thinkers."

What followed were pictures of all the most-recognizable scholars at Shalem, including Natan Sharansky, Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi, with quotes about their work. The brochure then stated that Shalem wants to take its efforts to reinvigorate Zionism "to the next level."

"Events of recent years indicate that Israel and the Jewish people have entered a period of protracted crisis. The strategic challenges, combined with a deterioration in the intellectual and moral cultures of the country, raise questions concerning the Jewish people's ability to face trials that lie ahead."

To do this, we're told, will take a "College of the Jewish People," and the brochure asked if readers were ready to join with Shalem.

It's an odd kind of insert to find with a magazine like Azure. But then I recalled that the center and the journal have been rocked by controversy and scandals over the last year or so. According to a lengthy investigative piece in Ha'aretz last year by reporter Daphna Berman, the center's chief financial officer Shaul Golan was indicted for fraud. Just about the same time, David Hazony, who'd been with the center for 12 years and was editor of Azure for three (he's also the brother of Shalem co-founder Yoram Hazony) sent a letter to staff saying he was leaving "to pursue my research and other interests. …" Actually, he'd been asked to leave because of a "breach of trust," Ha'aretz said: "a relationship with a woman who was his subordinate at the center." Lots of other damning foibles about staff members, especially Yoram Hazony, were also described.

With this in mind, the brochure took on a whole new meaning. The college idea has been in the works for a while, the article made clear, but all this four-color trumpeting seemed to want to demonstrate that Shalem had cleaned house and was heading for the future.

I can't wait to see what comes with the next issue.


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