“No Israeli leader encourages and advances the reading of books more than” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his spokesman Jonatan Urich wrote in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition this week. But certain facts don’t jibe with this claim.
If Netanyahu sought to encourage the reading of books, he wouldn’t have appointed as culture minister a woman who was so clearly inappropriate for the job, and wouldn’t have let her rescind the so-called Book Law – which required a fixed price for any Israeli book during its first year and a half on the market and set minimum rates for Israeli authors’ royalties.
The revocation of the law abandoned Israeli book publishers to the predatory duopoly of the bookstore chains, and deprived most Israeli book publishers of their economic independence. As a result, a raft of important books haven’t been published in Hebrew because the impoverished publishers don’t have the money to finance them.
Reading at a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel, September 2020.
There is no relation between production costs and the ludicrous prices that books are sold for in Israel as a result of the duopoly, so the book publishers can’t invest in translation and publishing. I’ve often seen Netanyahu on television holding a thick book in English that I recognized and even considered publishing, but couldn’t.
All people for whom reading books is important must ask themselves how we’ve reached this state where, as a routine matter, publishers are asking authors to share in a book’s production costs. In this situation, publishers often publish books that have no justification to be published – just because they need the money.
We’ve seen the results in recent years in the form of a market flooded with works that are merely cheap entertainment for the masses – because these books are easy to finance. Many of these readers can’t distinguish between good translation and not good translation, and often it’s not good because the publishers are saving money anywhere they can in an effort to survive.
A woman reading a book in Tel Aviv, September 8, 2020.Credit: Avshalom Halutz
If books and reading were important to Netanyahu, he would have instructed the Education Ministry to design a curriculum that didn’t require students to be tested on five examples of Spanish poetry,