The Jewish Federation Council says it plans to expand its weekly newspaper despite an angry rival's $1.4-million lawsuit and another competitor's move to hale the organization into rabbinical court.
The expansion was denounced by Herb Brin, publisher of the privately owned Heritage Southwest Jewish Press, because he said it would force the federation's publishing rivals into bankruptcy by luring away their advertisers.
"They're going to sock it to us and we haven't got a chance of survival," said Brin, whose newspaper has been in operation since 1954. He called the federation's newspaper, the Jewish Community Bulletin, a "Pravda house organ," referring to the official Communist Party daily of the Soviet Union.
But Ted Kanner, executive vice president of the federation, which is made up of more than 500 Jewish organizations, said the Bulletin now offers "less than the kind of product the community is entitled to."
"We have a subscription list of 75,000 households who we feel are entitled to an effective newspaper which gives them a regular and first-hand opportunity to know what's going on in the Jewish world," Kanner said.
To that end, the board of directors of the Jewish community's umbrella organization is expected to approve a half-million-dollar expansion program for the Jewish Community Bulletin at its meeting Tuesday, Kanner said.
Brin said, however, that if the vote goes as expected he will consider urging his subscribers to boycott the federation's fund-raising drive, which annually raises more than $40 million for charity in Los Angeles and overseas.
"If they drive us to the wall, we're not about to cave in," Brin said. "We will go to the community and say, 'Don't give your dollars to the campaign, give it directly to Israel.' . . . I've put a lifetime of work into this paper and I'm not about to stop."
Kanner replied that a boycott would be "a very destructive recommendation, also very un-Jewish."
At the 88-year-old B'nai B'rith Messenger, another privately owned weekly, executive editor Yale Butler said an expanded federation newspaper would indirectly "stymie the free flow of information to the Jewish public."
He cited a recent article in his publication that suggested that Jewish fund-raisers on the East Coast had used the premature revelation of Israel's efforts to spirit Jewish refugees out of Ethiopia to elicit more money from donors.
If an expanded Bulletin draws advertising away from the independent newspapers, he said, his and Brin's papers might be forced out of business and similar critical reports would be stifled.
Already, he said, the federation is not sending some publicity releases to his newspaper in an effort to reduce its appeal.
Kanner denied the claim. "We send everything to all the newspapers," he said.
He said there appears to have been little economic impact on the other newspapers since the federation last year began publishing the Bulletin weekly instead of twice a month.
Brin said that in fact his advertising revenue has increased, but he said costs have increased as well. Butler said he has been forced to "alter the structure" of his staff.
"Our desire is not to put anybody out of business," Kanner said. "We believe this is a big market and we believe competition is healthy. . . . Our interest is not the other papers, but our constituency of some 75,000 households.
"The other newspapers don't begin to approximate the Bulletin's penetration into the Jewish community. They've been in existence a long, long, long time, and before the Bulletin was a gleam in somebody's eye they were not able to develop the kind of impact and penetration that a community needs if people are going to be intelligent about what's going on."
In his lawsuit, filed May 17, 1984, Brin cited an agreement he said he reached in 1977 with Victor Carter, then president of the federation, under which the Bulletin would not be issued more frequently than twice a month.
He also said it was agreed that the Bulletin would not aggressively seek advertising or seek to convert itself from a federation house organ to a newspaper. Lawyers for the federation said there is no proof of such an agreement.
In any case, they said, such an agreement would not be enforceable because it amounts to a conspiracy in restraint of trade.
"We're hopeful that the whole case will be dismissed in a few months," said Jon W. Davidson, who is representing the federation. Brin's lawyer was out of town and not available for comment, as was Carter.
Last week, Butler suggested that the Board of Rabbis--a federation-sponsored agency--summon a beth din (rabbinical court) to take up the issue.
"We're not going to go to court, we're not going to be involved in ad hominem (personal) attacks," said Butler, himself a rabbi. "Before we resort to sources outside our community, we have an obligation to clear it up within the community. We've had the patience of saints in this matter," he said.
Paul Dubin, director of the board of rabbis, confirmed the request and said, "It's certainly ancient tradition, Jewish tradition, wherever possible where there's a conflict to be resolved, to use the good offices of the rabbis in the community."
Less Formal Role
Although Butler requested a rabbinical court, he said, the rabbis may end up playing a less formal role if they become involved at all. "We're going to do everything we can," he said. "Whether we succeed or not, who knows."
As the federation prepared to expand and Heritage and the Messenger braced for a struggle, yet another Jewish newspaper was preparing to come on the scene.
Yehuda Lev, a former member of the federation board, said his new publication, the Jewish Newspaper, hopes to offer an alternative voice while cooperating with the federation's fund-raising efforts.
"The Bulletin is going to clobber us on advertisements and circulation, no question about it," he said. "We, on the other hand, can be much better than they in content. We can be free to print all sorts of things which they can't do."
The first issue of his newspaper, which incorporates A Majority of One, his previously published newsletter, is scheduled to appear Feb. 28.
Spokesmen for Israel Today, the city's fourth Jewish newspaper, were not available for comment.
Donald Feldstein, a New York-based expert called in to advise the Los Angeles federation, said the circulation of the privately owned papers in Los Angeles provided a penetration of the 525,000-strong Jewish community that is "certainly . . . inadequate." As for the content, he said, "I'd just as soon not get into it."
Although several Jewish federations nationwide have taken more active roles in publishing local newspapers, he said, "There is no city I know of where a privately owned newspaper has done a decent job of penetrating the community or offering a good product, where the federation has stepped in."
If approved as expected on Tuesday, the newly expanded Bulletin will be governed by a board of 25 directors, 13 of them appointed by the president of the federation and 12 selected by the president's appointees.
Bruce Hochman, a lawyer who serves as president of the federation, said the newly expanded Bulletin will remain financially dependent on the federation, but will operate virtually independently, which will come as a relief to him.
"It'll take a few months to cross the t's and dot the i's, but if the federation or one of its agencies or beneficiaries is to be criticized, it will be criticized, and nobody could call me to call off the dogs," he said.