Zvi, Jamil and José at Harvard

I first received the shock in Facebook.  My friend and colleague Zvi Dor Ner died Thursday April 6, in Cambridge, MA, the city where I first met him over 40 years ago.  Although not unexpected, due to the the graveness of his disease, the news shook me. We both had the fortune of sharing, almost always smiling, a friendship of more than 2000 years, 500 of them in exile.  Thanks to him I discovered Sepharad, the Jewish Spain that the Catholic Kings Ferdinand and Isabella wanted to exterminate in 1492, without success.

Zvi Dor Ner y yo en su última visita a nuestra casa en Almería.
Zvi Dor Ner and me during his last visit to our house in Almeria.

I went down to the basement of our house outside Madrid, where I am writing these lines, and put in the last CD that we had shared together:  “Sons of Sephardians.”  They say that music and food are the most difficult heritages to erase from the memory of peoples.  These songs in minor -like many Spanish songs of yore- are sung in Ladino, the medieval Spanish which, after their expulsion from Spain, the Sephardians took with them around the world.

Together we savored the Mazapans of Toledo.  Ay, Toledo! The capital of three cultures:  Jewish, Moorish, and Christian.  I was educated in a Catholic school by friars, in the Spain of the Fascist dictator, Francisco Franco, an ally of Hitler and Mussolini.  For this, my knowledge about the Jewish people was not only poor but perversely distorted by National Catholicism and the anti-Semitism of my educators.  The Spanish language still continues to be impregnated with anti-Semitic expressions.

The authorities of the Fascist regime of generalissimo Franco barely recognized the Holocaust of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazis.  And children sang “Lilly Marlem” in Spanish with lyrics praising the Spanish troops of the Blue Division that Franco sent Hitler in World War II.  Not even the communists, who supported the Palestinian cause, were free of anti-Semitism.

My father-in-law, Alph Westley, fought against the Nazis in World War II and saw in person the extermination concentration camps and cremation ovens soon after their liberation by the allied powers.  My wife, Ana Westley, was astonished to hear in Spain the lies from both communists and fascists  that the Holocaust never existed and was just Allied propaganda. Thanks to my re-education by my American wife, I shed my traditional Spanish anti-Semitism.

La clase Nieman de Harvard (1976-1977). Jamil y Zvi en la primera y última fila a la derecha. Yo estoy con barba a la izquierda. Jim Tohmson, con chaqueta blanca.
The Harvard Nieman class  (1976-1977). Jamil and Zvi in the first and last rows on the right  I am the bearded one in the last row.  Jim Thomson is wearing a white jacket.

With a cultural, incomplete, and at times contradictory Arab-Israeli baggage, I arrived in 1976 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism of Harvard University.   It was there that I met Zvi Dor Ner of Jerusalem Televisión and Jamil Mroue, of an Arabic daily newspaper of Beruit.  The dictator Francisco Franco had died less than a year ago.  In my face, there were still signs of a severe acid burn that I suffered when I was kidnapped and tortured by the Intelligence Brigade of the Dictatorship.  I was interrogated about the sources for an article I wrote about purges of moderate military commands within the Civil Guard.

Jamil Mroue, periodista libanés, Nieman 77, hoy.
Jamil Mroue, Lebanese journalist, Nieman 77, today..

It was easy to become a friend of Jamil.  The traditional Hispano-Arabic friendship favored this.  We both played squash and frequently topped the game off with breakfast at the Dunster or Kirkland Houses to which we were affiliated.  In the “beer and cheese seminars” we celebrated every week in the Nieman House with some famous guest, I used to support the pro-Palestinian theses of Jamil on the conflicts of the Middle East.  Naturally, Zvi Dor Ner, pro-Israeli, dissented. Thus began a unique weekly debate trio:  emotions and reason crossed between as  in a fencing match.  Without bloodshed.

When my English improved, and favored by the “six pack” of local beers, I could argue with both Zvi and Jamil, without academic restrictions, in the bars of Harvard Square.  Jim Thomson, the curator of the Nieman Foundation of Harvard, sent the three of us to public presentations in venues such as the Boston World Council an others about the conflicts in the Middle East and the three cultures.  Thus was born our triple alliance both public and private, of Jews, Moors (Arabs) and Christians: a friendship that has grown and survived up to the last breath of our dear friend Zvi Dor Ner last Thursday morning.

Zvi Dor Ner, periodista israelí, Nieman 77, fallecido el 6 de abril en Cambridge, Mass.
Zvi Dor Ner, israel journalist and producer, Nieman 77,  died of cancer April 6 in Cambridge, MA.

It was impossible to know Zvi and not love him.  His smile, almost permanent, that changed only with his resounding belly laughs, accompanied even his most serious and profound arguments.  I soon supported Zvi’s thesis about the need for the new pre-democratic Spain to officially recognize the State of Israel if Spain were to play a role in favor of peace in the region.  I published a column in the Op-Ed page of the New York Times (Spain and the Arabs) on April 23, 1980.

Ten years after meeting Zvi, on January 17, 1986, destiny required the help of Zvi to emit the exclusive news in the morning TV news program “Buenos Días” of Spanish TVE that I founded, produced, and anchored: Spain and Israel had at last established diplomatic relations, one of the projects that I had dreamed about with Zvi and Jamil in the bars of Cambridge.

We needed to open the studios of Jerusalem TV, at 5 AM their time,  to connect via live satellite with some colleague there to comment on the exclusive news that no other journalist knew.  It was difficult.  But not impossible.  Especially for Zvi.  It was to jar awake many in Israel.

At 7:30 in the morning, Spanish time, I opened my program with a special greeting that must have surprised the viewers in all of Spain.  I said, “Shalom Israel…”  There was no answer.  The techs adjusted the connection.  In less than a minute, while I gave the news of the recognition of Israel by Spain, a clear, strong and parsimonious voice was heard in Spanish homes connected to the first morning TV news show in Spain:  “Buenos días, Sepharad.”

After 500 years of intolerance, Spaniards at last invited the Sephardics -Spaniards long in exile- to come home.  Thank you, my friend Zvi. It happened. Rest in peace.

Artículo publicado en la página de opinión del New York Times, el 23 de abril de 1980.
Artículo publicado en la página de opinión del New York Times, el 23 de abril de 1980.

Obituario de Zvi

Acerca de JAMS

Periodista en activo durante los últimos 46 años, doctor en Ciencias de la Información “cum laude” por la Complutense y primer hispano parlante diplomado por la Nieman Foundation for Journalism de la Universidad de Harvard (1976-77). Profesor titular de Economía Aplicada de la Universidad de Almería. Consejero y fundador del Grupo 20 minutos España. Ha sido Director General y fundador de Multiprensa, la empresa editora del diario 20 minutos, líder de la prensa española durante casi una década y de 20minutos.es, número 3 de las webs de noticias de España (1999-2014). Director-fundador de los diarios El Sol (1989-90)y La Gaceta de los Negocios (1988-89), del semanario Doblón (1974-76), del mensual Historia Internacional y de la televisión matinal, con el primer informativo diario “Buenos Días” de TVE (1986); director de la Agencia EFE Nacional (1987), corresponsal en Estados Unidos del semanario El Globo del Grupo Prisa (1987-88), redactor jefe de Internacional y de Economía del diario El País (1977-84) y redactor jefe fundador y director en funciones del semanario Cambio-16 (1971-1974). Director de los Telediarios, en distintas etapas, y de varios programas en directo (Informe del Día, Espiral/Detrás de la Noticia, Economía en la 2, Entrevistas a Candidatos Presidenciales de 1993 y 1996, Debates electorales, etc,) de Televisión Española. Corresponsal-jefe de TVE en Estados Unidos 1995-96 (despedido tras la entrevista preelectoral que realizó al candidato José María Aznar) y autor de varios libros: “Jaque a Polanco” (Temas de Hoy, Planeta), “Los empresarios ante la crisis” (Grijalbo) y “Autopistas de la Información” (Debate), con Francisco Ros e Ignacio Santillana; Es almeriense, presidente de la Junta Rectora del Parque Natural Cabo de Gata-Níjar (Almería) y posee la Medalla de Andalucía. Ejerció el reporterismo de sucesos y de información económica en la Agencia Hispania Press (1968) y fue redactor del diario Nivel (1969) y del diario Arriba (1970-71). Trabajó en Radio Nacional de España y TVE en programas de divulgación económica (Mi Bolsillo, La Aventura del Saber, El Canto de un Duro, etc.). Como director del semanario económico Doblón y autor de un artículo sobre la purga de moderados en la Guardia Civil fue secuestrado, torturado y sometido a una ejecución simulada en marzo de 1976 por fuerzas paramilitares franquistas. Fue el primer desaparecido del final del franquismo. Trabajó para el Gobierno de Adolfo Suarez en la Reforma Fiscal (1978) como ayudante del ministro de Hacienda, Fco. Fdz. Ordóñez y en el programa de ajuste económico de Los Pactos de la Moncloa a las órdenes directas del vicepresidente Fdo. Abril Martorell y del ministro de Economía, Jose L. Leal (1979-80). El 13 de febrero de 2014 dejó el Consejo de 20 minutos, pero mantiene su blog “Se nos ve el Plumero” sobre “Noticias y no noticias comparadas” (dentro de 20minutos.es) que, desde 2005 suma casi 2,9 millones de lectores.

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