On March 9, 1953, a news item appeared in the daily Ha’aretz reporting that the State of Israel would be prepared to dispatch 200,000 soldiers to fight alongside the United States should that country enter into a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. Although the report was denied vigorously in Israel, the two communist newspapers published in Israel at that time – Kol Ha’am (in Hebrew) and al-Ittihad (in Arabic) took up the issue and ran editorials attacking the government vociferously. Responding, the minister of interior acted on his authority and ordered a closure of both papers based on “endangerment of the public peace.” Both newspapers appealed the closure to the Supreme Court, which considered the case over a period of months until on October 16, 1953, a panel of three judges annulled the minister of interior’s decision.
The Kol Ha’am case has served ever since as a milestone in the realm of freedom of speech and press in Israel. With the approach of the 50th anniversary of the start of the affair, we open this issue of Kesher with two articles that deal with it: the first presenting the judgment itself, which was written by then-Justice of the Supreme Court Shimon Agranat, and the second a commentary on the judgment by Justice Aharon Barak, president of the Supreme Court today. The rest of this issue of Kesher is devoted to a range of topics both past and present. Dr. Yehiel Limor and Inés Gabel explore the influence of the media “barons” who control the communications field on media content. They examine the contents of two youth magazines published, respectively, by Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv. The common wisdom in Israel and throughout the world is that cross-ownership of the press and the other media engenders favoritism and a corporate patronage relationship. Surprisingly, this phenomenon was not found in the media surveyed.
Prof. Giora Goldberg, conducting a comprehensive survey of Zionist and post-Zionist contents in the Independence Day editorials of Ha’aretz over a 53-year period (1949-2002), found that from the 1980s onward, Zionist content has increasingly, although not completely, receded in the face of post-Zionist content.
Haredi Society and the Digital media, an article by Dr. Orly Tsarfaty and Dotan Blais, reveals how the various sectors of ultra-Orthodox society deal with this global medium. While most haredi groups try to distance themselves, and especially their children, from it, some attempt to adapt the Internet to serve their particular needs.
Two radically different newspapers published in New York in different periods are dealt with in separate articles. One paper, the Forverts, was the largest Yiddish newspaper ever, published from the late 19th century until )in an altered format( today. Dr. Ehud Manor traces the social and political positions adopted by its editor, Abe Cahan, who headed the paper for nearly 50 years until his death at age 91 (1951). The other New York-based newspaper was Ghorba, a Palestinian-Arab publication in the 1980s dedicated to portraying Jewish Israel in the worst possible light. In this respect, author Avi Raz points out, it constituted a mirror image of a Hebrew paper published in New York, Yisrael Shelanu. My article covers another chapter in the history of the Israeli press, this one centering on the World War Two period. It was a difficult time for the press, both for the newspapers and the journalists, inter alia due to the severe shortage of paper and the oppressive censorship imposed by the British. A particularly sensitive issue was coverage of the horrors of the Holocaust, a topic that continues to occupy the press to this day.
Three articles take us back in time to the early period of the Hebrew press in the 19th century. Dr. Ela Bauer describes Nahum Sokolov’s perseverance in turning his Hebrew weekly, Hatsfirah, into a daily in 1886. Prof. Gideon Kouts depicts a nearly opposite situation: the efforts that same year by poet Y. L. Gordon, who served as managing editor of another Hebrew weekly, Hamelitz, to delay turning his paper into a daily. Ultimately, both weeklies became dailies that year within the space of a few months. The third article, by Irith Nahmani, focuses on the role of “correspondences” in the Hebrew press of the 19th century. Typically, correspondents writing for the first Hebrew weekly, Hamagid, were requested to write in a positive vein, and also to write the truth only, an element that has not lost its importance to this day.
The last two articles in the issue deal with the juvenile press. Dr. Adina Bar-El, a past contributor to Kesher in the field of the Jewish juvenile press in Poland during the inter-war period, describes the distinctive children’s newspaper edited by writer and educator Janusz Korczak, written nearly entirely by children. Meir Chazan surveys children’s newspapers during Israel’s War of Independence, from late1947 until the spring of 1949, revealing both the children’s view of the period through their letters, and the context molded by the adult creators of the medium, who were concerned with the education of the “first generation of the redemption.”
Customarily, a book review section concludes the issue. We plan to devote Kesher No. 33, which will appear in May 2003, to a topic that has been integral to the Jewish press and media from their earliest beginnings – Judophobia and anti-Semitism. The editorial board welcomes proposals for articles on this topic as it is reflected not only in the press but also in books, plays, films, television and the Internet in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.
Based on the Israeli law allowing the minister of interior to suspend publication of a newspaper for publishing material likely to endanger the public peace, the Hebrew communist daily Kol Ha’am (“The Voice of the People”) was closed down for ten days in March 1953, and the Arabic daily al-Ittihad (”Unity”) for 15 days in April 1953. The reason for the suspensions was a lead article that appeared in Kol Ha’am on March 18, 1953, under the headline: “Let Abba Eban Fight the War Alone,” and in al-Ittihad on March 20, 1953: “The People Will Not Permit Speculation With the Blood of Its Sons.” Both articles were written in response to a report in the daily Ha’aretz of March 9, 1953, that [Jewish leader] Henry Morgenthau had described Georgy Malenkov as worse than Stalin and predicted that when the time comes, Israel would put 200,000 soldiers at America’s side. Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Abba Eban was reported as supporting Morgenthau’s remarks and as having added that Morgenthau had actually underestimated Israel’s recruitment capability.
Both newspapers viewed the Ha’aretz report (which was announced by the Knesset five days later to be a fabrication) as evidence of the anti-Soviet policy of the Israeli government and of its readiness to fight alongside the U.S. in the event of a war against the Soviet Union. Attacking this perceived policy, the Kol Ha’am article ended thus:
Despite the anti-Soviet incitement, the masses in Israel know that the Soviet Union is true to a policy of the brotherhood of peoples, and to peace. The speeches by Comrades Malenkov, Beria and Molotov have verified this once again. Should Abba Eban or anyone else want to go and fight at the side of the American warmongers, let him go, but let him go alone. The masses want peace and national independence, and are not prepared to give up the Negev in exchange for joining the “Middle East Command.” We will redouble our struggle against the anti-national policy of the Ben-Gurion government which speculates with the blood of Israeli youth. We will redouble our struggle for peace and for the independence of Israel. The al-Ittihad article, in a similar vein, concluded thus:
And so every kind of submission by the Ben-Gurion government, and all its professions of loyalty will not help it with its American masters. Moreover, its diplomatic, domestic, foreign, economic and political bankruptcy have begun to be visible to the masses, who have begun to understand where this government’s deterioration is leading: not only to unemployment, poverty and hunger but also to death in the service of imperialism which serves them up as fodder for its war machine, while these masses do not wish this fate and will show their refusal.
Should Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban want to fight and die in the service of their masters, let them go and fight alone. The masses want bread, work, independence and peace, and they will reinforce their struggle for these goals and will prove to Ben-Gurion and his people that they will not allow them to speculate with the blood of their children in order to satisfy the will of their masters.
Both newspapers appealed the closures in the Supreme Court before a panel of judges headed by Justice Shimon Agranat. The basic principle involved in both cases is the relationship between freedom of the press, which is a type of free speech, and the authority of the government to impose limitations on the implementation of this right in the interest of the security of the state. Only when an actual circumstance demands imposing this limitation is it justified. Furthermore, the “security of the state” may be interpreted, inter alia, as the “public peace,” and it is in this context that the court had to assess the likelihood of the danger posed by the newspaper articles in question. In effect, the court had the task of assessing the probability of the danger of disturbing the public peace as a consequence of the publication of the articles.
Based on the Anglo-American legal perception of the use of preventive measures (i.e., censorship) in this context as a severe measure, the norm in Israel is to rely on the court to determine the probability of danger after publication. Moreover, whether the published material was determined as reasonably expected to endanger the public peace had to be judged in light of the specific circumstances existing at the time. In addition, the question of whether the material in question constituted a clear and present danger – i.e., a question of proximity and degree – was also a factor in the court’s judgment.
In light of these judicial principles, the court ruled that both suspension orders were based on infirm grounds. The Kol Ha’am article was based on an erroneous premise and could not be reasonably viewed as a danger to the public peace because it cannot be shown to incite to violence to bring about change in an imaginary governmental policy. Clearly, the court stated, the true significance of the published text was to express sharp, emotionally stated opposition to the perceived policy of the government, and nothing more. Expressing opposition to an imagined policy, and advocating a campaign to annul that policy, cannot be viewed as endangering the public peace. The fact that the criticism was articulated insultingly did not turn the content into a greater danger to the public peace.
The court found that if the freedom to clarify political issues – an important element of freedom of the press – is not to be stultified, and if the test of reasonable probability is to be retained in evaluating endangerment to the public peace, the suspension order against Kol Ha’am deviated fundamentally from its bounds of jurisdiction. This ruling held true as well for the suspension order against al-Ittihad, whose article, published two days after that of Kol Ha’am, was essentially the same in content, although the tone was even more aggressive. This may have been the reason for the imposition on it of a longer closure, but, the court pointed out, it still did not constitute endangerment of the public peace.
In these circumstances – when, on the one hand, the entire argument of the content was based on the a priori assumption that the report in Ha’aretz correctly reflected government policy, and, on the other, the report was declared a number of days later to be a fabrication – the argument cannot be said to exert an influence that would endanger the public peace. It cannot be seriously viewed as prompting the “masses” to resort to violence or to refuse to fulfill their legal obligation of military service merely in order to nullify a policy that was never announced as the official policy of the State of Israel.
The court ruled, therefore, that the orders nisi issued to the minister of interior to halt the suspensions be made absolute, and the defendant (the minister of interior) bear court and legal costs.
Justice Agranat, who presided over the panel of judges in the Kol Ha’am case in the Supreme Court (1953), noted at the time that “justice must be studied through the mirror of the national life of the people.” Laws change with the passage of time, especially laws based on judicial rulings. However, certain rare judgments stand out over time as beacons and as milestones that guide the future direction of justice. One of these is the Kol Ha’am case, recognized at the time and to this day as one of the central rulings of Israeli jurisprudence, as well as one of the most important judgments handed down by Justice Agranat.
Two elements imbue this judgment with its distinctive importance: the rules determined by it for freedom of the press specifically, and for freedom of speech and the democratic nature of the State of Israel generally; and the method of judicial thinking employed by Justice Agranat to coalesce this judgment. The first element is contextual, the second methodological.
The contextual element of the case
This element involves a definition of the jurisdiction of the minister of interior according to Israel’s press law. The law gives the minister the authority to halt the publication of a newspaper if it prints material that is liable to endanger the public peace. The word "liable," however, can imply a range of possibilities, from a remote possibility of danger, to a clear and present danger. The Supreme Court, in defining the term as a "present" danger in this case, diminishes the power of the minister of interior and heightens freedom of the press, thereby constituting an important contextual contribution to the Israeli judicial system. Another contextual contribution relates to freedom of speech generally. The ruling of the court did not limit itself to merely defining the word "liable," but based itself on a broad recognition of freedom of speech as integral to the democratic process and as the prime condition for the realization of nearly all the other freedoms. Only in the case of probable endangerment to the public peace, therefore, can freedom of the press be reined in. In positioning freedom of speech as a central constitutional right in Israel, Justice Agranat made a major contribution to the entrenchment of democratic rule in the state and to its perception of human rights. He thereby placed Israel in the company of the most enlightened nations in the world.
A third contextual contribution made by the judgment to Israeli law is in underscoring the close interrelationship between the state and its democratic form of government. In highlighting the democratic foundations of the state, the finding constitutes a source of inspiration for the nurturing of additional rights, such as freedom of association, the dignity of the individual, freedom of conscience and religion, and equality between all people. It is a wellspring for such fundamental principles as the separation of authority and jurisdictional purity. Ultimately, it sets the tone for the judicial environment that interprets and implements the law.
The methodological aspect of the case
This aspect of the case is equally distinctive in establishing norms for interpreting the law based on a set of basic judicial principles. The concrete issue facing Justice Agranat was the interpretation of the term "liable" in Article 19 of the press law. Anticipating the later philosophical judicial dispute between reliance on principles vis-á-vis on policy, he granted a central role to basic principles in the process of interpreting the law. In the Israeli instance, he emphasized, these principals reveal the intention of the founding legislators to establish the state on democratic foundations and on the principles of independence and the guarantee of freedom of conscience. Moreover, in holding that justice must be viewed through the mirror of the people’s national life, he freed the interpretation of the law from formalistic confines and provided it with a creative basis. The judge must always begin with the text of the law, but he must never end with it alone. He must interpret it in the context of the reality of the people's existence. In this sense, the case of Kol Ha'am("The People's Voice") indeed laid the foundation for the people's justice.
In emphasizing the influence of the people’s national life on the judicial process, Justice Agranat introduced a dynamic concept into judicial interpretation. A nation’s basic principles are not static or finite. They change and evolve in tandem with the changes in national life. Some basic principles lose their importance. New basic principles emerge. This dynamic reality raises serious problems that were not reflected in the Kol Ha'am case but which are central to the philosophic judicial debate today and go to the heart of the judicial process. Solutions cannot be found in judicial decisions alone, but in the very legitimation of the judicial process. Judgments, however, contribute to the debate, for they illuminate the perception of the judicial role. If the basic principles are established by judgments that reflect the people's national life, a dynamic legal system is created that intrinsically legitimizes judicial creativity.
Sometimes basic principles conflict with one another. Justice Agranat faced this problem in the case of Kol Ha'am, namely in the conflict between freedom of speech and the public peace. Each of these principles, he wrote, has supreme national and social importance. His solution was to balance one against the other. This, too, constituted a major contribution to the Israeli judicial system. Since then, the Supreme Court has often followed this guideline in cases of conflicting basic principles. However, the weight of each principle is not always equal one to another, and must be evaluated in light of the specific circumstances. Such an evaluation is often problematic and requires long study. Indeed, while the Kol Ha'am case did not provide a solution to the problem of balance of principles, it raised it and provided the intellectual base and the legitimation for exploring it.
The growth of privately owned media empires, an issue that has gained prominence in Israel, as in the rest of the world, during the last two decades, is cause for concern to politicians and public figures, who seek to restrain this process. What these empires have in common is their profit-making basis. They are perceived as dangerous primarily because of the constriction in cultural pluralism which they engender, and the damage thereby to the “marketplace of opinion and ideas.” This is seen as a threat to the very fabric of democratic life.
The danger to the marketplace of ideas, according to this thinking, lies in the uniformity of contents to serve the economic, political or social interests of the media “barons.” These “barons” can also apply pressure to exclude certain kinds of content, with the result that the public receives limited information despite a multiplicity of media channels.
Such criticism has not yet been proven empirically. The authors aimed to test it by examining the Israeli case, namely, whether media owners in Israel indeed exploit their control over several media for their own benefit. Media concentration and cross-ownership in Israel has evolved into control by five or six families. The largest media conglomerate is Yediot Aharonot (which is also the largest privately owned company in Israel), controlled by the Mozes and Fishman families. The second largest conglomerate is Ma’ariv, controlled by the Nimrodi family. The third and smallest conglomerate is Ha’aretz, controlled by the Schocken family. All three conglomerates, wholly or in partnership with outside investors, control eight media markets: the daily national press, local newspapers, periodicals, Channel Two (the commercial channel), cable TV, outdoor advertising and the disk/video market. They also exert considerable control in the publishing field. Only one major medium – radio – remains outside their sphere of influence, in part because of legislative restrictions on cross-ownership of the electronic media.
The study under discussion focused on the influence of media cross-ownership on content as reflected in two teenage weeklies owned by two of the conglomerates that also control record companies: the weekly Ma’ariv Lano’ar (“Ma’ariv for Youth”), owned by the Ma’ariv conglomerate, which also owns the Hed Artzi record company; and Rosh 1 (“Mood 1”, literally “Head 1”), owned by the Yediot Aharonot conglomerate, of which the NMC record company is a subsidiary. Both these magazines, and both record companies, are the leaders in their fields. The hypothesis was that each conglomerate would exploit its youth magazine to promote its daughter record company, based on the fact that teenagers are the primary consumers of pop disks and videos. The magazines, according to the hypothesis, would not only promote record sales but also promote specific performers as well. Seven promotional categories were selected as a basis for the research: cover page, poster, contents page, article, song lyrics/recommended new disk or video, mini-photo on cover, information item. Category ratings were weighted according to prominence. The study covered every issue of each magazine during the year 2001.
The findings were surprising. The NMC record company showed far greater prominence than the Hed Artzi company in both magazines and in equal proportions. Similarly, performers associated with this record company received greater coverage in both magazines, as did song lyrics. The explanation for these findings is twofold, and is valid for media conglomerates generally. The first relates to the structural weakness of conglomerates, many of which have difficulty imposing a centralized policy on their subsidiaries. The second factor is economic and relates to the widespread conglomerate policy of maximal autonomy for subsidiaries. This policy views each subsidiary as an independent profit-making body operating on the basis of its own individual business considerations, with the single goal of maximal profits.
The present research findings are partially supported by two other recent Israeli studies. One (1999) showed no conclusive link between cross-ownership and extent of coverage of subsidiaries in the dailies Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv. The other (2002) showed no link between cross-ownership of cable and Channel Two franchises, on the one hand, and TV program reviews appearing in both parent-sponsored dailies, on the other.
More broadly, these findings suggest that the issue of the relationship between media cross-ownership and content may be more complex than critics have perceived, and requires further study.
In an effort to explore the impact of post-Zionism on Israeli society, the author surveyed the editorials that appeared in the daily Ha’aretz at Israel Independence Day and Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers from the founding of the state to the present – over 100 articles in all. The six components cited by Mekhman were used as the structural basis of the research.
The survey revealed that signs of a post-Zionist perception gradually emerged with the passage of time. The memorialization of the fatalities of Israel’s wars, which was a central motif in the first decades, gradually disappeared after the Lebanese War (1982), a sign that points to Baruch Kimmerling’s proposal to change the definition of Memorial Day to a day of commemoration of all the victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The editorials no longer dealt with the Holocaust. Moreover, the festive celebratory tone disappeared, as did the use of the “we.” With this, the editorials did not generally use the accepted post-Zionist jargon. The retreat from Zionism in Ha’aretz is attributable to two developments:
The major shift toward post-Zionist thought, based on this study, occurred in the early 1990s with the start of the Oslo process, a process which did not initiate the phenomenon but did stimulate it.
Of the six post-Zionist components cited by Mekhman, changes in Ha’aretz regarding three of them are particularly recognizable: the Holocaust (more in the disregard of it than in the binding of it to Zionist policy toward Diaspora Jewry); contemporary Israeli society; and the desired Israeli society. Conceivably, the non-adoption of a post-Zionist treatment of the other three components, and the relative moderation generally in adopting a post-Zionist perception, may be explained by commercial considerations, i.e., the fear that a drastic shift to such a perception could damage circulation, especially among older subscribers. Another explanation is that the focus of the research was on the main editorial, which is the establishment part of the newspaper, in contrast to the signed editorial pieces.
A third explanation for the relatively small post-Zionist content relates to the influence of events. The Intifada that erupted in 2000 engendered a pronounced change in Ha’aretz, as in public opinion generally and in the country’s electoral behavior. It even altered post-Zionist thought to some degree in the universities, the bastion of this point of view.
A fourth factor relates to the character of Ha’aretz, which has always been a sounding board for the middle class and the secular intelligentsia. While the now-defunct socialist newspapers (e.g., Davar, Al-Hamishmar) had made extensive use of Marxist jargon (colonialism, imperialism and the brotherhood of peoples, for example), Ha’aretz eschewed this terminology. Part of the post-Zionist jargon is socialist, and this is still absent from Ha’aretz. More broadly, the collapse of international socialism had a decisive effect on socialist Zionism, in part supporting its slide toward post-Zionism. By contrast, the non-socialist Zionists did not experience this crisis. Indeed, future research might well explore the question of whether post-Zionism is essentially post-socialist Zionism.
The haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in Israel is forbidden, by formal order of its rabbinic leadership, to make use of computers or the Internet, or to view video or computer films. The order itself, however, reveals an ongoing debate over the use of computers and over its communications and technological implications for the community. As with other technological developments in the past, a thorough investigation was conducted by the rabbinic leadership to weigh the potential benefits involved in adopting the use of computers (e.g., aiding the spread of Torah and creating additional sources of livelihood), vis-?-vis the potential risks (encouraging heresy and secularization). These issues revolve around an old/new dilemma: Is technology normatively neutral, or is it intrinsically, and insidiously, destructive?
Haredi society struggles to preserve its cultural and religious distinctiveness in the secular State of Israel through cultural and physical isolation from secular society. This has resulted in a cultural enclave with its own media (see articles in Kesher 8, 30). However, not every sector in haredi society is in agreement over the use of the mass media. Broadly, there are two approaches to the issue. One, the traditional approach, prohibits the use of all modern media as part of a rejection of the modern milieu entirely and because of the association of the media with heretical secular contents. The media are perceived as agents of change and are rejected out of hand by a society that seeks to perpetuate a conservative religious life style. The sole exception to this prohibition is haredi-produced newspapers, which are viewed in the context of the special Jewish attitude to the written word, and as an effective means of reinforcing internal religious solidarity. The second approach, which had been marginal but is gaining ground, holds that the media are normatively neutral, i.e., the means are acceptable so long as religious contents and worthy values are transmitted.
Side by side with a flourishing ideological and commercial haredi press from the 1990s onward, the use of various electronic materials with prescribed contents has spread in certain sectors of the haredi community, namely among the followers of the Habad and the Shas movements. The common denominator for both these sectors is an emphasis on outreach to the non-religious population, making effective use of the media to spread their message. Initially, the use of computers was perceived by the haredi leadership as a solution to sources of livelihood, in that it allowed for flexible work hours and work from the home, an especially suitable option for women with children. Other functions as well soon became widespread in the haredi community (which was thought to have a similar percentage of home computers as secular society), namely religious textual study onscreen. This led to the growing popularity of the broader visual aspect of the medium, resulting in a highly successful haredi CD industry featuring its own style of entertainment. In effect, the computer now functioned as an alternative TV medium for the haredi community.
However, access to the Internet and the exposure to contents and concepts identified with the modern secular world prompted the haredi leadership – the gate keepers – to revise their initial perception of the computer as a neutral device and to view it as a dangerous agent of change. They emphasized the negative influence on the education of children in particular. Clearly, it was now viewed as a potential threat to the authority of the haredi educators.
Nevertheless, some haredi sectors, including the Lithuanian community and several hasidic courts, question the mainstream ruling on the issue and permit the use of the Internet for the purpose of livelihood in a supervised work environment. Moreover, haredi sites exist on the Internet, revealing that prohibition may be beyond the capacity or the will of the public. The extreme pole on this issue is represented by such hasidic groups as Habad and Breslov, along with the Sephardi Shas movement and the “new haredim” (penitents), all of whom seek to spread their views to new audiences. The usefulness of the digital medium in this religious mission constitutes legitimation of it. Additionally, sites have been opened for haredi users who seek a protected and approved Internet environment, e.g., torah.net and moreshet safe lines. This development illustrates the potential for the community to divert the medium away from openness and toward the preservation of isolation.
Meanwhile, an industry of haredi entertainment CDs and computer films that mimic secular TV formats has emerged, signifying a cultural diffusion transmitted by the digital medium. It also reveals that the critical mass of haredi computer users has stimulated the creation of a TV leisure culture in that society. Haredi-produced computer games constitute yet another element of this culture. Haredi outreach materials aimed at the secular population, such as those produced by Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak, make use of such elements as trance-style music and visual art.
These haredi-produced digital materials have become a major component in today’s leisure culture in haredi society. They form the basis for a type of virtual community with common interests. It is a community that seeks to close itself off from global channels of communication. Nevertheless, it uses various languages to connect with its branches throughout the world, and various formats to reach out to the non-haredi population. These dual aspects of haredi digital communication exist side by side in a realm that may be described as a “Jewish global village.”
Ghorba (“Foreign Land” or “Exile”), an Arabic weekly published in New York from March 1987 until the summer of 1988, was aimed at the Arab-American community in the greater New York area and beyond. A major portion of its content was devoted to presenting Israel in the worst possible light, and in this respect Ghorba constituted a mirror image of the New York-based Hebrew weekly Yisrael Shelanu (“Our Israel”), which servied an emigrant Israeli audience.
Ghorba was essentially the work of a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, Marwan Bishara (b. 1959), who had emigrated to the United States at age 17. He aimed to publish a high-level newspaper which would offer its readers – primarily Palestinian emigrants from Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank – reports and analyses of developments in the Middle East from an Arab point of view.
Begun on an experimental basis as an eight-page daily, Ghorba at first diversified its Middle Eastern content, although Israel-related topics were prominent, with one page devoted entirely to events in the occupied territories. Most articles were unsigned. A large portion of the news was several days old or older, translated from the Israeli press. News and editorial commentary were intermingled in the same articles. The staff member responsible for this content was an Iraqi-born Israeli journalist, Na’im Gil’adi, who had relocated in New York. He mined the Israeli newspapers for items related to the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and criminal and other unsavory news items about Israeli life, which came to dominate Ghorba’s content.
The paper shifted to a weekly format in mid-1987, soon becoming a biweekly and sometimes a tri-weekly. At the same time, it heightened its focus on Israel. For example, the U.S. presidential campaign for the 1988 elections was covered largely in the context of the Palestinian issue. Several editorials initially urged the readership to support Jesse Jackson as the most suitable candidate from the Arab point of view, although he was later criticized by Dr. Muhammad al-Halaj, a member of the Palestine National Council and head of a small Washington-based research institute, for avoiding the Palestinian issue during his campaign for the Democratic nomination. Reiterating a frequent theme of Israel’s global influence and its ability to mold world policies, Dr. Clovis Maksud, head of the permanent delegation of the Arab League to the UN and its ambassador to the U.S., charged Israel and “world Zionism” with instigating world criticism of the Pope for meeting in 1987 with Austrian President Kurt Waldheim despite his Nazi past. Another article that year claimed that Israel was responsible for the Iran-Iraq War, which was part of its long-range strategy. In this context, editor Bishara asserted that Israel was allied with the U.S. in a plan to put the Iranian army in control of its country and thereby replace the Revolutionary Guards. The Israel-U.S. conspiracy theory was reinforced in Ghorba by translated segments of Noam Chomsky’s book Pirates and Emperors: International Terrorism in the Real World (1987; a book distributed by an information center owned by Bishara). Chomsky accused the U.S. government and the “traditional” American media (e.g., the New York Times) of viewing only Israel’s proposals as “peace talks” but not the proposals by the Arab states or the PLO.
The prospect of an international peace conference was given a great deal of space in Ghorba. Dr. Adnan ‘Abd al-Razik, an Israeli-educated Palestinian, warned that Israel’s aim was to retain most of the territories captured in 1967. In a review of Zionist ideology, Dr. Azmi Bishara (today a member of Knesset in Israel), pointed to the contradictions between the secular nature of the Zionist platform and the messianic religious perception that developed in the wake of the 1967 war as boding ill for the Palestinian cause. In a similar vein, revelations of secret contacts between Palestinian personalities in the West Bank and high-ranking Israeli officials immediately after the occupation in 1967 were viewed with pessimism regarding Israel’s intentions.
While an unflattering portrayal of Israel was to be expected of an Arab-Palestinian newspaper in a period of national struggle, Ghorba went to extremes, presenting a distorted, repulsive picture of the Jewish state. Indeed, the Palestinian Issue was the unifying element within the Arab-American community and served as the basis of Arab ethnic identity. This perception, however, proved to be insufficient. The paper had a small circulation and failed to stimulate public discourse in the Arab-American community. It also neglected news of this community. Moreover, it did not reflect varied inter-Arab opinion. Additionally, the accessibility of major Arabic newspapers from various Middle Eastern countries and from London marginalized Ghorba. Failing to attract significant advertising or investment, Bishara financed the paper himself. All told, some 30 issues were published as a weekly, following an unknown number as an experimental daily.
Curiously, Ghorba was, in a sense, an Israeli newspaper: the news reports it published were based on information gleaned largely from the Israeli press. However, its tendentious editorial policy made it more a sponsored that an independent newspaper.
The breakup of traditional Jewish society in Europe, and especially in Eastern Europe, in the latter nineteenth century and thereafter was accompanied by a loss of traditional Jewish sources of livelihood, which resulted in urbanization and large-scale emigration westward. New York City, the immigrants’ destination of preference, became the venue of a vigorous human laboratory in which the meeting between old and new took place within a variety of organized contexts. Inter alia, a large labor movement developed there, as in Eastern Europe and elsewhere in the new world, producing a multi-faceted immigrant press which played a major role in this movement. The undisputed leader in this realm was the daily Forverts (“Forward”), molded and managed by Abe Cahan (1860-1951), a Jewish refugee who, like many others then, arrived in New York (1882) from the Eastern European “Pale of Settlement.” The four decades that followed marked a process of Americanization undergone by Cahan personally and by millions of other Jewish refugees, to a large extent under his guidance. Moreover, they managed to make the transition from struggling laborers to a comfortable middle class status.
Cahan, a political person with a strong sense of social consciousness and reformist tendencies, had in common with many supporters of revolutionary movements a series of shifting allegiances to various streams of anarchism, socialism, communalism, syndicalism and others. During the 1880s, it was anarchism that was most favored by the reformers, and especially by immigrant reformers, bereft of ties with their old as well as with their new world. Yet in the entrenched two-party political system in America, radical movements, even the most moderate of them – socialism – had little chance of electoral success. Retrospectively, however, socialism in America, which attained its greatest popularity during 1890-1920, did make a contribution in defining the minimal platform that progressive elements in both the Democratic and the Republican parties came to accept. This platform included such principles as a humane work day, unemployment compensation, and a ban on child labor.
Cahan early recognized the alien nature of the socialist movement in the American milieu and the dilemma of the need to minimize the movement’s emphasis on ideology, yet still project a distinctive message. He and other Jewish socialists found a unique way to resolve this dilemma: utilizing an independent newspaper, in a language which only they understood, to build an empire based essentially on rhetoric.
The Forverts, launched in New York in 1897, reached a peak circulation of approximately 200,000 daily by 1915, outpacing the actual rate of Jewish immigration. Moreover, the paper evolved into a major institution: its building served as strike headquarters, its income was used as financial backing for strikers, and its premises were the venue for negotiations between workers and employers as well as for varied cultural and social activities. The paper also served as a kind of open university for the public, a goal that typified many newspapers of the period. While the popularity of the Forverts is often ascribed to its famous letters column, “A Bintel Brif”†(“A Packet of letters”), which offered advice to readers, the prominence of the paper in the Jewish immigrant population derived from the broader solution it provided to its audience: a substitute for the religion and the ethos that they had left behind in the old country.
With the end of the mass immigration in the mid-1920s, the Forverts’ circulation began a process of steady decline. Eventually, the newspaper became a weekly )1983(, and ten years later it began appearing trilingually in Yiddish, English and Russian.
Abraham Cahan, born into a poor family in a village near Vilna, received a Jewish as well as Russian education. He enrolled at age 17 in a teachers seminary and was drawn to revolutionary causes there. A search of his living quarters by the Czarist police led him to decide to emigrate to America, where in 1886 he tried, unsuccessfully, to launch a Yiddish socialist newspaper. He became an editor in 1890 for the Arbeiter Zeitung )“The Workman’s Paper”(, the first Yiddish socialist daily to appear regularly. In 1891 he was sent as a delegate of the American socialists to the International Socialist Congress in Brussels. During 1893-97 he served as editor of the Zukunft (“Future”), the Yiddish socialist literary monthly. In 1897 he became the first editor of the newly launched Forverts for a short while, leaving because of a policy dispute but returning in 1903, where he held the post of editor in chief until his death at age 91 in 1951.
At the same time, he developed a literary career. His first short story was published in the New York Sun in 1884, and his first novel in English, Yekl, was published in 1917. His last major work was an autobiography in Yiddish reflecting his awareness of the end of the mass migration and with it the beginning of the end of the Yiddish chapter in the history of the Jews of America.
Significantly, Cahan’s pronounced reformist character was nevertheless overshadowed by his distrust of revolutionism alongside his personality as a loner. In contrast to ideological purists in the Forverts management who wanted the paper to be a serious socialist publication even at the expense of a large circulation, Cahan and a small group of supporters were convinced that in order to draw the public to socialism, the paper must cater to it, i.e., use circulation-boosting methods that would make the paper attractive, inviting and accessible to all. His supporters eventually won the day, and in returning to the paper he was given absolute power to mold it.
Meanwhile, after quitting the Forverts in 1897, he began writing for the Commercial Advertiser, a highly regarded New York paper. Politically pro-Republican, the Advertiser nevertheless employed Lincoln Steffens, one of the best-known muckrakers of the era, who hired Cahan. The six years Cahan worked there shaped his outlook more than any preceding period and taught him how to turn the Forverts from an obscure sectarian newspaper into the leader of the Yiddish press in the U.S. While Cahan remained a “pious socialist,” in the words of historian Moses Rischin, he learned from Steffens that socialist, or any other, political positions are measured by deeds rather than words. In effect, socialism had become a religion for Cahan, or, as described by Irving Howe, a “sentiment.” Cahan proved to be far from a reformer. Ultimately, he failed to guide his immigrant readers from alienation to political action, and instead exploited their Jewish and proletarian outsider status as fertile ground for empty progressive rhetoric with no concrete program of action.
The Jewish yishuv (community) in British Mandatory Palestine on the eve of World War Two, numbering approximately 475,000 (the Arab population was approximately 1 million), supported no less than 15 daily newspapers (8 in Hebrew, 6 in German, 1 in English) and dozens of weeklies and monthlies representing a broad range of political parties, movements and ideologies. With the outbreak of the war in 1939, and during the year that followed, the Jewish press in the yishuv witnessed an unusual blossoming. The existing papers increased their circulation in response to an intensified demand for news by a public deprived of any other media (the Mandate radio broadcasts were aired for several hours only, and foreign newspapers no longer arrived). New papers also appeared, among them Yediot Aharonot, which, after a difficult start, managed to survive and eventually became one of the most widely circulated newspapers in the yishuv.
Yet, the war had a negative effect on the press as well. If at the start of the war a standard daily consisted of 4-6 pages on weekdays and 8-12 pages on Friday, as the war progressed and the political and economic situation worsened, the number of pages per issue declined. Stringent paper rationing by the Mandatory government exacerbated the situation. The authorities ordered severe cuts in paper requisitions that resulted in the closure of several periodicals.
Another vexing issue was the sizable German-language press in the yishuv. The very fact of the existence of a significant foreign-language press at a time of Jewish national coalescence – and in the language of the enemy at that – was perceived as a form of blasphemy. Furthermore, the editorial tone of this press tended to be pacifistic, criticizing the nationalist spirit of the yishuv as “Stuermer-like” and “Nazi-istic.” Moreover, the growth of this press (approximately 20,000 daily) was threatening to the Hebrew-language press (approximately 50,000 daily). This perception contrasted with the attitude toward the English-language Palestine Post, which also had a circulation of 20,000 but which was viewed as a “Hebrew newspaper in the English language” because of its pronounced Zionist point of view.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle faced by the Jewish press throughout the war years was British censorship. Not only did the authorities censor war items, they censored all items quoted by the Jewish press from the Arab press, and vice-versa. The British were determined to maintain a state of calm in the country, especially in light of the Arab revolt of the 1930s. Toward that end they disqualified nearly all material with nationalist content both in the Jewish and the Arab press. For example, they banned all reports of protest in the yishuv against the Land Regulations of 1940, which prohibited the purchase of land by Jews. They even disqualified reports on the contribution of the yishuv to the British war effort, lest it incite the Arabs or reinforce the Nazi claim that the Jews caused the war and were liable to be beneficiaries of it. British censorship minimized the fact that thousands of Jews in the yishuv had volunteered to serve in the British army, in contrast to the minimal response of the Arabs to recruitment. Reports of Zionist efforts to develop the country were restricted, while mention of the pro-Nazi stance of the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj al-Amin al-Husayni was banned entirely, lest it incite the Jews.
Undoubtedly, one of the most highly charged topics in the yishuv was the fate of the Jews in Europe. Ever since the end of the war, and to this day, the yishuv press has been accused of minimizing coverage of the Holocaust as it was occurring, even though reports about the extent of the murder of Jews kept coming in. Reports did indeed appear in the newspapers, but they were not given prominence. It was only three years after the outbreak of the war that the Jewish press in Eretz Yisrael began to cover the Holocaust widely.
This topic, which is the subject of a recent book edited by the author with Prof. Dina Porat, involves a number of factors, most importantly disbelief in the credibility of the shocking reports. Many attributed these reports to enemy propaganda. The inability to internalize such information rationally prompted a response of rejection. Additionally, the inbred lesson of the long history of the Jewish people was that they would survive this trial, as they had others in the past. Yet another factor was the clear and present danger to the yishuv itself posed by Rommel’s forces in North Africa until the autumn of 1942, when the Germans were defeated at al-Almayn. Significantly, only then did the full extent of the Holocaust begin to be highlighted in the press.
Here, too, British policy was a factor. The British perceived the publishing of news of the slaughter of the Jews in Europe as potentially dangerous to their war effort because it would agitate the Jewish population, while it could encourage the Arab population to attack the Jews of the yishuv massively.
Ultimately, today’s accusatory attitude toward the press of the time may well stem from the change in the role of the media over time. Back then, in the 1940s, harsh news was received with incredulity and newspapers felt an obligation to preserve the public peace.
A related event, which had a traumatic effect on the yishuv and a lasting influence on its press, was the sinking of the immigrant ship “Struma” in the Black Sea on February 24, 1942. A dilapidated vessel, the “Struma” carried 770 Jewish refugees from Rumania bound for Eretz Yisrael. The British cast a blackout on news about the ship during its entire odyssey, although much of the public learned the details by other means. Two days after it sank in the Black Sea, on February 26, 1942, the yishuv press, in a coordinated move, ran a black obituary border around its front pages and printed elegaic verses from the Bible and other sources. Only on the third day after the tragedy did the British permit reports of it, although even then more material was censored than published, including accounts of memorial/protest assemblies in the major cities.
The frustration of the editors of the Hebrew press over the “Struma” incident led to the formation of a new body, the Response Committee, representing the editors of the Jewish press in Eretz Yisrael. The Committee was to play an important role over the next six years until the end of the Mandate. It faced its first test in November 1943 when large British forces surrounded Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh in the Sharon region searching for defectors from the Free Polish Army (then part of the British army) and for illegal arms. When the kibbutz members resisted the search, its menfolk were beaten and later interrogated. One died of his wounds. The British banned all reports of the incident. In an exceptional move, the Response Committee, in consultation with the yishuv governing bodies and the Haganah underground, decided to publish details of the incident in a single version and under the same headline in every newspaper without prior submission to the censor. The text contained harsh criticism of the British, including a denunciation of their refusal to allow Holocaust refugees into the country, thereby condemning them to death. The response of the British authorities was to order a staggered closure of all the newspapers for one week each. This engendered a decision by the press to strike simultaneously. No Hebrew paper appeared from November 19, 1943, for 11 days. Ultimately, the authorities relented, with a warning for the future. The newspapers, for their part, used caution and did not repeat this move.
The war years constituted a crucible in which the Hebrew press was forced to overcome the severe restrictions of censorship and paper rationing and rise to the task of molding public opinion.
The 1880s witnessed a blossoming of popular Hebrew literature in Eastern Europe, reflected in the appearance of “penny books” by Ben-Avigdor (Samuel Leib Shelekovitz) and the successful annual literary anthology He’assif (“The Gathering”) edited by the young journalist Nahum Sokolov, which sold 10,000 copies when it was launched in 1884. These publications appeared alongside existing Hebrew weeklies and monthlies. Sokolov and others believed that the time was ripe for a Hebrew daily.
A formidable obstacle, however, was obtaining a permit from the Russian authorities to publish a daily in Hebrew. Many such requests had been submitted from various parts of the empire, including one by Sokolov in 1885 to publish a Hebrew daily to be called Hador (“The Generation”), but none were approved. Finally, in 1886, several influential Jews in St. Petersburg managed to persuade the minister of interior, Graf Ivan Davidovitch Dluyanov, to support such a request, and a permit was granted to Dr. Judah Leib Kantor to publish Hayom (“Today”) in St. Petersburg. Sokolov viewed this as an encouraging sign, and immediately submitted a request in St. Petersburg to publish the Warsaw-based weekly with which he was affiliated, Hatsfirah (“The Dawn”), as a daily.
Governmental censorship was strictly enforced in the Russian Empire. However, with the ascendance of Czar Alexander II to the throne in the 1860s, censorship was relaxed slightly, a development exploited by the Russian intelligentsia )non-Jewish and Jewish alike( to publish a spate of newspapers and other materials. Still, strict censorship remained in force in the Polish regions of the empire following the attempted Polish revolt of 1863, influencing the scope of the weekly Hatsfirah, the first Hebrew periodical in Warsaw. Censorship was reinforced even further after the assassination of the czar in 1881, tightening restrictions on topics permitted to be covered.
In his quest for a newspaper permit, Sokolov laboriously recruited spokesmen of influence both from Jewish circles and within the governmental labyrinth to persuade the powers that be in St. Petersburg of the valuable contribution of his proposed endeavor. The means of such persuasion ranged from deferential homage to more material incentives. In fact, however, both Sokolov and the veteran editor of the weekly Hatsfirah, Selig Slonimski, truly believed that their paper was capable of educating the Jewish population, and especially the Jews of Poland, to become loyal and useful citizens in Russian society by introducing them to the modern inventions and the culture of the outside world.
To Sokolov’s distress, however, Slonimski lost his enthusiasm for the idea of converting Hatsfirah into a daily. Sokolov, for his part, felt that the step was imperative both for the sake of sustained economic viability and because of the emergence of Warsaw in the 1880s as one of the major centers of Hebrew culture. It had a large audience of Hebraists eager for the printed word, alongside a sizable sector of accomplished Hebrew writers. He was convinced that if Hatsfirah did not capture this ready market, another daily would.
With the appearance of the first issue of the daily Hayom in February 1886, Sokolov’s concerns regarding possible competition melted away. He judged the level of the writing as poor, pointing out that the paper’s only attribute was the solid financial backing it enjoyed. The rival Hebrew weekly Hamelitz, too, was not perceived by Sokolov as a threat, in as much as its irascible editor, Alexander Zederbaum, had poor ties with the authorities and had little chance of obtaining a permit to publish a daily.
Two months later, in April 1886, Hatsfirah was launched as a daily. Slonimski had come round in the end to Sokolov’s thinking, especially as the weekly had begun to lose subscribers. Hamelitz, too, increased its frequency in July of that year, appearing twice weekly in an expanded format and the rest of the week in an abbreviated format.
Hatsfirah preceded its shift to a daily by issuing a reassuring announcement to its Poland-based readership that it would maintain the basic content of the original publication: informed articles aimed at widening the knowledge of the Jewish public would continue to play a central role in the paper. Other areas would, however, be added, e.g., political commentary and economic topics. By contrast, the St. Petersburg-based Hayom modeled itself on the format of a general newspaper, without any particular agenda.
The development of Hatsfirah as a daily in the years that followed justified the decision to take this step. Subscriptions grew. Sokolov’s writing talents guaranteed a high journalistic level, and although he kept up his involvement in projects outside the paper, he took care to employ writers of the highest caliber in his absence. Slonimski, who was still editor, probably envied the younger man’s renown.
Sokolov’s assessment in 1886 that Hatsfirah need not fear competition also proved accurate. Hayom closed down two years later, while Hatsfirah came to be the most prominent Hebrew paper of the time, the first truly mass medium in Hebrew, and a source of authority in the daily lives of its readership. It maintained a moderate, non-combative policy regarding the topic of nationalism. Not coincidentally, Herzl was advised to invite Sokolov to the first Zionist Congress in 1897, as by then he held the most influential position in the Jewish press of Eastern Europe.
After the turn of the twentieth century the scope of Hebrew literary activity in Warsaw and elsewhere declined significantly. The public increasingly favored popular Yiddish literature. As a result, Hatsfirah ran into financial trouble. The uprising of 1905 elicited tightened press censorship which, together with Hatsfirah’s financial woes, caused the paper to close down. Sokolov accepted an offer to serve as secretary-general of the Zionist Organization in K?ln in 1906, and in 1907 was named editor of Ha’olam, the Hebrew organ of the Zionist movement.
Hatsfirah reopened in 1910, no longer under Sokolov’s editorship, although he continued to be involved with the paper from abroad. He also wrote extensively for other papers in various languages, besides holding distinguished posts in the Zionist movement.
The appearance of a Hebrew daily press in Europe in 1886 represented a revolutionary phase in the modernization of Hebrew journalism, following a 30-year span of Hebrew weeklies ushered in by Hamagid (“The Herald”) in 1856. The emergence of dailies spurred the popularization of the Hebrew press, widening out the traditional elitist Hebrew readership.
As in every revolution, it had its opponents. One was the Hebrew poet and journalist Yehuda Leib Gordon, then managing editor of the main organ of the Hebrew Enlightenment movement in Russia, Hamelitz (“The Advocate”). This weekly actually led the trend to greater publishing frequency, albeit reluctantly. It shifted to a twice-weekly schedule in 1883, and to a daily in 1886 following the appearance that year of a new daily, Hayom (“Today”). A third Hebrew paper, Hatsfirah (“The Dawn”), also shifted to a daily format in 1886. Paradoxically, however, Y. L. Gordon (Yalag) opposed this trend both for reasons of supply (the papers couldn’t maintain the writing pace or the qualitative level, he claimed) and demand.
In a lead article in 1886 titled “Something New Consisting of the Old”, Yalag argued that Hebrew newspapers ought to continue playing the same role as that of Hebrew books, namely, supplying readers with content of lasting value. The pressure of the daily format, he feared, could ultimately sully the Hebrew language and its literature by diminishing it qualitatively. For that reason, even though Hamelitz was pressured to increase its publishing frequency, he pledged that it would remain committed to content directly concerned with Jewish life as its primary focus, with economic and other news playing only a secondary role. In contrast to the approach taken by Hayom, he wrote, Hamelitz would remain a publication for Jews and about Judaism and not merely a general paper in the Jewish language.
Moreover, he contended, publishing news in real time is not an urgent goal. Some things simply do not concern the Jewish audience and they do not have a need to know them. Examples he cited in this context were the appointment by the Pope of cardinals or bishops; accounts of suicide as a result of losses at roulette; backstage goings-on in theaters and circuses; or decisions by farmers’ councils regarding the parceling of fields. Even more serious topics, such as state affairs, are not pressing for the readership of the Hebrew press. It will make no difference to this audience to learn a day later of the drowning of the King of Bavaria, or of the rivalry between leftists and rightists in the elections in Britain. The Jews, after all, do not live political lives and are merely guests in the nations of others.
Nevertheless, competition impelled Yalag to add new columns and even to seek the services of writers who were working for the rival Hayom, which initially gained the upper hand in the competition for readers.
Correspondents’ columns were highly popular as the primary source of information about the Jewish world in the Hebrew press of the latter nineteenth century. This modest weekly press could not allow itself the luxury of using the services of the telegraphic news agencies, and relied on translating “general” news from the non-Jewish press. Jewish news was supplied by the correspondents, who received no pay for their work (the prestige of appearing in print was considered sufficient reward, in view of the high esteem of the printed word in Jewish society). The correspondents even had to bear the postal cost of sending in their pieces. Some correspondents, however, also acted as distributors of the paper, taking a percentage of the subscription rate as payment.
The early Hebrew weeklies – Hamagid (1856-1903, established in Lyk, a Prussian city on the Russian border, edited by Eliezer Lipmann Silbermann), Hamelitz (1860-1904, the first Hebrew journal in Czarist Russia, edited by Alexander Zederbaum), and Hatsifirah (1862-1931, the first Hebrew journal in Poland, edited by Hayim Selig Slonimski) – were organized along the lines of foreign dailies, with correspondents in various cities and countries. They sent in reports from as far away as New York, from closer cities such as Kiev, Danzig and Breslau, and from small villages. Their subject matter ranged from public issues – the local authorities, economics, charitable works, education – to such shocking events as informing to the authorities (a widespread phenomenon), blood libels (even as late as the late nineteenth century), fires, family scandals, fraud, murder and miracles, sometimes reported sequentially with follow-up stories.
Hamagid tended to publish more sober reports on public affairs, including fund-raising efforts for the needy and for Jews in the Holy Land. Considerable space was devoted to rabbinical news. Silbermann, the editor, frequently added his own commentary at the end of exaggerated-sounding “correspondences” to vouch for their accuracy. Hamelitz, by contrast, published numerous items of a personal nature, more typical of the “yellow” papers. Its editor rarely intervened with his own comments, but instead ran readers’ responses to various “correspondences,” most of them sarcastic. This give and take contributed to the dynamic of the “correspondences” column.
The respected status of the correspondents prompted many readers to send in their own reports, generally exaggerated accounts of local scandals. The published material by the correspondents, by contrast, was generally factual and objective, although reports of tragedies or catastrophes – fires, floods, etc. – were often prefaced by the correspondent’s expressions of commiseration.
A series of four pieces by Isaiah Bershadsky (pen name of Isaiah Domashevitsky, 1870-1908) published in Hamelitz during June-August 1889 exemplify the ability of a talented correspondent to use this genre as a platform for social criticism. Two pieces deal with a decision by the Jewish religious leadership of Bialystok to heighten the level of Sabbath observance as a means to end a series of fires that broke out in the city. Written in an ironic style peppered with double entendres that reveal a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, the reports convey the writer’s view of the absurdity of the link between the fires and the observance of the Sabbath, which he describes as a “wonderful invention by the elders of our city.” His depiction of the “invention” in economic terms – “It will not exact a high price either in coin or toil” – underscores his criticism of the hypocrisy of those who observe the commandments in order to be rewarded rather than for its own sake, i.e., to prevent fires rather than reinforce the religious aspect of life. In so doing he attacks the dark religious fanaticism that harnesses a fundamental value in Jewish religion to the needs of fanatics. He refers acerbically to the implementation of the advice of pious leaders by means of “activity of the hands”: not only in posting notices reminding the public to observe the Sabbath, but abusing and physically attacking “Sabbath defilers” who stroll on the Sabbath carrying a handbag or knapsack. Alas, he writes mockingly, the Sabbath defilers continue in their ways as before.
The other two reports written by Bershadsky deal with a salary dispute between the teachers of religious subjects in “modern” heders (Jewish religious schools where some secular subjects were also taught), teachers of Russian who were hired by the schools, and private teachers of Russian. Bershadsky, who supported himself as a Hebrew teacher, revealed an acute awareness of all sides of the dispute: the vulnerability of heder teachers who were unlicensed by the state and who lived in fear of informers; the injustice of underpaying teachers; and the injustice to children of poor families whose parents could not afford to employ private teachers. Ultimately, he appeals to the conscience of all teachers to set a moral example for their pupils, resolve their differences and return to work, urging arbitration within the community rather than bringing the matter before the authorities, who would use the affair to ridicule the Jews. Bershadsky thereby demonstrated exemplary involvement and compassion, while at the same time credibly discharging his role as observer and reporter.
Having honed his Hebrew writing skills as a correspondent, Bershadsky went on to publish two Hebrew novels and two compilations of short stories.
The Jewish juvenile press in Poland until World War Two, as the adult press, was published in three languages: Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish. Yiddish periodicals for children were well entrenched, exemplified by Greeninkeh Baimelekh (“Green Bushes”), published in Vilna from 1914 until the outbreak of World War Two (see Kesher 27, May 2000). The Hebrew juvenile press was more limited, sponsored primarily by the Hebrew “Tarbut” educational network (see Kesher 23, May 1998). Polish, however, gradually became the primary language of the Jewish population during the inter-war years. Most Jewish children attended Polish (rather than Jewish) schools then. Of approximately 500,000 Jewish pupils during this period, over 300,000 attended Polish state schools, while enrollment in the Tarbut and in the C.I.S.A. (Central Organization of Yiddish Schools) schools declined continually.
Jewish publishers, organizations and institutions were aware of the need to reach a larger audience. The inter-war period witnessed the appearance of a press for Jewish children and young people sponsored by a variety of bodies, including political parties, youth movements, welfare organizations, national education networks, individual schools and student clubs. Juvenile supplements were also put out by the adult press.
The Polish-language Maly Przeglad(“Little Journal,” pronounced “maly psheglond”), edited by Janusz Korczak, differed from all these. Although it was a supplement of a Jewish daily, it had no ideological, cultural or other agenda. Moreover, it was written primarily by children even though it was a national, not a local publication.
Korczak, pen name of Henryk Goldszmidt, was a pediatrician, writer, journalist and educator. Born in 1878 in Warsaw to a Jewish family, he took on responsibility for the support of the family at a young age as a result of his father’s illness and at age 18 decided to study medicine. From 1912, and for some 30 years thereafter, he was involved in the management of orphanages in Warsaw – one for Jewish children and the other for Polish children, becoming known as an educator with an intense devotion to children. A pioneer of progressive education in the spirit of Rousseau, he placed the child, rather than the curriculum, at the center of the educational process. The child, he believed, must be an active partner in the decisions made about his education, and consideration must be given to his specific emotional, physical and intellectual needs.
He wrote children’s books alongside articles on education, focusing on children in distress. A radio program he conducted in 1935 for and about children had an audience of both children and adults. With the outbreak of the war in September 1939, he offered encouragement to listeners over the radio and advised children about how to behave.
The education system that he implemented in the orphanages he ran was based on autonomous governance by the children. Coexistence, the acceptance of responsibility, self-dignity and justice were the underlying principles. Korczak himself resided at the Jewish orphanage and cultivated a personal relationship with each child. He attended to their medical needs while training a staff of educator-counselors in his pedagogic approach. During the war, he accompanied his wards to the ghetto and managed to obtain food for them. On August 5, 1942, after the orphanage received a deportation order, he accompanied his wards and his staff to the train that took them to Treblinka, where he died together with many others.
The children’s newspaper played an important role in his educational theory. The children themselves decided what was important enough to be included in it. A weekly newspaper was published in each of his orphanages, in which he or another educator wrote the lead article, while the children wrote all the rest of the content. All the children and the staff would gather each Sabbath morning to read the paper aloud together.
Reaching out beyond these institutions, Korczak founded the “Little Journal” as a weekly supplement to the Polish-language Jewish daily Nasz Przeglad )“Our Journal”( in 1926. The daily, which had a large readership, especially among the Jewish intelligentsia, supported Zionism and opposed assimilation. The children’s weekly appeared each Friday for 13 years, beginning as a two-page supplement and expanding to four pages. Significantly, Korczak focused the paper more on younger children and less on teenagers, explaining that younger children required greater protection and support, as they had fewer options than teenagers to seek assistance and fewer means for self-expression.
Some 5,000 letters were received from children during the first year of the supplement, and 6,500 the second year. No letter was ever thrown away, Korczak explained to his readers characteristically. While for grownups letter-writing was easy – they have paper and envelopes, they write when they please and mail it out – for children, writing a letter is work, and work deserves to be treated with respect.
Not only did Korczak eschew links with any institutional educational ideology, he did not seek out teachers to staff the newspaper lest they inhibit the freedom of expression given to the juvenile contributors. In his newspaper, as elsewhere, Korczak criticized educational institutions sharply, although he was careful to avoid criticizing teachers individually or to belittle their role.
The approximately 200 issues of the “Little Journal” published under Korczak’s editorship provide a rich lode of source material on social, cultural, psychological, educational and national mores of the Jews of Poland during the inter-war period, and especially on the problems they faced. They also illuminate Korczak’s progressive and humanistic approach to education. His attitude to the child was imbued with love and respect in equal measure.
The juvenile press during Israel’s War of Independence (December 1947-March 1949) constituted an accurate reflection of how society deals with a prolonged war forced on it. Five weeklies were surveyed by the author: Davar Leyiladim, Hatsofeh Leyiladim, Mishmar Leyiladim, Haboker Leyiladim and Shai Leyiladim, representing the gamut of political, ideological and cultural thought in Israeli society then. The first four were sponsored by adult dailies of the same first name, and the fifth was sponsored by the daily Yediot Aharonot. Additional research sources were periodicals for teachers and for child caretakers (metaplot).
The primary aim of this press was to involve children in the life of the Israeli society in formation. The editors and writers viewed themselves as carrying out a national mission to nurture the new generation of Hebrew readers in terms of loyalty toward homeland and the Zionist vision. While not ignoring the difficult aspects of the wartime reality, they highlighted the positive and optimistic elements of it through the usual formats of the juvenile press – news and information, stories, poems and games. Broadly, the goals were to mold, educate and teach, and only lastly to entertain.
The age range of the audience was 7-14, constituting a total population of some 50,000. The unavailability of entertainment and play opportunities during this period, the irregularity of school classes, and the overall atmosphere of tension boosted the readership of this press. Both writers and readers perceived it as a component in the war effort and as one of an array of elements that would assure victory over the Arabs and the survival of the state. In this, both writers and readers reflected a broad conviction in Israeli society that the war front was not confined to the border areas or the battlefields; it was in the home and the street and encompassed the entire civilian population. The sense of unity of fate and maximal effort by society to survive together and to realize the vision of Jewish sovereignty in Israel turned the juvenile press into an important vehicle of instruction as to how children could take part fully in this heroic struggle. Recurring motifs expressed by the juvenile readers as well as by the staff were:
The educational content created by the staffs of the magazines highlighted the notion that since the military and the civilian fronts were intertwined, every child was obliged to contribute to the nation to the best of his/her ability. Another element of the adult-created content was its projection of the political point of view of the parent newspaper, whether intentionally or not. Davar Leyiladim, aligned with the Labor constellation, singled out Moshe Shertok (Sharett) of Mapai for special commendation as spokesman for Israel at the UN General Assembly. Mishmar Leyiladim, sponsored by the far-left Mapam Party, used Russian Communist images in its narratives. It also emphasized the defensive nature of the war and pointed out that many Arabs opposed the acts of violence perpetrated in their name. The rightist Haboker Leyiladim accused the British of imitating the Nazis in its attitude to the Jews of the Yishuv. The religious Hatsofeh Leyiladim was unwilling to accept the prospect of borders that excluded large parts of Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem. Overall, however, the juvenile press avoided highlighting domestic differences and focused instead on shared ideals. The seventh anniversary of the formation of the Palmach (the Haganah attack companies) was marked by all the magazines, as were the induction ceremonies for soldiers in the newly created Israel Defense Forces.
Little refuge from the wartime atmosphere was offered to the young readers. The editors filled the magazines with descriptions, information and stories centering on the events of the war and the bravery of the fighters throughout 1948. Indeed, as contributions by the readers demonstrate, the consistent message of obedience, self-discipline and patriotic commitment were well internalized. Reports of children filling sandbags at bomb shelters, sending morale-boosting letters to other children in the war zone, helping clean up stores damaged by bombs, etc., appeared regularly, alongside compositions expressing empathy and admiration for the fighting forces.
The “Arab enemy” was an all-encompassing code for all the Arab states as well as for the Arabs in Eretz Yisrael, all of whom were intent on murder and pillage. In the early months of the war (December 1947 to February 1948), the leftist Davar Leyiladim and Mishmar Leyiladim held out hope for peace both in reports and in readers’ contributions (e.g., a Jewish child’s life is saved by Arabs; local leaders from both sides meet and sign a peace agreement), but this point of view disappeared as fighting intensified. Responsibility for the flight of large numbers of Arabs in Palestine from their homes was apportioned to the Arabs themselves as initiators of the war. In contrast, Jewish residents of outlying areas vulnerable to Arab attack who were evacuated temporarily to safer locations in the center of the country were referred to sympathetically as war refugees. Some of the young readers’ contributions also revealed anxiety about the survival of the Jewish Yishuv, or the attainment of the goal of sovereignty – concerns that were marginalized retrospectively in historical accounts.
Despite the inevitable personal suffering, fear and deprivations of wartime, the educators felt that children should be exposed to the reality around them – a reality that represented a heroic period in which they would one day recall having played a role.
With this biography, Bernd Sösemann has completed the publication of Theodor Wolff’s entire oeuvre (a project he began in 1993), including political editorials, articles on literature and culture, and his diaries of 1914-1919. Sösemann, who heads the Unit for the History of Intercultural Media and Editorial Writing at the Free University of Berlin, has dealt with Wolff devotedly and has produced a comprehensive portrait of him and of the Berliner Tageblatt (“Berlin Daily News”) as the chronicle of an era.
During the course of Wolff’s 26 years as editor in chief of the Berliner Tageblatt, the paper became one of the leading liberal platforms in Germany, reaching a peak circulation of 300,000 during the Weimar period. He was offered the post of editor in chief in 1906, and thereafter became one of the best-known figures in the German press. He opposed German annexation policies during World War One, advocated a policy of Franco-German understanding, and supported the reinforcement of parliament. A vociferous critic of the Bolsheviks after the war, he was an admirer of Friedrich Ebert’s moderate Social Democratic program and assisted in the founding of the German Democratic Party. With the Nazi rise to power, he left for France, where he lived in exile until 1943 when he was captured by Italian soldiers on orders from the Gestapo and returned to Germany. He died of an illness before he could be sent to a concentration camp.
This two-volume work is a compilation of some 80 articles and essays by Professor Nurit Govrin, a leading historian of the Hebrew literature of Eretz Yisrael. In an introduction, she explains that a double perspective – historical and contemporary – must be used in reading the literature of previous generations. It must be read in its historic, social, biographical and poetic contexts. Literature does not emerge in a vacuum, but rather in the time and place of the writer.
A large proportion of Govrin’s work has been devoted to describing the dynamics of Hebrew literary life – its institutions, centers, writers’ links with each other and their relationship to the audience, their platforms, their schools of thought, intergenerational relations, their presence in the public mind, and the acceptance of their work in the short and long terms. The history of Hebrew literature, Govrin writes, is largely the history of its literary journals. This medium “records the changes and tremors in culture and society and is the first to articulate them, acting as a hothouse for the writers of the future.
The daily Herut (“Freedom”) was founded in 1948 at the same time as the establishment of the Herut movement, an outgrowth of the pre-state underground National Military Organization (Etzel). The name of the paper, as of the movement, was taken from the heading of the wall posters put up by Etzel during the Mandate period. Herut’s most prolific writer was the movement’s chairman, Menachem Begin. The present volume, which contains abstracts of 1,436 articles written by him for the newspaper, faithfully reflects his political activity during this period through his ideological pieces, election speeches, debates with the Mapai Party and with David Ben-Gurion in particular, and reminiscences of the underground period.
Historical analysis was one of the newspaper’s, and Begin’s, main themes as part of a campaign to legitimize the underground and the revolt against the British. He systematically nurtured the idea of an alternative to Mapai’s political supremacy, both by legitimizing his movement as that alternative and by delegitimizing the Mapai administration as “totalitarian,” “corrupt” and “protectionist.” His style was provocative both orally and in his writing. Positing his party not only as a political alternative but as a moral one as well, he depicted Mapai rule as endangering civil rights and as ethnically discriminatory.
Writing in the final issue of Herut, on December 31, 1965, Begin re-emphasized the historic role played by the underground, while delegitimizing the Mapai administration for its national failures.
This pioneering book deals with the complex relationships between the little screen and children and teenagers, including the role of TV in the family unit, the development of the ability to differentiate between imagination and reality, children’s moral judgment, TV as evoking fear, the influence of TV on violence, the influences of advertising, gender and sexuality, the perception of the Israeli-Arab conflict and the image of the Arab among Israeli adolescents, globalization and youth culture, school and TV, verbal language and learning from educational TV, and much else.
Making use of textbooks on communications and a wide range of academic research, Lemish demonstrates a broad perspective of the relationships between TV and young people. She also displays an admirably balanced approach in pointing out the inherent weakness of the research literature on all topics relating to violence. The book is organized in a user-friendly format of chapters, sub-chapters and short paragraphs. Separate bibliographies following each study unit will help students and others interested in research in this field to navigate effectively through the mass of research. The text is well illustrated and includes amusing caricatures and comics.