Western observers have considered the Israeli press for the most
part to be highly independent and a reliable source of information.
The press has reflected accurately the range of political opinions
in the country and played a leading role in investigating and
uncovering many scandals involving official corruption and mismanagement.
It has also covered developments in the West Bank and the Gaza
Strip. In addition to providing news and information, Israel's
press, television and radio, in effect constituted an "extra-parliamentary
opposition," according to William Frankel, a British Jewish journalist
who is an authority on Israel. The influence of the press is considerable;
1988 estimates are that on a daily basis more than 75 percent
of all adult Israelis read one daily newspaper and that about
11 percent read two or more.
As of 1988, most daily newspapers were published in Hebrew; because
Israel is a nation of immigrants, others appeared in Arabic, English,
Yiddish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, French, and German, with
weeklies adding more languages to the list. Many of the country's
daily newspapers, particularly the English-language Jerusalem
Post and those printed in Hebrew, were founded by Zionist
political parties during the prestate period, and they have continued
to be politically affiliated with such parties. Since independence,
however, the "party newspaper" has declined as political alignments
have changed. For example, the consolidation of Israel's Socialist
parties led to the demise of some papers affiliated with the former
parties. In addition, the management and editorial direction of
some papers, such as the Jerusalem Post (circulation
of 30,000 on weekdays, 47,000 on weekends), has become increasingly
independent, production costs have risen, and party supporters
have turned to rapidly growing independent dailies. Such papers
have included Ma'ariv (Afternoon -- circulation of 147,000
on weekdays, 245,000 on weekends), Yediot Aharonot (Latest
News--circulation of 180,000 on weekdays, 280,000 on weekends),
Hadashot (News), which was founded in 1984, and the influential
Ha'aretz (The Land--circulation of 55,000 on weekdays,
75,000 or weekends), an independent morning daily. Israel's two
leading and politically liberal dailies have been Davar
(News--circulation of 39,000), the official organ of the Histadrut,
and Al Hamishmar (The Watchman-- circulation of 25,000),
published by Mapam.
In 1953 the Editors' Committee, whose prestate name was the Redaction
Committee, was officially registered as an independent association
serving as a channel between the government and the press, and
as a "voluntary partner" in carrying out the military censorship
code--an arrangement that involved the exchange of confidential
information with the general staff of the IDF. This arrangement
functioned relatively smoothly as long as there was consensus
over national security issues; relations between the press and
the IDF became more strained, however, following the 1982 invasion
of Lebanon. Another organization concerned with media oversight,
the Israel Press Council, came into being in 1963. The press council
is a professional association responsible, among other matters,
for administering the code of ethics binding journalists.
The Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), established in 1965
and modeled after the British Broadcasting Corporation, controlled
the country's radio and television networks. It was subject to
the general supervision of the Ministry of Education and Culture.
The IBA, however, operated autonomously under a self-governing
board of directors whose discretion over content and presentation,
with the exception of a stormy period during Begin's prime ministership,
was rarely limited. The two leading radio stations were the IBA
and Galei Tzahal (Voice of the IDF), the highly popular IDF broadcasting
station. In 1968 Israeli television began broadcasting in both
Hebrew and Arabic.
According to two polls conducted in 1988 by Public Opinion Research
of Israel, a plurality of Jewish Israelis (42 percent) considered
television news programs as their "best source" of international
news, followed by newspapers (27 percent) and radio (25 percent).
Only 3 percent of Israelis relied on magazines to keep them informed.
These figures revealed a dramatic shift from 1986 figures that
indicated reliance on newspapers as the best source for news coverage
(46 percent), followed by magazines (26 percent), and television
(19 percent). The poll attributed the sharp increase in reliance
on the broadcast media to the strong visual impact of the Palestinian
uprising on Israeli society.
As of 1988, Israeli Arabic language daily newspapers were led
by the Jerusalem-based Al Anba (The News), with a circulation
of about 10,000. Rakah also published an Arabic paper, Al
Ittihad (Unity). An increasing number of Israeli Arabs also
read Hebrew dailies. Al Quds (Jerusalem), founded in
1968 for Arabs in Jerusalem and the West Bank, resulted from the
merger of two veteran Palestinian dailies founded on the West
Bank following Jordan's annexation of the territory in 1950. By
1988 the paper had largely transferred its operations to Amman.
In the early 1970s, additional Palestinian papers appeared, including
Al Fajr al Jadid (The New Dawn), with a circulation of
about 3,000 to 5,000, and Ash Shaab (The People), with
2,000 to 3,000 readers. Weekly and monthly magazines and periodicals
published in Arabic include the literary monthly Al Jadid
(The New); At Taawun (Cooperation), published by the
Histadrut Arab Workers' Department; and the Mapam party's Arab
organ Al Mirsad (The Lookout). Israeli Arab and Palestinian
newspapers have relied on Israeli and international sources for
their reports on Israeli government decisions and actions concerning
Israel's Arab community and Palestinian communities on the West
Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli Arab press has faced the same censorship constraints
as have Jewish newspapers, namely, the Press Ordinance of 1933.
This regulation was first enacted by the British mandatory authority.
In 1948 it was adopted by Israel and administered by the Ministry
of Interior to license, supervise, and regulate the press. The
IDF had responsibility for administering censorship regulations,
and, under an agreement with the Editors' Committee, most Hebrew-language
newspapers could exercise self-censorship, with the censor receiving
only articles dealing with national security matters. This arrangement,
however, did not cover Palestinian publications in the West Bank
and the Gaza Strip, whose editors were required to submit items
for publication to the military administration on a nightly basis.
Failure to abide by these regulations has resulted in warnings
and newspaper shutdowns. As a result of these regulations, many
West Bank newspapers have preferred to publish in Jerusalem, which
has less rigid civilian legislation and courts. In late 1988,
Israeli authorities, suspecting Palestinian journalists of involvement
in the intifadah, censored and shut down many Palestinian
newspapers and magazines in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and
arrested Arab journalists, including several members of the board
of the Arab Journalists' Association.
* * *
The literature on the Israeli political system is extensive.
Useful bibliographies and bibliographical essays on Israel include
Gregory S. Mahler's Bibliography of Israeli Politics;
Joshua Sinai's "A Bibliographic Review of the Modern History of
Israel;" and Books on Israel: Vol. I, edited by Ian S.
Comprehensive studies on Israeli government and politics include
Yonathan Shapiro's HaDemokrakia Be Yisrael; Asher Arian's
Politics in Israel: The Second Generation; Michael Wolffsohn's
Israel, Polity, Society, and Economy, 1882-1986; Bernard
Reich's, Israel: Land of Tradition and Conflict; Howard
M. Sachar's two-volume A History of Israel; William Frankel's
Israel Observed: An Anatomy of the State; Bernard Avishai's
The Tragedy of Zionism: Revolution and Democracy in the Land
of Israel; and Mitchell Cohen's Zion and State: Nation,
Class, and the Shaping of Modern Israel.
Aspects of Israeli government and politics are covered in a series
of volumes on the Knesset elections of 1969, 1973, 1977, and 1981,
edited by Asher Arian; Israel at the Polls, 1981: A Study
of the Knesset Elections, edited by Howard Penniman and Daniel
J. Elazar; The Roots of Begin's Success: The 1981 Israeli
Elections, edited by Dan Caspi, et al; Israel in the
Begin Era, edited by Robert O. Freedman; Nathan Yanai's Party
Leadership in Israel: Maintenance and Change; Samuel Sager's
The Parliamentary System of Israel; Local Government
in Israel, edited by Daniel Elazar and Chaim Kalchheim; and
Yoram Peri's Between Battles and Ballots: Israeli Military
in Politics. Two leading books on the Labor Party are Peter
Y. Medding's Mapai in Israel: Political Organisation and Government
in a New Society and Myron J. Aronoff's Power and Ritual
in the Israel Labor Party. The religious parties are covered
in S. Zalman Abramov's Perpetual Dilemma: Jewish Religion
in the Jewish State; Norman L. Zucker's The Coming Crisis
in Israel: Private Faith and Public Policy; Gary S. Schiff's
Tradition and Politics: The Religious Parties of Israel;
and Ian S. Lustick's For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism
Foreign relations are discussed in Michael Brecher's The
Foreign Policy System of Israel, Decisions in Israel's
Foreign Policy, and Decisions in Crisis: Israel, 1967
and 1973; Bernard Reich's Quest for Peace: United States-Israel
Relations and the Arab-Israeli Conflict and The United
States and Israel: The Dynamics of Influence; Shlomo Aronson's
Conflict and Bargaining in the Middle East: An Israeli Perspective;
Gideon Rafael's Destination Peace: Three Decades of Israeli
Foreign Policy; Dynamics of Dependence: U.S.-Israeli
Relations, edited by Gabriel Sheffer; and Aaron S. Klieman's
Statecraft in the Dark: Israel's Practice of Quiet Diplomacy.
The Arab-Israeli peace process is discussed in William B. Quandt's
Camp David: Peacemaking and Politics and Harold H. Saunders's
The Other Walls: The Politics of the Arab-Israeli Peace Process.
Finally, materials on various peace proposals include the Brookings
Institution's report Toward Arab-Israeli Peace. (For
further information and complete citations, see
Data as of December 1988