Jerusalem, the cradle of the Israeli media
The first newspapers in the country were published in Jerusalem, pioneered in 1863 by Halevanon.
THE PALESTINE POST Photo: JERUSALEM POST archives
If Tel Aviv is the media capital of Israel, Jerusalem is the media
The first newspapers in the country were published in Jerusalem,
pioneered in 1863 by Halevanon, which was published by the famous Yoel Moshe
Solomon, among the founders of Jerusalem’s first Jewish neighborhood built
outside the walls of the old city.
Halevanon was followed a half a year
later by Hahavatzelet published by Rabbi Israel Beck, who had been a printer in
Safed and had moved to Jerusalem to counter the work of missionaries. The papers
were both weeklies, with the former directed towards the interests of the
non-hassidic community, and the latter serving as the voice of the hassidim.
Rivalry was fierce and both publishers kept informing the Turks on each other,
until finally both were shut down by the Ottoman authorities.
daily paper to surface in Jerusalem was Hazvi, initially a weekly publication
which first appeared on October 24, 1884. Over time it developed into a daily
with a circulation that reached its apex in 1909 with 1,200 copies, nearly half
of which were distributed in Jerusalem.
Hazvi was edited by Eliezer
Ben-Yehuda, who is credited with reviving Hebrew as a spoken language. It was
the first of several newspapers that he edited. When his son, Itamar Ben-Avi,
joined the paper, he revolutionized it by introducing a different style of
writing, more sensationalist headlines and news – as distinct from literature –
with the aim of appealing to a wider range of readers.
was a much more secular publication than its predecessors, in addition to which
it was a perfect vehicle for the introduction, by Ben-Yehuda of new words into
the contemporary Hebrew lexicon.
The paper went through several name
changes. From 1902 to 1908 it appeared as HaHashkafa, after which it reverted to
Hazvi and then in 1910 became HaOr.
During World War I it was outlawed by
the Ottoman authorities who were exceedingly angered by editorials calling for a
The oldest surviving daily newspaper in Israel today is
Haaretz which, though now published in Tel Aviv, was founded in Jerusalem in
1919 as Hadashot Haaretz.
The second oldest daily is The Jerusalem Post,
founded on December 1, 1932, as The Palestine Post by Gershon Agron, who later
became mayor of Jerusalem.
Even then, it was fashionable for journalists
to dabble in politics, and it should not be forgotten that Theodor Herzl,
founder of the Zionist Movement, was a journalist, and it was when he covered
the outrageously anti-Semitic Dreyfus trial that he came to the conclusion that
the true destiny of the Jewish people lay in the return to their ancient
It was this realization that swept Herzl along the path of
The Palestine Post became The Jerusalem Post in 1950,
after the establishment of the state, and what is remarkable is that it has not
only outlived subsequent Hebrew publications that have faded into the dust of
history, but has expanded at a time when print media is on the decline. The only
other daily that preceded The Jerusalem Post was the now defunct Histadrut organ
Davar which operated from 1925 to 1996.
It is interesting to note that
although the print media is saturated with female writers and section editors,
The Jerusalem Post and Davar were the only daily papers whose owners and
publishers saw nothing amiss with having a woman as chief editor.
Ben-Dor was the first – and so far the only – female editor-in-chief of The
Jerusalem Post and Hannah Zemer was the only female editor-in-chief of
Although Ben-Dor had been a journalist for many years, her reign
as editor-in-chief was very brief – just over one year.
she died at 68, she left a strong impression on those who had known her and
worked with her.
In his obituary for Ben-Dor in mid- March, 1981, David
Landau – then the political reporter and news editor for The Jerusalem Post,
while simultaneously serving as Bureau Chief for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
and who later became the editor in chief of Haaretz – wrote: “Lea Ben-Dor, a
former editor of The Jerusalem Post whose relatively hawkish views and acerbic
commentary on events in the Knesset were widely respected, though not always
shared by her colleagues, died here last week at the age of 68. She was buried
Friday. Her funeral was attended by Mayor Teddy Kollek, government officials,
Supreme Court justices and leading members of Israel’s journalistic
“In eulogizing Mrs. Ben-Dor, Kollek paid tribute to her
talents as a journalist, political commentator and a patriot, recalling her
various services to the state. She was associated with Israel’s secret service
during the early years of statehood and at one point took a three-year leave of
absence from the Post to work in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Ben-Dor was the daughter of George Halpern, a prominent Zionist from Germany who
was one of the founders of Bank Leumi and the Migdal Minyan Insurance Co. She
often recounted to friends her memories of visits to her father’s home by Chaim
Weizmann – the first president of Israel – and other Zionist
“She was educated at Roedean, a prestigious girls school in
England, and at Cambridge and London universities. She joined The Palestine Post
– as the newspaper was known before 1948 – in the middle 1930s and took leave
during World War II to serve with the British Army in Egypt.
1950s and 1960s her influence was strongly felt at the Post. She and then-editor
Ted Lurie were strongly pro-Ben-Gurion and saw to it that the views of Israel’s
first premier shaped the “line” of the paper. Her often sharply-worded column on
doings in parliament became an institution on Israel’s political
“Mrs. Ben Dor remained a hawk and a staunch admirer of former
defense minister Moshe Dayan after the Yom Kippur War when many of her Post
colleagues held different outlooks. The clash of views became serious when Mrs.
Ben-Dor assumed editorship of the Post after Lurie died in 1974.
chronic asthma and impatience with administrative duties, rather than political
differences, cut short her tenure on the newspaper. She retired after less than
two years, but remained a member of the Post’s Board of
Curiously, Hannah Zemer, the long-time editor of Davar, and
the first woman to be editor of a newspaper in Israel, also died in March – but
22 years later, in 2003, at age 78 – having survived by seven years the
newspaper she used to run.
Zemer was editor of Davar from 1970- 1990,
having previously filled other positions at the paper.
survivor, Zemer was born in 1925 in Bratislava, Slovakia, to an Orthodox family
in which Jewish values existed in harmony with Western culture, though the
school at which she studied was a Beit Yaacov seminary.
When she first
came to Israel in 1950, Zemer worked briefly as a teacher in the ultra-Orthodox
education system. She later joined the IDF and, following her discharge, began
working as a journalist on a publication called Omer, which was an easy to read
version of Davar published for new immigrants who found difficulty reading
Hebrew without under-vowels.
Zemer’s talents for observation and analysis
were soon recognized and she was transferred to Davar and assigned to cover the
Knesset and diplomatic affairs.
Although Davar was headquartered in Tel
Aviv, Zemer’s work entailed spending a lot of time in Jerusalem. She was
subsequently given other responsibilities, and in 1966 was appointed deputy
editor, a position she held until her promotion to editor-inchief in
In this position Zemer became an even closer associate of Israel’s
key political figures than she had previously been, and wielded quite a lot of
She had already made history by becoming the first woman
editor of a daily paper in Israel, and she did so again by appointing the first
woman military correspondent.
Tali Lipkin-Shahak, who had previously
covered fashion, writing, inter alia, about tank tops, was suddenly writing
about tanks and military skirmishes. It was somehow fitting that she should get
the job, because her father Azaria Rapoport was Israel’s first accredited
Lipkin-Shahak’s brother, Hanani Rapoport, is the
CEO of Jerusalem Capital Studios which, among numerous other services, provides
around-theclock news and production facilities to representatives of foreign
news outlets stationed in, or visiting, Israel.
As for Zemer, even after
she retired from Davar, she was unable to relinquish journalism and worked as a
mediastudies lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, where she also taught
Public broadcasting in this country also had its genesis in
The Palestine Broadcasting Service, now known as Kol Israel or
The Voice of Israel, was established by the British Mandate authorities and
broadcast out of Jerusalem from March, 1936. Its programs were in Arabic, Hebrew
and English, and the Hebrew service was known as Kol Yerushalayim or The Voice
Of course under the Mandate, programs were heavily censored
to ensure that political messages were not conveyed, but despite the censorship,
the radio played an important role in fostering the revival of the Hebrew
language and in promoting national identity.
While the prophets of doom
are predicting the demise of the print media, just as they predicted the demise
of radio and television, all three are still in existence, despite the
ever-increasing competition from social media.
In the print media in
Israel there are daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual publications for
adults, youth and children in Hebrew, English, Arabic, Russian, French, Yiddish,
Spanish, Romanian, Hungarian, and Italian and possibly other languages as well.
There are so many that it is difficult to keep tabs on all of them.
print media may shrink in Israel, but it will never disappear, due to the ratio
of religiously observant Jews in the population.
Unless some genius
figures out a way of using electronic gadgets without violating the Shabbat,
weekend reading for this sector of society will continue to be books, newspapers
While it is unfortunately true that most Hebrew papers are
printing fewer pages than they did before, The Jerusalem Post – which for the
past eight years has been under the ownership of Mirkaei Tikshoret Ltd., headed
by Eli Azur – has added pages over the years and is not skimping on pages now.
It continues to provide a broad range of news, features and opinion pieces for
The paper has come a very long way since the days of Gershon
Agron. It has been led by 12 successive editors, with Jeff Barak holding the
position twice – first from 1996 to 1999 and then again from 2000 to
Some of the editors rose through the ranks, and some came from
outside. They came from different countries of origin and at different times in
their lives. Some were extraordinarily young to take on such responsibilities.
Others were in the twilight of their careers, and most were somewhere
Agron’s successors were: Ted Lurie (1955- 1975), Lea Ben-Dor
(1974-1975), Ari Rath and Erwin Frenkel (1975-1989), N. David Gross (1990-1992),
David Bar-Illan (1992- 1996), David Makovsky (1999-2000), Carl Schrag (2000),
Bret Stephens (2002-2004), and David Horovitz (2004-2011). Current
Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde was appointed in July 2011.
Born in the
Ukraine, Gershon Agron – who shortened his name from Agronsky – grew up in
Philadelphia, fought with the Jewish Legion in Palestine during World War I, and
later worked for two years with the Press Office of the Zionist
He then spent two years as editor of The Jewish Telegraphic
Agency (JTA), as well as writing for a number of other international press
agencies, before settling in Palestine in 1924.
An ardent Zionist, Agron
was closely involved with the leadership of the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish
population) and served the interests of the World Zionist
Part of his reason for founding The Palestine Post was to
provide a platform for Zionist aspirations. Concurrent with his editorship of
the paper, Agron continued with his service to the World Zionist Organization,
and was also a member of the Jewish Agency delegation to the United Nations
conference in San Francisco.
From 1949-1951, Agron headed the Government
Information Service while still maintaining his role of editor-in-chief of The
Jerusalem Post, and it was only after Agron was elected mayor of Jerusalem in
1955 that Ted Lurie took over the editing of the paper. Agron died in office in
David Bar-Illan, who was born in Haifa in 1930, was the only Sabra
editor of the paper. An internationally acclaimed pianist, author and columnist
who spent many years in the US before returning to Israel, Bar-Illan also left
the world of media for politics, and became the director of Communications and
Policy Planning as well as one of Israel’s key spokespeople during Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s first term in office.