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Jüdische Weisheit


Kesher: Jüdische und Israelische Medien


Mordecai Naor

On February 15, 1948, when the yishuv was fighting for its survival as the end of the British Mandate approached, a dramatic journalistic event momentarily overshadowed the gravity of the country’s military situation: the unannounced appearance of a new daily which, oddly, closely resembled an existing one.

The new paper was titled "yediot" ("News")†- a name well known to the Israeli public, which had been reading "yediot Aharonot" ("Latest News") in large numbers since 1939. Beneath the word "yediot"", however, in tiny print, appeared the word ""Ma'ariv"("Evening"). Confused readers who asked the newsboys what paper they were distributing were told: "yediot", but new. "yediot" "Ma'ariv", which later became, simply, "Ma'ariv", quickly surpassed the circulation of its progenitor, although it did not displace it, as was the intent. By the mid-1970s, "yediot" Aharonot was to pull ahead of its offspring, and from then on resumed its pre-1948 status and became "the no. 1 newspaper of Israel." By the turn of the 21st century, it commanded an unprecedented 70% of the country’s readership. The bitter rivalry between the two papers, however, did not subside until the main players had disappeared from the arena. "yediot" Aharonot itself had been a pioneer in Hebrew journalism in 1939 when it was founded as the first evening paper in the yishuv. Until then, there were three Hebrew morning dailies - "Davar", "Ha’aretz" and "Haboker", each of which also printed late editions in the early afternoon. "yediot" was also distinctive in another way: it was not politically affiliated or sponsored, as were virtually all the other newspapers then. After an uncertain start, it became a going concern in 1940 under the ownership of the Moses family - Yehuda, a prominent Tel Aviv businessman, and his sons Alexander, owner of a printing press, and Noah. Its editor in chief, Ezriel Carlebach, was a highly respected journalist whose editorials attracted wide interest. He co-opted in a group of talented writers, including Shalom Rosenfeld, Shmuel Schnitzer, Dr. David Lazar and David Giladi.

Increasingly, this senior staff was uneasy with work conditions at the paper due to the systematic intervention of the publisher, Yehuda Moses, in editorial matters, especially in the area of economic reportage. Moses would read the proofs of the paper each morning and order deletions and changes based on his personal and commercial interests. The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred when Carlebach was in New York in late November 1947 covering the fateful UN debate over the partition of Palestine. Following several reports which he cabled using the "urgent" rate to rush them to Tel Aviv (a competitive advantage that increased the paper’s circulation significantly), Moses telegraphed him curtly: "Stop cabling urgent." Carlebach regarded this dictate as a gross personal insult and a violation of his journalistic principles.

The incident set into motion a covert plan for a mass exodus of "yediot" Aharonot staff that took place less than three months later on February 15, 1948. It was led by Carlebach and the senior staff cited above, along with a talented outside journalist, Aryeh Dissentchik, who was to join the newly planned paper (he eventually became its editor in chief upon Carlebach’s death). Several dozen other workers were also involved in the "putsch," including reporters, press workers, administrative staff and even the distributors of the paper. An attorney, Yitzhak Berman (later speaker of the Knesset and a government minister) was hired by the rebel group to attend to the legal aspects of the anticipated walkout.

Carlebach and the senior staff made several vain efforts to persuade Moses to change work procedures at the paper so that the staff could do their work properly. These demands were rejected out of hand, and the die was cast.

Not all the rebels were happy with the "putsch" strategy. Several would have preferred a face-to-face confrontation with the publisher and a formal resignation, but the majority were convinced that there was no alternative. On Saturday night, February 14, 1948, an ultimatum written by Carlebach was delivered to Moses demanding that he resign, in return for which the newly organized paper that was about to appear would convey the impression that a reorganization had taken place by mutual consent. Otherwise, there could be no goodwill. That same night, Moses called the rebels’ attorney, Berman, informing him that he rejected the ultimatum and that he was going to set up the next day’s issue of "yediot" Aharonot on his own that very night. Carlebach, upon hearing this response, dismissed it as the raving of momentary madness.

Yet, the next day, when the first issues of "yediot" "Ma'ariv" appeared, an edition of "yediot" Aharonot appeared too. Carlebach and his people were astonished and dismayed at this nearly impossible feat. After all, they had taken away most of the staff, along with office equipment, printing plates, editorial content, and even the ongoing serialized novel! Not a word appeared in "yediot" Aharonot about the breakaway. The only noticeable change that day was the removal of Carlebach’s name from the masthead. "yediot" "Ma'ariv", for its part, introduced itself in a manifesto under the curiously minimalist heading: "A New Format," which appeared on the back page. New American printing machinery, the column explained, made possible the production of an expanded (four sheets, as compared to "yediot" Aharonot’s two) and improved evening paper. A change of ownership, the article continued, was necessary to implement this change. Moreover, the new paper promised, it would be non-dependent, whether on its backers or on any political body.

Yehuda Moses, having managed to continue putting out his paper against all odds, promptly applied to the Tel Aviv District Court for a temporary restraining order against any newspaper named "yediot" or "yediot" "Ma'ariv", which was granted. Carlebach, however, succeeded in having the order rescinded until the case was heard in court, on condition that the title word "yediot" be printed no larger than a third of the size of the word "Ma'ariv". With this, the judge ruled, there can be no monopoly over the use of the word "yediot". The case, heard on February 18-19, 1948, ended with the following verdict: No one has the right to violate someone else’s property, including a newspaper or its title. While the word "yediot" is not the property of the publisher, nevertheless, the publishers of the new paper misled the public by failing to announce that the paper was a new newspaper, by highlighting the word "yediot" and obscuring the word "Ma'ariv", by the similarity or replication of several columns of the old paper in the new paper, and by causing a disruption in the distribution of the old paper as a result of the disappearance of its distributor. The publisher of the new paper was ordered to print the title "yediot" "Ma'ariv" in letters of equal size, or, in any case, the word "yediot" could be no larger than the word "Ma'ariv".

Both papers lauded the verdict the following day, each highlighting the aspect favorable to it. Ultimately, both sides were found to be justified: Moses, who paid the piper, was entitled to call the tune; Carlebach and his colleagues, who considered themselves unjustly restrained, were entitled to quit the old paper which employed them and start a new one. While the fortunes of each paper rose and fell following the startling "putsch" of 1948, undeniably, both "Ma'ariv" and "yediot" Aharonot played a decisive role in molding the Israeli media.


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