Israeli Television

A history of a nation through the small screen.

By

Jordanians began to enjoy television broadcasts in 1956, and Egyptians in 1960. But the first public TV broadcast in Israel was not until 1968. This relatively late introduction speaks to a certain sense of mamlachitut, statism, famously propagated by David Ben Gurion, in which the state sets the tone for the country’s ideology, politics, and culture.  

Building a Nation

Early Zionist settlers used the written word for purposes of nation building, emphasizing the centrality of Hebrew as a living language with important newspapers such as Davar and Haaretz. They also used radio for identity-building and information-sharing, with the goal of efficiently creating a common national narrative via relatively affordable technology. While leaders of other countries favored television for these same reasons, Israeli politicians at the state’s founding saw television as hedonistic and bourgeois; a connection to an unattainable Western standard of living, as well as a link to the Arab world–a dangerous connection for both the state’s Arab citizens and the hundreds of thousands of Mizrahi Jewish immigrants who had been raised on such programming.  old TV

Furthermore, these leaders believed that inexpensive and readily available foreign language television programming could threaten the already fragile dominance of the Hebrew language. Television, from the perspective of Israel’s early leadership, could have no role in creating the New Israeli Jew.

But most Israeli citizens did not share these concerns; instead, they clamored for TV. In response to this pressure, in 1966, Israeli Educational Television (IETV), a government-owned enterprise, began to experiment with strictly educational broadcasts for schools. Two years later, the Israeli Broadcast Authority (IBA) launched the first programming aimed at the general public. From 1968 to 1986, IETV and IBA shared the single Israeli TV channel. 

The One-Channel Years

In its early years, the IBA, under government supervision, played an important role in creating a shared Israeli culture, especially for new immigrants. The most important local program was Mabat LaHadashot (”A Look at the News,” 1968-present), a primetime review of the day’s events. During the one-channel era of Israeli television, the show was so popular that it was considered improper to place telephone calls during its broadcast.

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Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Shayna Weiss is a graduate of the Drisha Beit Midrash Program and is now a PhD candidate in the Israel Studies program at New York University. With a focus on gender and religion in contemporary Israeli society, she is particularly interested in religion in Israeli media and the culture of gender segregated beaches.

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