Media Professions: Yishuv to Present-Day Israel
For a period of over one hundred years beginning in the early 1860s, journalism in Palestine was a masculine fortress, penetrated by only a handful of women. Of those who succeeded in making their way in journalism, only a small number attained senior positions in the media industry. However, by the close of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, a completely different picture emerged: engagement in the media is no longer a male bastion and the media have become undifferentiated in terms of gender. Today, no single sex enjoys relative prominence in media occupations. Furthermore, a comprehensive perspective clearly indicates a trend of feminization of media occupations, the continuation of which will create a majority of women in these occupations by the end of the first quarter of the twenty-first century.
The crown of accomplishments of all women pioneers in Israeli media should be awarded to Hemdah Ben-Yehuda, described by some as the first Jewish woman journalist in Palestine. Although she helped her husband, the father of the modern Hebrew language, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858–1922), in editing his newspapers, Ha-Or (The Light), Ha-Zevi (The Deer), and Hashkafah (Outlook), which he published between 1884 and 1915, she failed to receive adequate credit for her work. She also initiated a modest column on women’s affairs and fashion in Ha-Zevi.
Among other pioneers in women’s journalism at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, three women were prominent and noteworthy. Devorah Baron began her literary career in Ha-Meliz (The Advocate), the first Hebrew newspaper in Russia, and was also the editor of a literary column in the Ha-Po’el ha-Za’ir (The Young Worker), first published in 1907 in Jaffa-Tel Aviv; Nehamah Pukhachewsky published her first article in Ha-Meliz, in Odessa. After her marriage and immigration to Israel in 1889 she continued to write for Jewish newspapers in Europe and in Israel. Rahel Yana’it Ben-Zvi acted as editor for Ha-Ahdut (The Unity), the official journal of the Po’alei Zion party, first published in 1910. In addition to these three, there was Hava Hirschensohn (1861–1932), who in 1889–1893 assisted her husband Hayyim (1857–1935) and his brother Rabbi Isaac Hirschensohn (1845–1896) in publishing Beit Ya’akov, a bi-weekly in the Yiddish language, as a supplement to Ben-Yehuda’s Ha-Zevi.
Publications in Palestine ceased almost completely during World War I and even when activities were renewed following the British conquest of Palestine in 1917, women were not a significant presence in journalism. Although the publication of a women’s monthly, Ha-Ishah (The Woman), edited by Hannah Helena THon, was attempted in 1926 by the Union of Hebrew Women for Equal Rights in Erez Israel and the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization, it folded in 1929. The most prominent female persona in journalism in the 1930s was Rahel Katznelson (later Shazar), the first woman editor of the Devar ha-Po’elet monthly, first published in 1934. The magazine, which changed its name to Na’amat in the 1970s, continued to appear for more than sixty years.
After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 journalism remained a primarily male stronghold. As late as the 1960s there were no more than thirty female members of the Journalists’ Association, constituting seven percent of all journalists. The first indications of a rise in the number of women employed in the media appeared in the late 1960s, when several women were even found to hold key positions.
A significant rise in women’s presence in the media became evident in the 1980s. Although only sixteen of the members of the National Union of Journalists were women in 1980, the proportion doubled within a single decade. This trend continued gradually over the 1990s, so that by early 2002 women constituted 37.5 percent of all members in the Journalists’ Association (see Table 1). Discounting members who have retired, among whom men constitute a larger percentage than women, women comprise more than forty percent of all active Association members.
These figures provide only a partial picture of the feminization of the media in Israel, since many journalists are not members of the Association. It is indeed possible to argue that these figures may be skewed in favor of women, in that they may reflect the greater tendency of women to seek the protection of a professional labor union and their preference to work under its auspices. However, a careful analysis of women’s presence in the media reveals that, if there is any inaccuracy, these figures in fact represent data skewed in favor of men. Examining women’s presence in the media by various factors (see Table 2) indicates that in 2002 women comprised almost one half of all individuals engaged in any specific area of the media, i.e. a situation of occupational gender equality has finally emerged. In sociological terms, the media have become undistinguished in terms of gender. Women’s presence is especially prominent in magazines (71.1 percent), local newspapers (45.7 percent), the Israel Broadcasting Authority (46.2 percent) and in the news departments of both national television channels (47.2 percent).
Women’s presence is also especially evident in communication studies programs, which developed in universities and colleges in the last decade of the twentieth century, and also in schools of journalism and mass communications. Women constitute over two-thirds of the students in these programs (68.4 percent in 2002), although they constitute no more than sixty percent of the general student population. While these programs are not the only hotbeds which cultivate future journalists, the high proportion of women among their students indicates the occupational preferences of women and men in the Israeli market, as well as future occupational trends in the media.
The roots of the feminization process which characterizes the Israeli media in the twenty-first century can be identified in four inter-related areas: society, the media, the economy and technology.
I. The Social Level. The high proportion of women in the media is at least partially a reflection of a broader social process of women’s entry into the Israel labor market. In fact, the proportion of women occupied in the media in the early twenty-first century corresponds to women’s presence in the general labor force (45.2 percent in 1999). Data on women’s employment indicate a consistent upward trend, including an increase of almost ten percent between 1975 and 1995. As early as the 1980s researchers pointed to the fact that certain occupations formerly considered as typically masculine—including pharmacology, bookkeeping and chemical technicians—were gradually being transformed into occupations dominated by women. Women’s growing inroads into the Israel labor market were also affected by a series of additional factors: the secularization of Israeli society, which encouraged women’s employment outside the home; the changing status of the family and the increase in single-parent families; large waves of immigrants from Former Soviet Union (FSU) countries who introduced Soviet bloc lifestyle patterns, including support for the full-time employment of women. To these were added the spirit of feminism which had an impact on Israeli society from the 1970s onward and encouraged women to join the work force and actively engage in the effort to attain jobs which were formerly held exclusively by men.
II. The Media, or Structural Changes in the Media Industry. Beginning in the 1980s, the map of the Israel media industry underwent a significant transformation. Israel’s public broadcasting media—the single television channel which began to broadcast in 1968 and the country’s two national radio channels (Kol Israel and Gallei Zahal, which began broadcasting in 1948 and 1951, respectively)—were joined by two commercial television channels, several commercial local radio stations and a number of cable and satellite television stations. Although the number of daily newspapers declined over this period, the media map was enriched by hundreds of local newspapers and magazines, most of which targeted specific populations segmented either by ethnicity (such as the Haredi, Russian and Arab sectors) or social attributes (including the gay press). The proliferation of hundreds of new media channels, albeit peripheral and limited in size, led to changes in the traditional patterns of labor recruitment in the media. Consequently, the media’s ranks opened to accept women.
III. The Economy. Two economic aspects had an impact on the feminization of the media in Israel. As the press and electronic media expanded their operations and required more employees, salaries increased their weight in total production expenses, leading to a tendency to seek and hire less expensive labor. Various studies, which indicate that women earn less than men in identical or similar positions, are supported by cumulative anecdotal evidence, which highlights a similar situation in the media industry. Women’s willingness to work for lower pay—whether they do so in order to gain a foothold in the industry, hoping for future promotion, or whether married women fail to perceive themselves as primary breadwinners—has only served to foster this discriminatory practice by employers. Notably, this holds true for all professions and sectors in the Israel economy and is not limited to the media.
The second economic aspect is related to the transformation in the contents of the media in general and the print press in particular. The accelerated development of electronic media, expanded television and radio broadcasts and the emergence of on-line journalism continuously detracted from the status of the print press as the primary source of “hard news.” Like newspapers in other western countries coping with a comparable situation, the Israeli press allocated a growing share of its products to “soft news,” primarily through new supplements and special features (especially those targeting women or focusing on topics conventionally conceived as “women’s issues”). Soft news also received more space in the front pages of newspapers. The new content settings, which emerged as a result of economic considerations of readership and ratings, accepted women into their ranks with open arms, especially since “soft news” was traditionally perceived as appropriate for women’s employment. Furthermore, the new content formats also offered women relatively convenient terms of employment, since the work hours of these supplements, magazines and local week-end papers required less rigidity than working in what was until recently the “hard core” of newspapers, i.e., “hard news” emerging from newsrooms.
IV. Technology. Accelerated technological developments in the last two decades, headed by the personal computer, cell phone, fax machine and pagers, facilitated women’s efforts to fill a dual role, combining a career outside the home with the traditional role of motherhood. News technologies eliminated the need for women (or men) to spend long hours at newspaper headquarters, either to submit articles or receive updates and mail: They were able to fulfill their professional duties effectively from home, while simultaneously fulfilling their role at home. Technological developments also eliminated many media-related occupations which had been perceived as typically masculine, especially since they involved physical labor (particularly in the printing industry), thus obliterating the historical boundaries between formerly gender-based role types, to create new semi-journalistic computer-based occupations (such as design and graphics). The growing role of visual design in the media, resulting from economic considerations and an effort to gain market share, opened the door to an explosion of women employees. Emerging technologies further impacted on the process: technology reduced both the size and cost of equipment required to publish printed or broadcast journalism. Small-scale entrepreneurs, who published small inexpensively produced and designed newspapers and magazines, tended to seek inexpensive labor. They frequently recruited women into their ranks.
The feminization of the media was not an exclusively Israeli phenomenon. At least to some degree, the process reflected a global trend in increasing rates of women employed by the media. An international comparison based on data collected at the end of the twentieth century indicated that Israel was one of the leading countries in women’s employment in the media. Although Finland, New Zealand and Australia had a higher proportion of women media employees, Israeli figures exceeded those of other western countries, including the USA, UK and France.
Women’s press emerged in the early twentieth century and developed along two separate paths: features on women’s issues, which appeared irregularly in the commercial press, and ideological journals targeting women. Commercial magazines targeting women made their first appearance only later, in the 1940s.
In 1904, the first column targeting women by focusing on fashion appeared in Ben-Yehuda’s newspaper Ha-Hashkafah. His wife Hemdah Ben-Yehuda edited the column. The daily Do’ar ha-Yom published its own regular women’s column beginning in 1935 (the paper ceased publication in 1936) and a similar column appeared in the daily Ha’aretz a few years later. Several other daily newspapers followed their example.
The first ideological journal of the women’s movement, Ha-Ishah (The Woman), subtitled “On the life and interests of women in Israel” was published between 1926 and 1929 by the Union of Hebrew Women for Equal Rights in Erez Israel and the Hadassah Women’s Zionist Organization. In 1934 the Mo’etzet ha-Po’alot published the monthly Devar ha-Po’elet, which was to become the most important ideological journal in Israel. From 1934 it appeared as a supplement to the daily Davar and in 1967 became an independent monthly, changing its name to Na’amat. All in all, the journal appeared uninterrupted for more than sixty years. In 1961 Dapei Pe’ula (Action Pages) first appeared, published by Emunah, the Israel National Religious Women’s Movement. Noga, Israel’s first (and so far only) feminist journal, began publication in 1980.
The first commercial newspaper targeting women, Olam ha-Ishah (Woman’s World), appeared as a bi-monthly magazine for eight years, beginning in 1940. The magazine’s first editor, a man, published features under a range of ambiguously-gendered pseudonyms such as Marcel/Marcelle and readers were unsure whether the writer was a man or a woman.
The weekly La-Ishah (For Woman), first published in 1947 and owned by the daily newspaper Yedi’ot Aharonot, rapidly became Israel’s most popular weekly magazine, a position it continued to hold for more than fifty years after its first appearance. The bi-monthly At (You), owned by the daily newspaper Ma’ariv, has appeared since 1967.
Other attempts to publish commercial women’s magazines in Israel include Hava (Eve, Israel’s first weekly magazine devoted to fashion, first published in 1955); the weeklies Hee (She) (1956) and Bishvilekh (For You) (1967); the monthly Olam ha-Ofnah (Fashion World) (1983–1992) and Duvshanit (Honey Cookie) (1967). Several of them folded after only a few appearances and in the long term most of them failed to survive.
Other leading women’s journals that are still being published include the monthly Olam ha-Ishah (Woman’s World) (published since 1983, partially owned by Yedi’ot Aharonot) and Lady Globes (published since 1988, owned by the financial daily Globes).
Journals and magazines for women also appeared in the 1980s and 1990s for specific sectors, especially religious and Haredi women. Most prominent among these are Bat Hayil (A Capable Woman) (1985–1991), Bat Melekh (A Princess) (1990–1993), Lilakh (Lilac) and Hila (Halo). Although most editors of commercial journals that target women are male, writing in ideologically-oriented women’s journals is dominated exclusively by women.
Notwithstanding women’s position as a minority in the media for an extended period, several women succeeded in rising to key positions in their organizations, including three women who were editors of daily newspapers in the 1970s and 1980s: hannah zemer, who became the editor of the Histadrut daily, Davar, from 1970; Leah Ben-Dor (1913–1981), who was the editor of the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s English daily, from 1974 to 1975; and Gisella Marton (b. 1920), who became editor of the Hungarian daily Uj Kelet from 1960. However, when these women stepped down they were replaced by men. One woman, Yohanna Fernner (b. 1938), former director of Educational Television, went on to head the commercial television station, Channel 10.
Several women reached senior executive positions in the Israel Broadcasting Service radio station, Kol Israel: Drora Ben-Avi (granddaughter of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda) served as director of the entertainment department; Michal Smoira-Cohn was the director of the music division; Leah Porat was the features editor and Bella Baram headed the drama division.
In the first fifty years of Israel’s statehood, five women (compared with forty-one men) were awarded the distinguished Sokolow Prize for print journalism, which is the most prestigious award for journalism in Israel, equal in status to the American Pulitzer Prize. The five women were Hannah Zemer (editor of Davar); Ruth Bondy (columnist at Davar), Hannah Kim (b. 1957, columnist at Ha’aretz), Tirza Eisenberg (co-editor of the satirical feature Davar Aher, published by Davar) and Einat Fischbein (Ha’aretz correspondent). Three women were awarded the prize for broadcast journalism: Edna Pe’er (editor and presenter of talk shows at Kol Israel), Yehudit (Judy) Lutz (for her television features), and Carmela Menashe (military correspondent of Kol Israel). Menashe is one of only two women military correspondents in the history of the Israeli media, a job which is traditionally considered strictly masculine. The second female military correspondent was Tali Schlesinger, of Davar.
Several women also filled the prestigious role of political correspondent, including Dalia Sh’hori (for the daily Al ha-Mishmar) and Keren Neubach (b. 1970, for television’s Channel One). Even before statehood, women were radio announcers. Hemdah Zinder served on Kol Yerushalayim (The Voice of Jerusalem) during the British mandate and Geulah Cohen, later a member of the Israel Knesset, worked for an underground radio station. After the establishment of the state women gradually found a place as announcers and presenters on radio and television. Most prominent among them are Miki Haimovitz (b. 1962), Ilana Dayan (b. 1964), Shelly Yehimovitz (b. 1960), Dalia Yairi, Merav Michaeli (b. 1966), Oshrat Kotler (b. 1965) and Carmit Guy (b. 1949). Prominent newspaper journalists (other than those mentioned above) include Sylvie Keshet (Ha’aretz and Yedi’ot Aharonot), Sima Kadmon (b. 1953, Ma’ariv and Yed’iot Aharonot), Hedda Boshes (Ha’aretz and Yedi’ot Aharonot) and Amira Hass (Ha’aretz).
Caspi, D., and Y. Limor. The In/Outsiders: Mass Media in Israel. Cresskill, NJ: 1999; Govrin, N. “Women in the Hebrew Press: Beginnings” (Hebrew with English abstract). Qesher, 28, 8–20 (2000) (Hebrew with English abstract); Kressel, G. The History of the Hebrew Press in Land of Israel. Jerusalem: 1964; Limor, Y. and D. Caspi. “The Feminization of the Israeli Press.” Kesher, 15 (1994), 37–45.
How to cite this page
Lavie, Aliza, and Yehiel Limor. "Media Professions: Yishuv to Present-Day Israel." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 20, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/media-professions-yishuv-to-present-day-israel>.