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The political line of Israeli papers (a reader's guide)

Who leans to the left and who moves to the right? which paper supports Netanyahu and who goes after him? a short guide to the subtleties of the Hebrew press

Newspapers in Israel have always been of great importance. One of the first things early Zionists did in Palestine was to create their own Hebrew papers. Every major political faction had its own publication, usually a national daily. Even today, with the decline of printed journalism, papers are still widely read, especially among opinion makers.

The Hebrew papers raise issues and frame political questions; Knesset members often quote news items and op-eds during Knesset debates, and Knesset committees conduct debates on issues exposed by the printed media. It is worth noting that Israel has never had strong local daily papers, so the printed media always tended to deal with national questions of diplomacy, politics and security, and less with local issues such as crime and local policies. So if you want to understand Israeli society and Israeli politics, you need to understand Hebrew printed media.

The old party papers died over the last two decades or so, and today’s papers don’t have a certain partisan affiliation. Papers in Israel usually don’t endorse candidates or parties, but they do have a political line. In the cases of Haaretz and Yisrael Hayom this line is very clear. With Maariv – and especially with Yedioth – it tends to be more subtle, and has changed over the years.

Here is a short guide to the political lines taken by Israel’s newspapers these days. Remember that these assessments are subjective as well, and reflect my own views and knowledge. Disclaimer: I worked for Maariv and for Yedioth’s internet division in the past, and in the past six months I have written a few stories for Haaretz.

Yedioth Ahronoth

Market Share* (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 43.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Ynet (English edition here).

Politics: After years of dominating the printed media market, Israel’s leading tabloid has met a fierce rival – the free paper Yisrael Hayom, launched three years ago by gambling billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Many people believe that this is the reason for the sharp anti-Netanyahu tone Yedioth has taken over the past year. The paper is constantly publishing articles attacking the Prime Minister, his staff and even his wife. Star pundit Nahum Barnea is especially hostile to Netanyahu; in fact, I think there is only one columnist in Yedioth – Hanoch Daum – who is an open Netanyahu supporter and a proxy to the Netanyahu family.

Leaving Netanyahu aside, Yedioth is a fairly centrist paper. It tends to be conservative on military and security issues, but more open than other tabloids when it comes to dealing with civil rights issues. The campaign the paper launched against the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court for their intervention in policy issues and nominations of high ranking officials seems to have calmed down recently.

I think people outside Israel don’t pay enough attention to Yedioth. For years, the paper was known for its ability to capture the voice of the average middle class Israeli. The front page story of the papers’ weekend magazine always presented “the man of the moment”, or the story that would be discussed during the following week. Yedioth is not as strong today – but it is still the most important media organization in Israel. Yedioth’s internet site (Ynet) is by far the most popular news site in Israel.

Yair Lapid, channel 2 anchorman and a possible candidate in the next elections, has a widely read column in Yedioth.

The bottom line for Yedioth Ahronoth: Conservative on security and Supreme Court; critical of the government and Netanyahu himself; slightly more liberal than the two other tabloids.

Yisrael Hayom

Market Share (June 2010): 35 percent on weekdays, 25.7 on weekends.

Internet site: Yisrael Hayom (Hebrew, printed edition only).

Politics: According to most estimates, Sheldon Adelson’s free tabloid, which is circulated in 250,000 copies, is losing money. But Adelson’s intention in launching the paper was not to gain profits, but political influence.

Adelson’s paper is edited by a former proxy to Netanyahu, Amos Regev. Under Regev, Israel Hayom is extremely supportive of the Prime Minister, constantly pushing stories that present Netanyahu and his family in a positive way. Recently, the paper is taking on an even more nationalistic editorial line.

[A more detailed post about the ties between Yisrael Hayom and Netanyahu can be found here.]

Yisrael Hayom is very hostile to the Palestinians; it tends to emphasize security threats and to present a favorable coverage of some of the new Knesset bills which are aimed against the Arab minority, Arabs members of Knesset and leftwing NGO’s (though one could find in it from time to time an occasional op-ed expressing different views).

Yisrael Hayom is supportive of the State Prosecution and the Supreme Court, but only on corruption issues, not civil rights ones.

Yisrael Hayom doesn’t have its own publishing house, so the paper has outsourced its printing and distribution to Haaretz. There are rumors that this move saved Haaretz from bankruptcy.

The bottom line for Yisrael Hayom: Conservative on security, diplomacy and civil rights; highly supportive of Netanyahu.

Maariv

Market Share (June 2010): 12.5 percent on weekdays, 16.1 on weekends.

Internet site: nrg (Hebrew only).

Politics: for years, Maariv was Yedioth’s greatest enemy (when I moved from Ynet to Maariv in 2003, I was told by one of the senior editors that I would never write for Yedioth again), but now both papers join hands in the battle against Yisrael Hayom.

Maariv ran into financial difficulties more than six years ago, and since then it has been changing its editors and CEO’s frequently. A new team of editors (Yoav Zur and Yoav Golan), and a new co-publisher (businessman Zachi Rachiv) seem to have stabilized the paper a bit recently.

Under its new editors, Maariv has taken a sharp turn to the right. The paper’s subtle criticism of Netanyahu could be a bit misleading. Maariv keeps a very nationalistic and conservative line. It was Maariv that launched the campaign against the New Israel Fund by publishing the Im Tirzu reports. The paper is extremely hostile to the Arab population and to human rights organizations, and recently, it shows a hospitable attitude to the settlement project (a recent double spread all but invited people to live in Tapuach, a settlement formally known as the stronghold of Kahane supporters). Among Israeli papers, Maariv is the most supportive of Avigdor Lieberman’s policies, and it usually presents a somewhat favorable coverage of the bills Israel Beitenu is trying to pass in the Knesset.

Rumors have it that it was a conscious decision by Maariv’s editors and managing board to take an editorial line that would exploit the current nationalistic trends in the Israeli society. The promotion of conservative contributors such as Kalman Livskind and Ben-Dror Yemini support this theory. Yemini is known for his campaigning against “lefty” influence in the Israel academia and media. He has repeatedly called to hold state funds from critical movies and from artists and professors who are “anti-Israeli”. Last week he published a double spread attacking Haaretz journalist Gidon Levi for an interview he gave to the Independent.

The bottom line for Maariv: Highly conservative on security; anti-civil rights, anti-Supreme Court; slightly critical of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

UPDATE: Maariv was bought by Israeli tycoon Nochy Dankner, and is currently (fall 2011) edited by Nir Chefetz, former spokesperson for PM Binyamin Netanyahuu.

Haaretz

Market Share (June 2010): 6.4 percent on weekdays, 7.4 on weekends.

Internet site: Haaretz (English site here).

Politics: Haaretz was Israel’s liberal paper for many years, and one could claim that it’s the only paper committed to supporting civil rights and promoting democratic values. By Israeli standards, Haaretz is very critical of the IDF, thought in the past few years the paper was criticized for pushing Palestinians’ civil right issues into its back pages. Many leftwing activists and politicians are also dismayed by the liberal line Haaretz tends to take on economical issues.

Haaretz’s editorial line is very critical of Netanyahu and Lieberman, though some important contributors, such as Ari Shavit and Yoel Marcus are less clear on the issue. Haaretz journalist Amira Hass is especially known for her work on Palestinian rights issues.

Haaretz’ circulation is not substantial – it’s almost similar to that of the unimportant free tabloid Israel Post – but it is widely read and discussed by public opinion makers, politicians, diplomats and the international press, so it has a more substantial weight than its numbers. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that very few Israelis actually read Haaretz.

The bottom line for Haaretz: liberal on security, civil rights and economy; supportive of the Supreme Court; very critical of Netanyahu’s government.

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(*) Maariv and Israel Hayom are the only daily papers in Israel to disclose their circulation figures. The common way to measure papers’ share of the market – and the one used to determine advertising prices – is through the TGI poll, conducted twice a year by the independent company TNS-Telegal. The figures in this post relate to the June 2010 poll.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Neivald

      In two words: radical superficial bullshit

      Reply to Comment
      • Neivald: that’s three words.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Karen

      This is really helpful. Thank you. It definitely puts issues into more focus and perspective. Awesome.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Noam,
      Very good piece, thank you for that!
      It’s no secret that Haaretz is probably the most widely read Israeli newspaper outside of Israel – which is interesting in its own respect, first because it seems it’s the one where we outsiders find actual criticism of Israeli policies, but equally interesting because it gives a wrong image of the country (or of the freedom of debate in it!)

      I do have a question: how about other newspapers, less read but nevertheless still influential among certain communities (national religious, settlers, etc) such as Jerusalem Post, Makor Rishon, and others?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Mohamed:

      I don’t know the Jerusalem Post well enough. from what I see, it seems to lean strongly to the right. since it doesn’t have a Hebrew version, the Post is not widely read, and it doesn’t have a strong influence on the news cycle or on opinion makers. I am not saying that to dismiss it. It’s a serious paper, but not very influential inside Israel.

      As for Makor Rishon, it’s also a very small paper, which is hardly read outside the religious right. And unlike the papers mentioned in this post, it has a clear political line, so no need to analyze it too much here.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben Israel

      It was reported that HIZBULLAH’s leader Nasrallah has been a devoted daily reader of Ha’aretz which is what led him to make his famous comment at the time of the IDF’s flight from the south Lebanaon security zone that “Israel is no stronger than a spider’s web”. This confirms what Mohamed said in his above comment. Reading Ha’aretz is not going to give anyone a real perspective of what is going on in Israel.

      It should be noted that “liberal” Ha’aretz also prints the B’sheva and Makor Rishon newspapers, both of which you guys would define as ‘extreme Right-wing’ and ‘pro-settler’. I guess money talks more than ideology!

      I think the influence of these newspapers is overstated. All three big newspapers supported Oslo and were hostile to the settlers, the Haredim and the Likud line, yet the voters generally never voted the way these papers wanted.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben: regarding your last comment: papers everywhere are usually more liberal than their readers. it’s not an Israeli phenomena.

      it is believed that paper can’t tell their readers *what* to think but they do tell them *on what* to think, and *how* to think it.

      unlike the US, there is still no alternative in Israel for the papers in determining the topics on the news cycle. there might be one in the future, but we are not there yet.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Y.

      Not bad, but I think this reveals your own biases as well: You tend to label everything including content you disagree with as “conservative”, regardless of whether it actually tries to conserve a status quo or even held by the right wing parties. I think it’s both more a testament of how far you are to the left than an actual description of positions and an unsuccessful attempt of importing American definitions which really mislead as far Israel’s political system is concerned…

      For example, while the right grumbled often vs the court, the actual campaign vs the Supreme Court was started by the previous leftist government and its appointment to the Law Ministry. Ramon is one of the most outspoken critics of said court. I could therefor jest and call it a “liberal” campaign, but in truth most factions in Israel’s political system have their own reasons to dislike the court.

      Yedioth: Not a bad summary, but you really must note the difference between Ynet and Yedioth (Ynet’s editorial staff is independent – which was an accidental[1] but surprisingly effective decision). Yedioth is more centrist than Ynet (which tends to the left). I also suggest noting Yedioth’s sharp anti-Barak line since you already note Maariv’s milder anti-Barak line…

      Maariv: Maariv’s attacks vs Nethanyahu are hardly “subtle”, unless maybe in comparison with Yedioth. One only has to open Kaspit’s columns to see pretty sharp terms, like claiming the PM can’t “differentiate good from bad”[2] (A bit below, Kaspit is nice to suggest the PM might only be a pushover). In the same manner, your description of the Yamini column needs work: He hardly attacked Levi for merely giving out an interview! Pretty much the entire start of the column is trying to push up Yamini’s waning Leftist cred (incl. opposition to the citizenship amendment and support for the requested freeze), before criticizing Levi.

      Haaretz: Strangely, you write nothing about their recent brushes with the law. There’s a large difference between opposing the govt. and working to undermine it. I think Haaretz has given up on Israeli society, which explains why their editor of the culture section thinks secular Israelis should transfer to Berlin…[3]

      [1] http://www.the7eye.org.il/articles/Pages/100610_stretching_the_brand.aspx

      [2] http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART2/137/987.html?hp=1&loc=8&tmp=3580

      [3] http://www.news1.co.il/Archive/0024-D-52261-00.html

      Reply to Comment
    8. Y- I wouldn’t call Olmert’s government a lefty one, considering it had Lieberman in it. at best, it could be labeled as centrist. also, i didn’t want to go into details of the fight over the Supreme Court, but you are right in pointing it’s far from Being a left-right issue.

      Yemini is a classic new-right figure. Yes, he used to oppose the occupation (now he supports the occupation but not the settlements), but most of his writing regarding minority and civil rights is extremely conservative. i am not surprised that he objected the citizenship act. if you read carefully Yemini’s columns, he hardly ever call for a concrete move, but he constantly pushes in such a direction.

      finally, I started by saying that this is my very subjective view of things. However, I don’t accept being labeled as a radical lefty just because I don’t represent the mainstream Israeli opinion on certain issues. anyway, I thank you for your comment, and I think it adds to the understanding of the subtleties of the Israeli media.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Y.

      Olmert started by wanting to evacuate most of the WB and tens of thousands of settlers (under the argument of “no partner [to negotiate with]“) AKA the “Hitkansot” and ended up negotiating and offering even the Kotel (under the opposite argument of “we have a partner, peace is around the corner”, even though we had exactly the same teams and positions on the other side). The starting Defense Minister had little military knowledge and was one of “peace now” founders’. And let’s not even talk about the Education minister… All this is pretty leftist to me.

      True, Olmert had to let Lieberman enter the coalition after the investigations started, but Lieberman was not the Left’s beta noir before the recent election campaign (he was seen as another Sharansky, a leader of a russian party with tendencies to the right), nor did he change anything in the government’s course or even get any significant role in the government. That matchup speaks to both sides’ opportunism.

      Now, I don’t dispute Yamini moving ever slowly to the right (I think he’s in denial and that’s why he keeps putting these all-but-in-name disclaimers in), but he isn’t there yet. I wonder when he’ll realize it.

      Lastly, I guess we’ll agree to disagree on politics, but a parallel review by a righty might have classified the papers as “center-left, center and Ultraleftist”. I think the common thread is that Yedioth and Maariv (and even Yisrael Hayom) manage to tap into the Israeli consensus, while Haaretz is considerably to its left.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Y:

      regarding Olmert’s gov. – I don’t like the tendency to classify Israelis to the political Left or Right according to their support or objection to a Palestinian state. I think we miss too much this way. and today, practically everyone embrace the two states (at least theoretically).

      according to this logic, a realist-liberal like Moshe Arens is an extreme-right person, and Lieberman, that said he would give up his house in Nokdim (again, theoretically…) is a real dove. in short, that’s the partition of the 80′s and 90′s, and it’s less relevant today.

      As for your last sentence, I couldn’t have put it better.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Eetta

      Noam: While I’m not objective (as Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report….) I did want to make a comment on your response re: The Jerusalem Post and also re: other papers in Israel in other languages.

      Even though it is not in Hebrew, the Jerusalem Post is extremely influential – it is very heavily read in government and embassies, particularly because of its clout abroad. It’s subscription base is growing, in Israel and abroad, and is larger than that of some of the Hebrew dailies.

      Interestingly, there are increasing numbers of people who read The Post + a Hebrew-language paper.

      In that regard, I think you might also want to pay attention to the fact that there is a large voting public that does not read Hebrew or English – that is the Russian-speaking public. And they are very influential!

      Not to mention Arabic newspapers and magazines.

      It’s perfectly legitimate on your part to provide this overview of the HEBREW press, which I found astute and interesting. But let’s all get out of our too-small circles – that isn’t the ISRAELI press!

      (And, if I may say so, the same is true of The Jerusalem Report.)

      Reply to Comment
    12. Y.

      “I don’t like the tendency to classify Israelis to the political Left or Right according to their support or objection to a Palestinian state”

      That’s a very good idea in theory (not that the rest of this site follows it – your recent post over AIPAC comes to mind), but this is what the body politic has been mainly divided over all these year. Besides, what’s otherwise left?

      One of the unsung drama of modern Israeli politics is the extinction of the Social-Democratic Left. Kadima (and most of Labour) is not distinguishable from Likud in economic policy (nonwithstanding some rhetoric). Haaretz, if anything, is the most (economically) right-wing paper in Israel (at least ever since Aryeh Kaspi died, and I’d say even beforehand). So there’s no difference on economic policy.

      What’s left? In theory, the Left’s rhetoric towards the Ultra-Orthodox and “religious coercion” suggests a much more aggressive policy there, but after all these years, we can see this is only kept for being in the opposition. “Rak Lo Shas” becomes “Shas in the coalition” very very quickly.

      What’s left, if we ignore foreign policy and once we’ve taken out domestic economic policy, and a good deal of social issues? Not much of anything with actual effect on people’s lives. That’s a pretty poor showing on part of the Israeli left.

      My theory is that the private interests of the core leftwing voters (if you look at the last election returns – we’re actually talking the affluent secular (mostly Askhenazi) which lives in the center) is highly opposed to what would be called leftwing policy in every other part of the world – which would inevitably raise taxes and the influence of other sectors in Israeli society. The attempts at a peace deal form a poor excuse (since these voters don’t actually believe it’s possible anymore) for the tribal voting. This explains why Kadima survived and monopolized the left – it has no objectionable baggage from historic Labour.

      Reply to Comment
    13. ETTA: I’m sure Jpost has influence, but I don’t think it’s heavily read in Israel outside the english-speaking community. it’s hard to tell, since Jpost is not part of the TGI survey (it was taken out after the polling company came to the conclusion that the paper is underrepresented in the poll). and maybe that’s just my own bias as a tel-aviv based, Hebrew-language journalist.

      however, I do think that because of the language (and certainly not because of the quality of reporting), Jpost does not have a major part in the news cycle like the four big daily papers. it’s not read by most people who prepare the morning news show on TV and radio. it’s not read among other journalists in Maariv and Yedioth and Ynet (that i can tell from first hand knowledge) -so its stories don’t get follow-ups. much like the Arab and Russian press, most of the time Jpost is simply not part of the debate.

      Again, not because of the paper or the people working in it, but because of the language.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Y – your observations are very accurate, and I admit i don’t have a clear answer. I simply think that even if we leave economy aside, we need to take into account more than just the Two States/greater Israel distinction, because that leads us to the conclusion that almost everyone in Israel is lefty, while the reality is that the Right is in power (I don’t think you would deny that).

      in the past decade we have a new phenomena of conservative politicians and writers that promotes leaving the WB, most of the time unilaterally. we need to take it into account if we want to reach a better understanding of the powers at play.

      so first, I suggest separating those who just speak of the two states (Netanyahu, Lieberman) but in practice do the opposite, from those we are making some steps in this direction (a category that might include Olmert and Barak), and could be labeled as center-left.

      Second, I think people’s vision of the relations between Judaism and democracy in the state should play a big role in the new left/rigth distinction, and this role will get even bigger in the future.

      Reply to Comment
    15. [...] The political line of Israeli papers (a reader’s guide) (tags: journalism newspapers) [...]

      Reply to Comment
    16. max

      Yedioth is simply garbage. Their anti-Bibi stance has pushed them over the edge and their front page is full of murders and other sorrid news. Their Friday supplement is the same thing week after week. I stopped reading them years ago. Haaretz is by far the best written, but it’s political views are not to my taste and are frequently inaccurate.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Jack

      Noam: I’m quite surprised you made no mention of Silvan Shalom, a major Likud thorn in Netanyahu’s side. Yediot may be down on Bibi because of the circulation share Adelson has snatched away, but ever since Shalom married into the Yediot family, it seems to see him as a potential successor to Netanyahu and has continuously published gratuitious items on him and his kooky wife, the former Judy-Nir-Moses. That’s gotta count for something.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Silvan gets favorable press in Yeditoth, that’s clear, but i don’t think that’s their main motive for their attacks on Netanyahu. Even Yedioth won’t think Silvan can make it to be PM one day. and a couple of years ago Netanyahu did get good coverage in Yedioth.

      Reply to Comment
    19. i strongly recommend to everyone checking http://www.olivetreenews.com to get a deeper and more transparent understanding of the Middle East. by using this tool you will be able to compare from a variety of over 70 news sources with just one click and build your own opinion.

      Reply to Comment
    20. [...] of the +972 blog, here’s a useful guide to the political line of the major Israeli newspapers, for those seeking to unravel the often bewildering complexities of Israeli politics. Bookmark on [...]

      Reply to Comment
    21. mariam cayabyab

      Descrimination……I was renting the apartment in Herzliya and asking for help but no one give a hand for me,i hope you can help me my name is Mariam C.Abdulla phone numbet 052703 20 39 i have some complaints to my landlord for abusing me fir more than 12 years im from philippines

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