Israel's Press Perestroika


Free-market thought may get a boost in this socialist country, thanks to a recent flurry of foreign investment. Jewish businessmen overseas have acquired several of Israel's major publications, including the extremely influential Jerusalem Post.

Robert Maxwell, the British press magnate, began the trend and has become the biggest single investor ever in Israel. Although he has also bought pharmaceutical enterprises, his real revolution has been in the press. He purchased 40 percent of Ma'ariv, the country's second-largest daily. He was followed into the market by Arie Genger, a former Israeli, who bought the country's only weekly paper, a left-of-center organ.

The most noteworthy acquisition, however, is a Canadian newspaper chain's purchase of the Jerusalem Post for $20 million in May. The Post, which is published in English, is extraordinarily influential both within Israel and abroad; many overseas Jews rely on it heavily for information about Israel. Yet the Post has been owned by Histadrut, an enormous cooperative controlled by Israel's Labour Party and its socialist labor unions. The Post has served essentially as Histadrut's mouthpiece. Over the years, the newspaper has covered Israel's political and economic scene from a definite socialist, Labour Party perspective.

Today, however, Histadrut is in financial straits and is selling off its many faltering enterprises. This amounts to a large-scale privatization effort; Histadrut is so intertwined with the Israeli government that the two are hard to separate.

By contrast, the Post's new Canadian owner, Hollinger, Inc., is associated with free-market causes and publications. David Radler, president of the company, is active in the free-market Social Credit Party in British Columbia and is an old friend of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Hollinger owns the British Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and Encounter magazines—all generally considered conservative publications. It also owns about 200 other periodicals in North America, mostly small-town U.S. newspapers.

In an interview with the Post, Radler said the paper would follow an independent editorial line. But, he added, owners "have a responsibility to be aware of what they're publishing and to influence it."