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I n the previous chapters, the story of Israeli television unfolded as a se-ries of arguments, imaginings, missed opportunities, and miscalcula-tions.1For more than a decade of discussion and throughout theformation of the service in the late 1960s, much of the rhetoric abouttelevision had focused on its nature and its service to the state, its tar-geted application to speci c problem populations, and, most promi-nently, its relevance to the Arab-Israeli con ict and the Palestinianproblem. Then, just as it was emerging from its pilot phase and ex-panding programming to a weekly nighttime schedule, television againfound itself at the center of a political maelstrom. More a catalyst than a cause, the rst television debate in the post-experimental stage was again centered on a problematic shift in Israelisociety. Once more, television was the arena for a political debate thatstirred public passions, yet this time the battle prompted a SupremeCourt challenge, threatened to topple a government, and involvedcombatants that few of TV s early stakeholders had foreseen. This controversy addressed not an imaginary audience and tar-geted broadcasts but the real of popular sentiments; it was the lasttime a debate over television took place quite outside the question ofparticular content. The so-called Sabbath debate of 1969 was the bridg-ing incident that demarcated the end of the imaginary period oftelevision s government-directed origins and a transition into the tele-vision age and the rst struggle for the mass medium s independence.
Inasmuch as the Sabbath debate was over de nitions both oftelevision and of national identity, it ts the pattern of ideological dis-course formation that so typi ed the history of Israeli television thusfar. Yet most remarkable in what follows is the extent of public involvement in the weeklong controversy. Public opinion played an unprece-dented role in shaping this debate, as Israeli television nally cameface-to-face with an actual community of viewers. As an illustration of the argument developed in the previous chap-ters, the incident epitomizes a moment when a central national preoc-cupation this time, the place of religion in civilian life was de nedand debatedthrough a public argument about television. As the pur-ported object of struggle, television provided a rallying point for publicprotest, an ideological problem for policy makers, and a political thornin the side of government. And, like other examples explored here, thedebate did not concern a particular programming choice or speci c ma-terial; rather, it
it ignited a restorm ofprotest and internal national division over the very meaning of Jewishand Israeli identity. Elihu Katz rmly be-lieved that television should not turn to a casual. 1969. according to Galili.highly public transition from an imagined national technology to apopular cultural institution. I sometimes dream. the future of Israeli general television appearedto shift toward a more familiar. THIS IS JEWISH TELEVISION? If 10% vote for the religious. and many villages had no electricity supply at all. 4Moreover. and an average of 15 percentof residents reported having access to it a gure. By early1969. he wrote in 1971. so did the rush and -nally the plan to target Palestinians as the primary audience for Israelitelevision. No longer a comfort-able absence. . a division that remains central to Israeli public lifetoday. when newly unveiled survey gures indicated that televisions 138 DEMON IN THE BOX were a scarce commodity in the occupied territories. In the week of November 5. why should 90% surrender to their will?2 As head of the experimental television unit. . everyday schedule ofprogramming modeled after radio. The nal stage in the transition to general broadcasting (and awayfrom a Palestinian-targeted emergency model) occurred in August1968. much smaller than previously thought. . Early newspaper predictions about a shrinking Arabic schedule andan expanding Hebrew program had now been con rmed. a utility survey revealed that a majority of Palestinians had never had electricity in theirhomes. with the demise of the emergencybroadcast paradigm. it was a highly public presence that demanded to be lled. ordinary format. but should remain a specialevents medium. In the process. of the tele-vision station that would go off the air after a special broadcast. an-nouncing:We have nothing more for you until our next special broadcast three days from now.focused on the nature of television and on its ability tocommunicate a collective sense of nationhood. 5As the pressing threat of Arab televisionpropaganda to Palestinian villages diminished. As MKYitzhak Navon observed: It is obvious that these facts must dictate anew policy. all the preparations made to create an emergency ser-vice with an emphasis on Arabic now require changes as conclusionsare drawn from these data. Israeli television made a noisy. 3However. Only a small num-ber of Palestinians owned television sets. as Israeli television was nally included in the .
9Televisionsets now occupied a full third of all Israeli living rooms. would soon operate on a regular. in fact.6By1969. and religious MKs expressed con-cern that television staff would be made to work on the Sabbath. fortifying theperceived need for more programming to an eager and growing Israeliaudience.8A commissionedsurvey from the Israeli Center for Social Research in early 1969 sug-gested that 72 percent of Israelis strongly supported television broad-casts on the Sabbath and only 21 percent opposed them. Orthodox members had consistently op-posed the introduction of television.7Galiliwas less than direct about IBA plans but did not hide his own or thecabinet s support for Saturday broadcasting.IBA law.10Galili and others in the Knesset further insisted that aseven-day schedule was important for political reasons in Israel s fast-moving and volatile news climate. Early indications that a seven-night broadcasting schedule couldbe controversial came as early as that January. Similarly. like radio. the Orthodox faction in the Knesset was steeling to mount arenewed and formidable resistance. On numerous occasions. As Tzvi Gil argues.Knesset members went on record asking Galili to con rm reports that JEWISH TELEVISION OR MICKEY MOUSE CULTURE? 139 such a transition was in the works. it was taken as a matter of course. religious lead-ers and Orthodox politicians had fought a largely losing battle with theoverwhelmingly secular radio service from the rst. as Israeli television was emerging as a routine broadcasting ser-vice and the IBA was preparing for the transition to a full weekly sched-ule. fearing its secular in uence onIsraeli youth and the possibility of programming on the Sabbath. public support appeared over-whelming just as politicians argued that more programs would wean Is-raelis from alternative viewing of Arab offerings. Their early calls toeliminate radio broadcasting on the Sabbath had garnered little atten-tion in the Knesset during the BenGurion era due to Kol Israel s af lia-tion with the Prime Minister s Of ce.seven-day schedule.A more regulated schedule of broadcasts followed. How-ever. with Arabic programmingcurtailed to a mere hour and Hebrew programming expanded to three. radio s perceived role in nationalsecurity. with the full expec-tation that television. the pressures to instill a daily programmingschedule came from several sources. signi cant debate over television s religious implications wasoriginally sidestepped when its approval had projected an emergency-broadcast format that was an Arab-targeted wartime necessity. After all. and the relatively moderate in uence the religious party exer-cised in this area. Prime Minister Golda Meir also . the pro-gramming schedule was of cially reversed. Religious opposition to such a weekly schedule was not unantici-pated. both to keep the public informedand to establish a culture of constant readiness at the television head-quarters.
variety. a brief news roundup.12By the spring of 1969. and. sports. scheduled to begin in No-vember of that year. Relationships between the television crew andthe IBA s government-appointed management board were strained andoften hostile. public affairs. At this time. Despitebitter protests from its minority Orthodox members. of cials acknowledged the dif cult demands of thetask and the lack of programming material yet saw a seven-day broad-cast as a logical move toward the integration of radio and televisionbroadcasting under one authority.S. encouraging IBA personnel to proceed with the expansion. Galili advocated an immediate transi-tion that enjoyed both the Knesset s and the public s approval. alldecisions about the service expansion were granted to the IBA.with as high as a three-to-two ratio of local programming. yet for many others. The typical broadcast evening began at 6:00PMwith a half hour 140 DEMON IN THE BOX each of Hebrew and Arabic children s programs. Israeli television was on the air four evenings a week. In accordance with the broadcasting law. a general interest program. Arab-language pro-gramming aired until 7:30. This integration was proving moredif cult than anticipated.expressed support for a dailyschedule.the discontent like the schedule expansion was a sign of growingpains in the IBA s accelerated process of maturation. followed by youth-oriented Hebrew or im-ported shows. A short selection from the Bible concluded each nightly broadcastat 10:00.imports such as Mission Impossible. facilities. at9:30. Foreseeing that an incremental expansion of programming wouldlead to a bitter and protracted struggle with the religious bloc over the nal addition of a seventh day. and the Arab-language division protested a pattern of discrimi-nation in pay. the nightly news by far the most watched program on television. . and many in the television crew were threaten-ing to strike. with some European and mostly U. and children sprograms in Hebrew and Arabic.13Reports in the newspapers and many in the political op-position sounded a common critique that identi ed the root of theproblem with the agency s lack of independence. foreign experts grumbled about missed salaries and equipmentshortage. The television crew complained of interference in editorialdecisions. and reporting privileges.14The nightlyofferings included news. the Knesset votedon May 12 a short year after television s debut experimental broad-cast to approve a seven-day broadcast plan.The Wonderful World of Disney. andI Spy.11 Within the IBA.both Elihu Katz and his deputy had announced their decision to leavethe broadcasting agency.
However. the October 1969 elections presented an opportunity forthe religious party: In a climate of growing party splintering and ideo-logical divisions. Meir depended on the participationof the religious party (known as .15In order to form a Laborcontrolledcoalition and avoid a national unity government with the right-wingGachal (led by Menachem Begin). the religious party emerged as a small but signi cantplayer in Israeli coalition politics.
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