Ḥerut was the daily newspaper that served the Herut movement, a political party founded on 15 May 1948, the day after the establishment of the State of Israel. As the political successor to the underground paramilitary organisation ha-Irgun ha-Tsvaʾi ha-Leʾumi (‘the National Military Organisation’, known as ETSeL, or the Irgun), the name of the paper signalled a likewise continuation of ETSeL’s mouthpiece, Ḥerut, which had appeared for six years, from March 1942 through May 1948, when the ETSeL was disbanded and the Ḥerut political party was established. The inaugural issue of this daily appeared on 3 October 1948, and its publication was one of a series of steps taken to consolidate the party and its support base in the Israeli population well ahead of the first parliamentary elections that were to take place in the nascent state: at the end of January 1949. The primary reason for Ḥerut’s publication was the desire of Menaḥem Begin (1913-1992), the leader of the party, to create an organ for his movement that would express its unique spirit. An additional reason was the need of a public form that could serve Herut's hitherto largely anonymous members who had lived underground for many years. Beneath the masthead of the newspaper appeared four slogans that expressed the chief stated principles of the movement: ‘for the territorial integrity of the homeland, for the ingathering of exiles, for social justice, for freedom of man’.
The foundation of the newspaper was perceived as a sort of ‘movement-wide project’ that demanded the participation of all the members of the party: each committed to sign up two new subscribers. Most of the journalists who wrote for the paper had worked previously at ha-Mashqif (‘The Observer’, 1938-1949), the daily newspaper of ha-TSoHaR (ha-Tsiyyonim ha-Rewiziyonisṭim, ‘the Revisionist Zionists’), the veteran party of the Revisionist movement, which closed some months later, in May 1949. The most prominent of these writers was Shalom Rosenfeld (1914-2008), the managing editor of ha-Mashqif, who now became managing editor of Herut (he later left for Ma'ariv, where he became its editor-in-chief).
The founders of the journal did not seek merely to establish yet another daily political organ, whose readership was comprised solely of supporters of the movement’s positions (and in the Israel of 1948, there was no shortage of such journals), but rather, they set their sights on a more ambitious goal: to speak to the general public. To a large degree, this aim resembled that of the founders of the Ḥerut movement as a whole: to appeal to broad swaths of the public, going beyond the more narrow, traditional support bloc of the movement. Among the writers were the leaders of the Ḥerut movement, first and foremost, Menaḥem Begin, whose speeches were published in full in the paper, Dr Yoḥanan Bader (1901-1994), who was a frequent contributor, and Yosef Shofman (1903-1978). In addition, public figures with political positions more radical than those of the Ḥerut leadership, such as Kalman Katznelson ,Abba Aḥimeir (1897-1962, some of whose pieces appeared under nommes de plume like ‘Abba Siqra’), Shmuel Katz (1914-2008), and Shmuel Merlin (1910-1994), penned articles for the paper as well.
A typical issue began with an editorial and with coverage of current events from around the world. The newspaper included pieces of political analysis, news regarding Ḥerut movement activities, a missing (from the Holocaust) relatives column, as well as a section on the developments of various branches of Betar (Brit ha-Noʿar ha-ʿIvri ʿal shem Yosef Trumpeldor, ‘the Youth Organisation in the Name of Yosef Trumpeldor’). Friday editions were larger and included a literary and arts supplement, with reviews of plays and books, poems, such as those written by Uri Zvi Grinberg (1896-1981) and monographs appearing in serial form such as the on Zeʾev Jaboṭinsky by Jacob Weinshall (1891-1980).It also featured a section on riddles and crosswords edited by Hillel Harshoshanim (1897-1992).
Ḥerut stood on the front lines of the political and ideological struggles in which the Ḥerut movement found itself involved. A prominent and poignant case in this regard was the hard-fought and bitter campaign against holocaust reparations from Germany. Slogans decrying diplomatic contacts with Germany were published at the top of the front page of the newspaper. The contents of the newspaper at that time included scathing articles and editorials condemning the reparations. They claimed, for example, that the government needed the German money in order to survive. Following the violent demonstration that Herut organised in Jerusalem on the day when deliberations on the subject commenced in the Knesset (07 January 1952), the newspaper defended the protesters and fiercely condemned the authorities and the police for dispersing them. The general tone of Ḥerut reflected that of the Ḥeru part during this time, as an innocent victim of totalitarian tyranny. For example, the main headline of the issue published on 08 January 1952 stated that the ‘Ben-Gurion’s government used bombs and gas to impose a disgrace upon our people’. The subtitle emphasised that ‘the bombs were “made in Germany”’.
Another case of a dispute in which Ḥerut engaged itself concerned its stance towards the immigration (Heb. ʿaliyyah) policies for Jews from North Africa: it broke with mainstream Israeli policy, which sought to establish immigration quotas for each and every country, to intensify the medical checks of candidates for ʿaliyyah, and to disqualify those seeking to immigrate on the basis of their age and their medical health. In the summer of 1955, when the tensions in Morocco reached their peak, the newspaper held a public, mock trial of Mifleget Poʿaley Erets Yisraʾel (‘the Workers’ Party of the Land of Israel’, MaPAY) over this issue in the neighbourhood ha-Tiqwah—one of Ḥerut’s strongholds in Tel-Aviv. Also worthy of mention is Ḥerut’s oppositional stance towards Ben-Gurion during the ‘Lavon Affair’ from 1960 to 1961. Following the removal of Pinḥas Lavon (1904-1976) from his position as general secretary of the Histadrut (the national labour federation) by the central committee of MaPAY, the following headline appeared on the front page of the paper: ‘The majority of the central committee of MaPAY bowed down to the furious god—Lavon will be offered up as a sacrifice to Ben-Gurion’ (05 February 1961).
From the middle of the 1950s, within the framework of an attempt to appeal to a broader target audience, the non-political sections of the newspaper expanded. A section geared towards women and the family began to appear, including recipes and practial advice for housewives on various issues such as managing ‘the household budget and finances’. Likewise, a section on science that explained to readers different technological innovations, entitled ‘Science in the service of man’, was launched. The sections on sport and on art grew in size as well, as did the film and book reviews. The newspaper’s writers were numerous and diverse, and aside from those noted above, one must mention Yosef Vinitzky (1914-1965) and Dr Wolfgang (Zeʾev Binyamin) von Weisl (1896-1974), both veteran Revisionists. During the 1960s, younger journalists began writing for the newspaper and a number of them, such as Shlomo Nakdimon (b. 1936, known as ‘Naqdi’), Shmuel Schnitzer (1918-1999), Yoel Marcus (b. 1932), Arye Naor (b. 1940), Eitan Haber (b. 1940), and Dan Margalit (b. 1938), became central figures in the media and public arenas over the course of time.
The newspaper was shut down on 31 December 1965 in the wake of the establishment of GaḤaL (Gush Ḥerut-Liberalim, ‘the Ḥerut-Liberals Bloc’) in April 1965. It was decided to close the two organs of the political parties that had united (Ḥerut and ha-Boqer [‘This Morning’], the veteran daily of the Liberals Party), the primary reason being financial: it was difficult to operate and maintain two daily newspapers. In place of the two papers there appeared a dailyl representing both parties jointly—ha-Yom (‘Today’). Its editor was Yitzḥak (Ijo) Rager (1932-1997).
Prof. Yechiam Weitz