Ha'olam Hazze (1960-1962)

There was a paper at that time that seemed to be able to give me the chance for excitement that I missed in Ha'aretz and that was the weekly Ha'olam Hazze, edited by Uri Avneri. I knew Avneri well. Both of us started our journalistic careers at the same time, on the pages of Yom Yom. Although Ha'olam Hazze claimed that it was fighting the moral ground of politics, and sometimes even did so, the editor, Uri Avneri, could hardly be regarded as a man of principle. Like most journalists and politicians who claim high moral ground, he was a political opportunist, on top of being greedy. At that time, however, his opportunism was expressed in liberal campaigns. Ha'olam Hazze was the only Zionist publication that defended the civil rights of the Israeli Palestinian Arabs, and he was campaigning against the brutality of the secret services and the military governors of the Arab districts. These just campaigns drove me and other liberals towards his paper, though I have not forgotten that during the Sinai war he called on the Israeli army to cross the Suez Canal and invade Egypt.

The way Avneri ran Ha'olam Hazze was ruthless and not only in editorial matters. He refused to recognize the journalists' union and paid the lowest wages. He had the best cartoonist in the Israeli press, Karl Gardosh, (Dosh), but treated him so badly that he left and became a big name in Ma'ariv. He usually employed beginners, young people who had just finished school and made proper reporters out of them. These youngsters were later picked up by other newspapers. I think that I was the only one who was a known journalist before joining the Ha'olam Hazze.

Avneri was the first to introduce to the Israeli press the erotic/political mixture. Since this attracted readers, it was followed by the army weekly magazine Bamahanne. What Bamahanne did, was to buy from the French magazine Elle, the rights to run a beauty contest known as Malkat Hamayim (Water Queen). That contest was so successful that many readers of Ha'olam Hazze switched to the army magazine. Avneri could not let it pass. Within a few days, readers' letters appeared in the religious orthodox newspapers, complaining that Bamahanne was: "corrupting our nice, young and innocent girls, leading them into prostitution with the public display of their naked bodies covered only in a swimming suit, and all this is paid out of public funds". The government became alarmed and ordered the Army magazine to stop running the beauty contest. The moment Bamahanne returned the contract to its French owner, Avneri bought it, and Malkat Hamayim contest was one of Ha'olam Hazze biggest crowd puller for years to come. The one who wrote the letters of protests to the religious newspapers was no other than Uri Avneri himself. I know this, because he told me so.
Despite all that I knew about Avneri, I decided to leave Ha'aretz with its respectability, and join Ha'olam Hazze. I offered him my column and a satirical page once a fortnight. I did not ask for more money. The same salary that Schocken was paying me was enough. The contract between us was to last for two years. At the end of the contract, if Avneri still wanted me, he would have to give me a stake in the paper. Otherwise, I would leave.

The two years that I spent on the editorial board of Ha'olam Hazze were the most fruitful in my journalistic career. That was the time of the big national scandal, connected to the bombs that exploded in Cairo which brought about the downfall of Ben Gurion as Prime Minister. At the centre of that scandal (which the censor didn't even permit a name, and was only referred to as The Affair), was a shadowy figure known as the Third Man. Everyone in the country wanted to know who this mysterious Third Man was. I composed a crossword puzzle in my satirical page in which the name of the Third Man was one of the answers. Those who would be able to solve the crossword puzzle would get the name of the Third Man. The whole country tried to solve this crossword. Few realized that it was only a spoof (see the satirical pages of Ha'olam Habba).

Although my contract limited my involvement to one column a week and one satirical page once a fortnight, I enjoyed working there so much that I got involved, voluntarily in all sorts of investigations as well as replacing members of the staff on their holidays. In the New Year's edition I added a literary section that was a new concept in the tradition of Ha'olam Hazze and it went down well with readers.

Once, when the film critic was on holiday, I was asked to do the film reviews. I went to see a French movie and wrote a review. However, I was not very familiar with the names of the stars in the film. I copied their names from the poster, but did not know who was who. One of the stars was Simone Signore. I assumed that it was the name of the male actor. We got so many letters of protests that on my next assignment I was accompanied by the office boy. I wrote the review and the boy told me who was in the movie.

At some point I wanted to investigate the mental health system. I contacted the Ministry of Health and asked them to let me to enter one of their mental hospitals as a patient for a week. It was a daring idea. There was always the danger that they might not let me out and I would be kept there forever. To my great surprise their attitude was positive. The target hospital was one in Bat-Yam, a suburb of Jaffa. I went there to discuss the details with the director. He knew about my visit and expected me, but Ha'olam Hazze was known as a sensationalist publication and the director of the hospital wanted to make sure that if something went wrong he would be covered by his superiors. In my presence he called the Ministry and asked them to authorize the arrangement in writing. The Ministry refused and the project had to be abandoned.

Such a thing would not have happened if I was still working for Ha'aretz. As a respected journalist working for Ha'aretz, all doors were open for me. I could approach even the President or the Prime Minister if I wanted to. Working for Ha'olam Hazze was different. Often, when I approached an institution for information, I was shown the door. However, on my way out, somebody would follow me and whisper to my ear that if I wanted to get more information, I should get in touch with him after work and he would tell me. In this way I obtained better information from more reliable sources than heads of departments.