The First IDF Spokesperson


By Ephraim Lapid, Ph.D., Member of the Public Committee of the Zionist Archives, Brigadier General in Reserve, former IDF spokesperson, senior intelligence officer, and spokesperson for the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization.  


The story of Maurice Pearlman exhibits Zionism at its best, in my opinion. A young man from Britain, who visited Palestine during the 1936 – 1939 Arab revolt, volunteered for the British army and made Aliyah as an Illegal immigrant with the Aliyah Bet, who became the first spokesperson of the IDF. A Zionist figure of the first degree, which deserves to be remembered with great esteem. Pearlman passed away in April 1986, during my tenure as the 16th IDF spokesperson, and I had the honor of eulogizing him on behalf of the IDF. At the start of my term, I met Pearlman, known to everybody by the nickname Moish, to hear insights of an intelligent, experienced man and learn about the beginning of the IDF 


​Moshe Perlman. Photo by Anna Riwkin-Brick (PHR\1164260) 

Moshe Perlman. Photo by Anna Riwkin-Brick (PHR\1164260)


Moshe (Maurice) Pearlman was born in England in the Spring of 1911. In 1936, while a student, the news agency he was working at assigned him to cover the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt in Palestine. He resided in Kibbutz Ein Harrod for several months, where he studied Hebrew and witnessed Jewish settlers fight. The encounter with the Jewish Yishuv changed his attitude towards the Zionist idea, and he became an ardent Zionist. When he returned to London in 1937, he wrote a book – "What has been happening in Palestine?" (under the pseudonym M.P. Waters). He started working as the press officer (spokesman) of the management of the World Zionist Organization, under the president of the WZO, Dr. Haim Weitzman, and chairman of the WZO, David Ben-Gurion.

Members of Ein Harrod (PHKH\1260983)
Members of Ein Harrod (PHKH\1260983)


At the outbreak of World War II, Pearlman volunteered for the British army, took part in the invasion to North Africa as an officer, fought in Italy and Greece, and received an honorary distinction. His younger brother fell in battle on the Italian front. At the end of the war, he served as the assistant to the British embassy's press attaché in Athens. He met with emissaries of the Haganah and Hamossad leAliyah Bet (a division within the Haganah that organized Jewish Illegal Immigration into Palestine during the British Mandate). Alongside his official diplomatic role, he also aided the Aliyah B. He was sent on clandestine missions to various capitals in the Middle East, carrying his British diplomatic passport.


On April 1st, Pearlman boarded the Aliyah Bet's ship "Theodor Herzl", with 2,600 illegal immigrants on board, sailing from the shores of France to Palestine. The boat was under the command of Mordechai Limon ("Moka"), the future commander of the Israeli navy. When the British navy discovered the ship, the immigrants and Pearlman were deported to Cyprus. Moish introduced himself to the British camp commander as a British journalist covering the ship's journey. He was released from the camp on the condition that he won't enter Palestine. He published a report, based on his stay at the camp, in which he wrote about the children's village. He showcased the extensive efforts made by the Jewish Agency to prepare the new immigrants for life in the new state, despite the difficult 

conditions in which they found themselves.

The Hagana ship Theodor Herzl (PHG\1009227)

The Hagana ship Theodor Herzl (PHG\1009227)

 A report by Moshe Pearlman on the children's village in the Cyprus detention camps, 1947 (DD1\1086)  

A report by Moshe Pearlman on the children's village in the Cyprus detention camps, 1947 (DD1\1086). In the report, Pearlman described the unique group staying in the children's camp: "This community, made up of 2000 youngsters from the age of 15 to 17… these boys and girls come from over 12 countries… they come from different classes, different social groups, different backgrounds, to each a different story, a different experience… one thing they have in common: they are all Europeans – with all that this implies after the second world war. Most of them are orphans, and all suffered hardship and displacement." Emissaries from Palestine taught the children and gave them a sense of community, despite the children's heterogeneity and the shortage of food and supplies.   


With no opportunity to enter Palestine, Pearlman traveled to France, where he covered the story of the Aliyah Bet's ship Exodus and the deportation of illegal immigrants to Germany in September 1947. These stories, especially those sent to the British press, where he described the plight of the Jewish immigrants, raised global awareness of the problem of the Jewish refugees and helped the Jewish Yishuv that hoped to bring more refugees to Palestine


At the beginning of the War of Independence, prime minister and defense minister David Ben-Gurion chose Moish Pearlman to be the IDF spokesperson, with his military background, journalistic experience, and perfect English. Ben-Gurion thought it more important for the spokesperson to be a figure that would strengthen Israel's international support, rather than someone who is familiar with Israeli society, as an Israeli journalist, for instance.


At first, his role was defined as "manager of the foreign press". However, over time, he became the first spokesperson in the rank of brigadier general. Moish traveled in a jeep across the country and battlefields with foreign journalists and senior foreign affairs journalists. He served in this role until the end of 1951 – three years of war, immigrant absorption, and regrouping the army.

As part of the press coverage of the first large-scale training maneuver of the army's reservists, in October 1950, Pearlman broadcast deterrence messages to the enemy that was regrouping for a "second round". These broadcasts had many listeners. His voice, with 

its distinct Anglo-Saxon accent, was familiar to every citizen. ו


In 1950 the National Fund sent Pearlman on a short mission in England and France. He received fifty Palestine pounds extra, to buy himself the necessary civilian attire for such a mission, which, unsurprisingly, he did not possess. 

"Because you have no civilian attire... we agree to give you 50 Palestine pounds"(KH4\51924)
 "Because you have no civilian attire... we agree to give you 50 Palestine pounds"(KH4\51924)



Moish Pearlman was discharged from the IDF in 1951 and proceeded to fill various roles in the state's civil service. He was manager of the government press office, head of intelligence services (Hasbarah) at the office of the prime minister, and manager of "Kol Yisrael" ("Voice of Israel"), Israel's broadcasting service. Later on, he was appointed as Israeli ambassador to Kongo. At the end of his mission in 1960, he retired from the civil service and focused on writing.


On the eve of the Six-Day War, defense minister Moshe Dayan invited Moish to assist him in public and foreign relations. 


In the historic photo of the entrance of defense minister Moshe Dayan to the old city, through the Lions' Gate, with Central region Commander General Uzi Narkiss on his right and Chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin to his left. Pearlman is seen in the back, over Rabin's shoulder. Photo: Ilan Brunner, GPS (PHIS\1470404)  



Moshe Pearlman died in 1986, at 75. When I spoke at his funeral on behalf of the IDF, I said, among other things, that Moish had a great privilege to be the first official spokesperson of Israel: "Prime minister and minister of defense David Ben-Gurion has done well to put in your hands, mind, and mouth the important mission of strengthening the international support of Israel and the IDF in the time of the founding of the state, during a challenging war with the Arab Armies. Ben-Gurion knew how to appreciate your international professional experience, Zionist spirit, and connection to people, which all served as an excellent basis for your success in this complex role. The role you filled was later divided into four different positions: IDF spokesperson, media consultant to the prime minister, media consultant to the minister of defense, and head of the government press office."


I initiated the "Moshe Pearlman award for journalistic works on military and defense issues." Heading the award committee was retired general Aharon Yariv. The award was awarded, among the others, to TV reporter Eitan Oren. Unfortunately, the project did not persist since.


Moshe Pearlman's archive is kept in the National Library. However, his activity is portrayed extensively in the documents of the institutions of the Zionist movement, the photo collection, and newspapers collections of the Zionist Archives. 


 Published on 13.4.2022