Beset by rampant inflation, increased emigration, and political tensions, Israelis have had their world significantly brightened this month by a single administrative act -- the lifting of restrictions on color television broadcasting.
Generally regarded as an election year ploy to win favor with the voters, the government decision makes Israel "the last country in the free world to change to color," according to Yosef Lapid, director-general of the government's Broadcasting Authority. Greece and Portugal abandoned black-and- white transmission last year.
From its inception in 1968, Israel's single, govenment-owned channel has filtered out the color from imported films. The government argued that going to color would bruden the economy by causing mass purchases of color sets.
Because of high customs duties, a 22- inch color set costs about $1,500. Some members of parliament argued that it would also cause social polarization between those who could afford sets and those who could not.
The ban on color broadcasts, however, did not discourage thousands of Israelis from buying color sets so they could pick up broadcasts from Jordan or Lebanon, which also use many imported films. The market for color receivers increased significantly two years ago when an "anti-eraser" device was invented by two Israeli technicians, enabling viewers to restore the color filtered out at Television House.
Tens of thousands of these devices were sold, and fully 90 percent of sets sold in recent months have been color sets. Of the 1.2 million sets in Israeli homes, 25 percent were color receivers even before the lates government decision.
Egyptian President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem was historic also in its impact on Iraeli television, which succumbed to the majesty of the occasion by broadcasting in color.
This process of creeping color reached a point where one-third of all programs, especially imported films, were broadcast in color. Locally produced programs remained black and white. The changeover to color, including local productions, is expected to take a year to complete.
A major unanswered question in this economically hard-pressed country is where people get the money for color sets. A recent survey indicates lower income groups are buying color sets at the same rate as middle income groups.
Some objections to color had unspoken moral undertones. Many Israelis found it unseemly to increase the attractiveness of television. This same objection was made when black-and- white television was introduced.
When television finally came to Israel in 1968, it was because the public force it. Thousands had purchased sets to pick up broadcast from neighboring Arab countries. Jordan was beginning to broadcast news in Hebrew for an Israeli audience. The Israeli authorities decided israel could not afford to leave its public exposed exclusively to broadcasts from hostile neighbors.
In dropping its color ban, the government has yielded once again, this time to the public's insistence on seeing the color of Archie Bunker's eyes.