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Wartime dissent

Bettina Marx / reJuly 22, 2014

Criticism of the offensive in the Gaza Strip is hardly being voiced in mainstream Israeli media. There appears to be little tolerance for dissenting opinions and criticism of the military elite.

People sit around three different desks in a newsroom (Foto: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

It's tough going in the Israeli media for those opposed to the offensive in the Gaza Strip. They can generally get just one sentence out before being interrupted - often quite rudely. The interruptions don't just come from co-panelists, but also from the anchors themselves. It's become a frequent pattern recently.

That pattern was on display as a journalist and a radio presenter sat in a TV studio next to Yehuda Shaul from Breaking The Silence, a group of former soldiers who are against the Israeli occupation. Shaul was announcing a demonstration against the military offensive before being shouted down. "You are a Jew and should be ashamed. You should put on a uniform and go to the Gaza Strip instead of sitting in TV studios to organize demonstrations," fumed radio presenter Sharon Gal.

A pervasive sense of crisis

Arab Knesset representative Mohammad Barakeh took part in the studio conversation via video feed. He also draws Gal's rage. "You're a liar; you're a criminal; you shouldn't be allowed to speak here. You should go to Hamas TV. You are supporting Hamas!" said Gal.

Mohammad Barakeh (Foto: Ilan Costica)
Mohammad Barakeh has faced much critisismImage: cc-by- 3.0/Ilan Costica

A sense of crisis pervades the country. The three TV stations - one state-run and two private broadcasters - are going around the clock. "A State under Fire" read one eye-catching headline.

Journalist Gideon Levy created a frenzy recently after writing an article in the Israeli daily "Haaretz" in which he criticized air force pilots for their operations in the Gaza Strip. Levy wrote: "They have never seen an enemy aircraft - Israel's last air battle took place before they were born. They've never seen the white of an enemy's eyes, and they've never had a close look at the red blood of their victims. They are heroes who are fighting the weakest and most helpless of people - people who have no air force, no anti-aircraft systems, who are hardly able to fly a kite."

Untouchable heroes

Levy's article brought on a serious outcry. Fighter pilots are seen as untouchable heroes in Israel. Only the best of the best - so the thinking goes - manage to pass the hard and lengthy training for fighter pilots. They are the elite within the country's military circles. Levy's piece, which was written after 21 members of the Gaza police chief's family lost their lives as collateral damage, is seen as inexcusable sacrilege.

A boy with a paper bag walks along debris
The number of victims in the Gaza Strip offensive continues to growImage: Reuters

The journalist has tried to explain his position in talk shows and interviews. "Most Israelis are not exposed to the images from Gaza and don't see what is happening there," Levy said during a TV interview. In recent days, death and destruction have occurred to a terrifying extent, he continued, arguing that someone has to be held accountable for it. "It's not just the pilots who are responsible for it, but they are, too. And you have to wonder if no one is taking moral responsibility for it."

Forced to stop by bystanders

During the interview, Levy was in Ashkelon, one of the cities hit most often by rockets from the Gaza Strip. He was standing in front of a shopping mall during his live TV interview. It didn't take long for bystanders to interrupt him, shouting, "You are a traitor. You have called our pilots murderers. Aren't you ashamed? You're not allowed to speak here."

A woman and a girl in a half open bus window (Foto: Finbarr O'Reilly REUTERS )
The war has turned many people into refugeesImage: Reuters

The host in the studio had to stop the interview because more and more people joined in to insult Levy. The embattled journalist went on to claim - in another "Haaretz" article - that he was nearly lynched. "My best friends have urged me to leave the country until the situation has calmed down or at least to be careful and not to leave the house," he wrote.

But Levy is neither staying home nor leaving Israel. Instead, he is answering more questions from talk show presenters and continuing to voice his opinion. "I ask you: there is such a strong and unified chorus in the media, so why are you disturbed by a single voice, a mere echo that differs? Why is it causing such an outcry? Why?"