Whistleblowers are hard to come by. They’re basically every journalist’s dream. Some of the biggest scoops in history have come from whistleblowers. But they’re rare, mainly because they have a lot to risk. Their job, their status, even their own well being. Which is also why some choose to stay anonymous.
Two stories that have popped up over the last couple of weeks involving the military are being widely discussed in Israel. They were both published due to whistleblowers, albeit very different kinds (which we’ll get to later). But the way Israeli society and media has reacted to these stories, I think, really says a lot.
The first story is about a report published by Breaking the Silence. BTS is an organization with a clear agenda. It was founded in 2004 by IDF veterans who wish to expose “the corruption which permeates the military system”, as their website points out. So, they’re far from being neutral, and I don’t agree they should be coined a “human rights group”. In its reports, BTS usually “hunts out” soldiers for testimonies, whereas soldiers rarely approach the organization by themselves. In this specific report, the organization published testimonies of soldiers who fought in the recent Cast Lead Operation in Gaza, who claimed that the IDF used the “neighbour policy“, where soldiers force Palestinians by gunpoint to walk into a house in order to make sure it has not been booby trapped or that militants aren’t hiding in it.
The procedure was outlawed by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2005, but there have been reports that the IDF has since used the procedure on various occasions.
The soldiers who testified remain anonymous. BTS gave the report exclusively to Amos Harel, the Haaretz military correspondent, and also to the foreign media. And that’s when hell broke loose.
The Israeli media, lead by IDF spokesperson Avi Benayahu, began an organized effort to deligitmize BTS and the report, claiming that there is no way the IDF can investigate anything if they stay anonymous. Also, the attacks centered on the BTS as an organization, its funding and its agenda – not on the testimonies. It got even uglier on one of the Army Radio morning shows, hosted by Kobi Arieli and Irit Linor. Arieli is a Haredi journalist, Linor a former author who has too much to say about nothing, supposed to be the opposing secular liberal. Arieli began the segment by telling listeners about how, when he was a lad, guys who tattled on their friends always got beaten up. (listen here in Hebrew):
Arieli: “In the case of these left-wing traitors, with all their identity problems and that have no idea who they are and tattle on us to the other side … the question is, why aren’t they being beaten up and sent home with scars?”
Linor: “This is an organization that just made up a report. I mean, base it on something, you piece of trash.” She added later: “These are a bunch of weaklings, I think that even I could beat them up”.
First of all, I’d like to ask Arieli: If you don’t have a problem with the illegal neighbour policy, than you shouldn’t mind people ratting you out, right? And to Linor: … Oh boy, I don’t know what to say to a person who calls IDF veterans who were sent by her government to the territories to defend her “a piece of trash”.
Let’s be clear about one thing: the way BTS handled this story is problematic. In his blog, Jerusalem Post News Director Amir Mizroch shows us how fishy the whole story is:
Several days before all this, Breaking The Silence gave out their report to a wide array of foreign media, and not to the IDF to probe into itself, with the caveat that they observe the embargo until after Haaretz published the report first. All of which shows their original intent was to get as much uncritical worldwide publicity for their report. Legitimate, sure. Fair? Not so sure.
But I think many people have lost sight of the fact that this isn’t a story about the way it was published, but about WHAT was published – damning testimonies, in a leading newspaper, by one of the most respected journalists in the business – Amos Harel (full disclosure: I am a former employee of Haaretz).
Harel wrote in his analysis piece:
The nay-sayers should simmer down. The men behind the testimonies are soldiers, that is certain. Three of them met with Haaretz, at the paper’s request. While there is no definite way of vouching for the credibility of their reports, it is safe to say that they did fight in Gaza and that they provided enough authentic detail to prove that they are not imposters.
I can understand their desire to stay anonymous. These guys are basically kids, 18-21 year olds and are still serving. Coming out and testifying against their commanders about abusing the rights of Palestinians? “Gutsy” would be an understatement.
So when CAN you tell on your commanders? Ah, that brings us to our next story. YNET last week published an exclusive about severe abuse in the armored corps. Turns out there’s a brigade that has quite the hazing ceremony for new inductees, and YNET even had some gruesome photos that showed the outcome. Apparently, several soldiers and their parents decided to “break the silence” about the hazing, later some girlfriends joined the noise, and some of the commanders were eventually arrested.
And how did the media react to this one? Everyone was outraged, of course. Those poor soldiers, those wicked commanders.
You’re probably saying “Hey, at least these guys weren’t scared, they didn’t stay anonymous”. Sure, it must have been scary to rat out their commanders, but there’s a difference. First, that dispicable enemy on the other side isn’t involved, and second – there’s a chance for revenge against those commanders. They’re going to jail.
The bottom line is this: Haaretz published a story about whistleblowers. Shoud they have? Yes. Will it be difficult to investigate? Also yes. YNET also published a story about whistleblowers. Goes without saying that they should have, and it’s already being investigated.
This leads us to a sad conclusion: In Israel, because the IDF is still seen as the “most moral army in the world”, we all react with shock and horror to stories about “our sons” being abused. But when it comes to shocking disclosures about these same sons’ behavior toward the Palestinians, the shock and horror is reserved for those turn-coats who dare attack the army and sully the IDF’s name. How dare they?
They must be a “piece of trash”.