Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz were
caught this week violating one of the cardinal principles of public life: never
assume there isn’t an open microphone within earshot.
On a tour of the
Golan Heights on Tuesday, the two military honchos poked fun at the recent
uproar over female soldiers singing in public, oblivious to the fact that their
remarks were being taped.
As they watched an exercise of the Golani
Brigade, Barak turned to Gantz and asked him, “What are these female soldiers
doing here? Where are they from?” to which Gantz replied, “They are here to
sing. They sing during their break.”
After Barak mentioned that he had
brought along a female aide who could sing even though she was not in uniform,
the commander of the Golani Brigade, Col.Ofek Buhris, piped in and said,
“As long as she is without a uniform, but with civilian clothes on, it is
The story, which was broken by Ynet, naturally prompted cries of
outrage. After all, it was just a few weeks ago that Gantz himself criticized
demands by various rabbis that the role of women in the military be restricted.
In public, he adopted a firm stance in defense of the rights of women, and here
he was making derisive comments about them in private.
to the exchange could not help but cringe at the sorry display of poor taste and
pitiful humor, reminiscent of an amateur comedian who evokes more groans than
Indeed, with Iran racing towards the nuclear finish line, Syria on
the edge of civil war and Egypt descending into fundamentalism, I sincerely hope
their military planning skills surpass their joke-telling ability.
said, it is difficult to see what all the brouhaha was about. As childish and
facile as the comments were, they were hardly as offensive as some feminist
groups have made them out to be.
THE REAL story here is not the exchange
between Barak and Gantz, but the attempt at censorship that immediately
followed. When the two realized that the reporters standing next to them
were busy filming their attempt at repartee, Gantz grew indignant and sought to
prevent their publication. Turning to a reporter from Army Radio, Gantz
declared, “Army Radio, this is not being broadcast. Even if it’s
once-in-alifetime scoop – it stays on your tape.”
He then told Channel
2’s military correspondent, Nir Dvori, “You too... otherwise this will be your
last story. That would be a pity. Don’t let this be your last story.”
in case anyone thought this was a joke, the military censor quickly went into
As Ynet reported, “When the tape arrived at the Military Censor’s
Office for processing, the banter was deemed as being in bad taste and the
Defense Ministry and IDF Spokesman’s Office asked the media to cut the joke from
their reports. Video footage taken by foreign news agencies was also censored
Censored? This is the real outrage.
There is simply
no excuse for IDF brass to deploy the heavy-handed measure of gagging the press
simply to shield themselves from public censure.
This is a shameless
abuse of the military censor, an attempt to transform it from an entity that
protects the state to one that protects the image of the chief of
The very idea of censorship is already difficult enough to
swallow. It runs counter to basic civil liberties such as freedom of the press.
Obviously, given Israel’s precarious security situation, and the existential
threats that it faces, there is no choice but to rein in the press when
necessary to safeguard national security.
But the use of this hazardous
instrument must be severely limited to cases in which the publication of
information would benefit the enemy or inflict damage on the security of the
state. We must not allow it to become a PR tool in the hands of top
By seeking to suppress Gantz’s juvenile joke to save him from
potential embarrassment, the IDF has only ended up inflicting still greater
damage. It has undermined confidence in the military censor as a body whose sole
focus is protecting the secrets of the state.
And it has revealed an
arrogance of power at the highest echelons of the IDF. When a chief of
staff feels free to order reporters around like an editor-in-chief, something is
Urgent steps need to be taken to ensure that such abuses of
power do not recur. Greater civilian oversight of the military censor’s
office is evidently needed so that it is not used frivolously to cover up
stories. Senior military officers, like other civil servants, should not
be able to escape the glare of public scrutiny.
Obviously, those of us
who still hoped and believed that our military leaders had the nation’s best
interests at heart, rather than their own, have been proven very, very wrong by
this sorry state of affairs.
Clearly, Gantz’s joke is on all of us. And
this time, no one is laughing.