The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is considered to be Israel’s melting pot. Soldiers come from all walks of life in Israel as well from abroad, get to know each other and become an integral part of Israeli society. One significant exception to this is the army radio station Galatz.
The radio station is open only to those not fit for combat. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Why should the army waste the services of people fit for combat, the army’s primary task, for a radio station? The fact is that serving in Galatz is the equivalent of going to the most prestigious media school in Israel, all paid for by the Israeli taxpayer. Why should this opportunity for those who might wish to pursue a career in the media be denied to combat soldiers? Why can’t they compete freely and, if found worthy, join the station for the mandatory three years? Consider the latest brouhaha involving Golan Yochpaz, a former Galatz employee. He had served as the station’s “territories reporter” (not the Yesha reporter as that is too Zionist a term) from 1992-1995.
What happened afterwards is more interesting.
From 1999-2008, he was the chief editor of Channel 2’s Kolbotek consumer affairs television program.
From 2004-2006 he was the editor and host of the The world this morning news magazine on that channel.
He then continued as editor of the channel’s Friday news program roundup show and simultaneously editor and host of Galatz’s Good Morning Israel news broadcast.
In 2013, he became the executive director of TV Channel 10 news. As reported on March 6 on the News 1 website, at the time, he demanded from Galatz to continue to host the morning news program, knowing full well that this was a blatant conflict of interest. Galatz understood this and Yochpaz was released from his duties.
His reaction was to spit into the well from which his whole media life was created. He is now suing Galatz for the paltry sum of NIS 1.2 million.
Matan Chodorov entered Galatz as a soldier in 2003. He became the traffic correspondent and, subsequently, the senior economics correspondent in 2005. In 2006, he served as editor of the Good Morning Israel program. It was then but a short jump to the prestigious professional media world.
During 2008-2009, while still working at Galatz, he also served as economics commentator for various Channel 2 programs. In December 2009, he left Galatz to become the economics correspondent of Channel 10.
Chodorov had a good teacher: Noa Kolp. She also started her career in Galatz, in 1998 as a real estate correspondent.
She was the first religious female soldier at the station. In 2005, she moved to Channel 10 to become head of the economics desk there, serving also as host of the channel’s economic program. She then moved with her spouse in 2009 to the US, becoming Channel 10’s and Globes’ New York correspondent. Chodorov assumed her post when she left.
A more recent example of Galatz soldiers moving on to the big time is Yona Leibson, who was drafted into Galatz in 2007 and, given her Soviet origins, covered at first immigration and absorption affairs and the Jewish world. She was then promoted and became the economics and environmental affairs correspondent. She also became an editor of the morning news program and vice-head of the current affairs department. In September 2015 she was chosen to be the social and welfare correspondent of Channel 2.
One of Galatz’s biggest success stories is Amit Segal, son of Chagai Segal, the editor of the Makor Rishon newspaper. Segal, who does not hide his right-wing sympathies, embarked on his career in 2000. In 2006, he was already employed at Channel 2, continuing as a media correspondent, the post he also held previously at Galatz. Nowadays he is the political correspondent, hosts a weekly show on the Knesset TV channel, pens a weekly political commentary column in Makor Rishon and more.
These are but a few representative examples of the deep influence Galatz has on Israeli media on the one hand and on the other, the huge advantages of those who embark on their media career at the Galatz station. This bring us back to our opening comment, that it is patently unfair that soldiers fit for combat cannot enjoy the same opportunities just because they risk their lives for the state.
This situation is so wrong that even extreme left-wing Yediot Aharonot commentator Nachum Barnea called in July 2011 for the closure of the station. Among his reasons was that “young people arrive at the station and leave it after three years, well-trained professionally but ethically screwed up. This is what happens when an 18-year-old youngster pushes a microphone into the fact of a prime minister. ...But the central issue is that he did not serve in the army. Thanks to Galatz, the media is full of journalists who have little interest in Israel outside of the perimeter of the Yarkon River.”
Is there a solution to this situation? Is it really necessary for the station to discriminate against those who really deserve to serve in the station? There are two choices. One is to close the station down. This is the correct choice that we, as well as many others, have advocated, noting the ludicrousness of a media organ which belongs to the military but broadcasts mostly civilian and political content. Israel does not need so many public radio stations.
But, as is perhaps also evident from the examples above, Galatz’s alumni permeate our media everywhere and whenever there is even a hint of an initiative to close the station, the hue and cry they raise scares off the politicians.
There is a solution: the army could and should make it imperative for anyone who wants to serve at the station to sign on to a four-and-ahalf- year stint. The first 18 months would be spent doing regular duty in the army. Those fit for combat, in combat units, those not, in support units. After this period, they continue to serve for three years at Galatz.
Ideally, they should not receive payment for the last 18 months, given that they are receiving free media schooling. But as a compromise, one could also pay them a minimal salary, as received by officers who serve a fourth year in the army for the added period.
This suggestion has many advantages.
Foremost, it would open Galatz to combat soldiers, ending the discrimination.
Secondly, it would perhaps bring into Galatz people who are somewhat more ethical than Golan Yochpaz. Thirdly, any soldier who has served for 18 months of regular duty would understand the army much better and could then perform in Galatz with a much deeper perspective about the army.
We have suggested this policy to a number of politicians, but to no avail. Perhaps the public can influence those who decide for us.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.org.il).