Reuven Ze’ev (Razi) Barkai, age 67, is a veteran self-admitted left-wing journalist.
His brother was killed in a training accident while undergoing an IDF officer’s course and Barkai himself served as an officer in the paratroopers. Only after leaving the army did he start his professional career as a journalist. In 1971, he joined Kol Israel, remaining there for the next 22 years. Since 1995, he hosts a two-hour daily morning interview program on Galatz called Ma Boer? (What’s Burning?).
Barkai is an Israeli media icon. He is a recipient of many honors, including the prestigious Sokolov Prize. There is no question that he is a Zionist, yet there is also no doubt that he belongs ideologically to the Israel liberal secular camp.
Barkai has appeared too many times in this column, and not in a positive context. Detrimental comments on haredim (the ultra-Orthodox), smoking in public in the Galatz radio studio in violation of the law (since then he has given up smoking) and much more. Yet, his biggest failing comes from his outsized ego. Barkai knows what is good for us as no one else knows.
This past week, Barkai was at the center of a media storm. Sunday a week ago, interviewing Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, he posed the following question in the context of the issue of releasing the bodies of slain terrorists to their families for burial: “Imagine Israeli families, and sadly we know such cases, for example, as a result of Operation Protective Edge, who are waiting endlessly until the bodies of their fallen beloved are returned to them.” Erdan responded: “This is the comparison you are making?” and Barkai retorted, “From the point of view of the feelings of the families.”
The families in question, whose sons Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul fell in the operation and whose bodies are held hostage by Hamas, were upset. The next morning, Simcha Goldin was interviewed on Galatz by Niv Raskin and expressed his unhappiness with Barkai’s question. Raskin was prepared and had Barkai on air to respond. It was here that Barkai’s stubbornness and ego came to the forefront. He was willing to apologize if he hurt the families – but was not willing to retract his question. As he declared, “I believe that there is no difference between the feelings of a grieving mother, whether she is Israeli or Palestinian.”
Barkai was not willing to concede that there is a qualitative difference between a mother who loses her son who was sent by the state to defend it from the enemy and a mother whose son is a cruel murderer or even attempted murderer of innocent people. His question implied that he does not find it justified if Israel keeps bodies of Palestinian terrorists hostage, until Hamas does the decent thing and return the bodies of our fallen.
Worse, Barkai was playing into the hands of the enemy, legitimizing in a sense the fact that Hamas does not allow a decent burial for our fallen soldiers.
True, Israel’s authorities do not always immediately return fallen terrorists to their families, but not simply to hold them as hostages.
They want to prevent mass hatred-fueled demonstrations, fearing that these would only further incite other misguided people to try to kill Israelis. But according to Barkai, this is cruel toward the Palestinian mother, to be equated with the suffering of the Jewish mother.
As a private person, Barkai has the right to his opinion, but he is not a private person.
He is the voice of Israel’s Army Radio Station for the past 20 years. He even represented it during Knesset deliberations on the future of the station. One might have thought he would understand that this publicly funded media outlet should not engage in undermining the effort of the security services to defend the state.
The public outrage against him was huge.
The parents wrote a letter to Galatz head Yaron Dekel, demanding an apology without ifs ands or buts. We, at Israel’s Media Watch’s website, received close to a hundred complaints from citizens all over the country, demanding an apology, but to no avail.
Worse, even, was the February 14 answer of the ombudsman of the station, Eran Elyakim.
“As a public broadcaster, although a military station,” he wrote, “it is our duty to bring to the public the full spectrum of opinion and voices...also if sometimes they are debatable.
Accordingly, it is the job of the interviewer to challenge the interviewee with tough questions that represent opinion and thoughts among part, even if small, of the public.”
He continued with a flat-out falsification of the truth, claiming that “Razi apologized to the families at the beginning of his program this morning.” In fact, that same morning, Barkai opened his program with the following statement: “I cannot lie to myself and give a retraction.”
It just so happened that during this whole brouhaha, Dekel let it be known that Barkai’s two-hour Sunday through Wednesday program would be cut in half with the second hour being hosted by right-wing radio presenter Erel Segal of the Galei Yisrael regional radio station and the NRG news website.
This would not have been the first change brought about at Galatz by Dekel. The leftwing morning news roundup presenter, Micha Friedman, found himself outside, replaced by a much younger colleague, Assaf Lieberman. Yael Dan, the veteran left-wing host of the two-hour noon program, found herself with only one hour, the other being given to another lefty colleague, Rino Tzror.
While the reduction of Dan’s program was accepted without complaint, the very idea of balancing Barkai enraged the media elites. As reported by Elkana Shor on the NRG website, Labor MK Nachman Shai, a former head of the station himself, claimed, incredulously to our mind, that he “is worried about the very existence of the station.” Gabi Gazit, who had to leave public broadcasting because of his outspoken views and rude comments, invited Barkai to join him on FM 103 radio.
Yitzchak Livni, an icon of public broadcasting, joined the fray saying, “this damages Galatz.” Avi Benayahu, another former head of Galatz, added his two bits: “I am concerned about the politicization infiltrating the studios of Galatz.” For some reason, this politicization did not really disturb him when, appointed by former prime minister Ehud Barak as head of the station, he perpetuated its left-wing, liberal character as much as he could.
The brouhaha worked again. Dekel’s resolve collapsed. It was reported on Tuesday that Barkai will continue broadcasting his twohour program. As for Erel Segal, who knows.
But does someone really care? After all, he is but a member of Israel’s lowly right wing.
Barkai and friends succeeded in bringing Galatz to a new low. Humility, ethics and all the nice words are irrelevant. Public feelings and outrage are of value only when they support liberal left-wing beliefs. The recourse left to the public is to switch to those media outlets which support just a wee bit of decency.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imediaw.