A SOLDIER from Army Radio at the station in 2013..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A dispute over the boundaries of free speech at Army Radio is an opportunity to reassess the prudence of maintaining a military-funded radio station when there already is the public broadcaster KAN.
On Monday, poet and writer Yehonatan Geffen sparked controversy when in an Instagram post he compared Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi to Hanna Senesh, Anne Frank and Joan of Arc.
Tamimi has become the darling of critics of Israel after a video of her slapping and verbally attacking an IDF officer and a soldier near her home in Nabi Salah was posted on Facebook by her mother, Nariman.
The two Tamimis are being held in custody until the end of legal proceedings against them. They are accused of attacking the soldiers and throwing rocks at them.
In response to Geffen’s Instagram post, which went viral, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made a public display of ordering the commander of Army Radio to ban Geffen and his songs from the station.
“The State of Israel will not give a platform to a drunk who compares a child who perished in the Holocaust and a brave fighter who fought the Nazis to Ahed Tamimi, a brat who attacked a soldier.”
Attorney-General Amichai Mandelblit responded that Liberman lacked the authority as defense minister to interfere with Army Radio’s content.
Army Radio occupies a problematic niche in Israel’s media landscape. It is a throwback to a time when the boundaries between civil society and the state were blurred and the IDF as a people’s army dominated Israeli society and culture. On one hand, it is a national media outlet operating in a democracy that should abide by democratic principles that include vigorous protection of free speech.
On the other hand, Army Radio supposedly caters to soldiers in their late teens and early 20s with a quasi-educational role in promoting military service, defending Israel’s policies as carried out by the IDF, and preventing the broadcast of “improper” content.
Just last month, for instance, political commentator Irit Linor was suspended from Army Radio for launching a diatribe against President Reuven Rivlin for criticizing the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
And former commander of the station Avi Benayahu said this week that during his stint he prevented the station from sponsoring a concert by Hadag Nahash after members of the popular rock band were quoted in a newspaper interview admitting to using drugs.
This type of behavior is reminiscent of the 1960s when The Beatles were preventing from coming to Israel for fear they would have a bad effect on youths.
Further complicating Army Radio’s standing is the fact that its programming is funded by taxpayers via the IDF’s budget. Israelis are rightly perturbed by the idea that their hard-earned shekels are being used to finance radio content that does not reflect their personal views.
Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Gadi Eisenkot is known to favor ending the IDF’s funding of Army Radio, primarily due to budgetary concerns. He is also said to be uncomfortable with the station dealing with controversial political issues. Liberman is attempting to advance a plan to transfer responsibility for Army Radio from the IDF to the Defense Ministry. The plan awaits approval from Mandelblit.
We believe, however, that the preferred solution is to privatize Army Radio. There is no justification for state funding of a radio station, when there is already public broadcasting in the form of KAN that maintains radio and TV stations. The army is meant to defend the country.
The continued funding of Army Radio from the state budget creates too many contradictions. Free speech cannot be adequately protected because it would mean using taxpayers’ money to pay royalties to artists on the Left such as Geffen who are highly critical of the policies carried out by the IDF, and to individuals on the Right such as Linor who are unabashed defenders of the Netanyahu government.
Even the most abhorrent or unhinged opinions, such as the ones expressed by Geffen, should be protected. Indeed, it is precisely fringe persons such as Geffen, who have been physically attacked in the past for voicing their left-wing views, for whom freedom of speech must be defended.
But Army Radio is an anachronistic body that should be privatized. One public broadcaster in Israel is enough.