The reporter who brought down the general

'Ma’ariv' columnist Kalman Liebskind says the Hebrew media often downplays or tries to contradict rivals’ stories.

No one would have faulted Ma’ariv columnist Kalman Liebskind had he written a self-aggrandizing column for Wednesday’s newspaper in which he tootled his own horn.
After all, it’s not every day that an investigative journalist succeeds in halting a high-level appointment, as Liebskind did when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant that he would not become IDF chief of General Staff.
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But instead, Liebskind wrote that this was not an occasion to celebrate. In his column, he quoted a phrase King David used to describe mixed emotions of relief and responsibility.
“We didn’t open a bottle of champagne at the Ma’ariv office,” the 40-year-old resident of Moshav Gimzo, southeast of Lod, said in a phone interview. “On one hand what happened was good, because Galant shouldn’t have been chief of General Staff after all the probes and findings.
But on the other hand, it wasn’t a happy day. The state and the IDF don’t look good on such a day. I was not happy to see Galant humiliated, because of the stature of his title, and because he did so much for the country. Even though he should not have been chief of General Staff, it is important to treat him with respect.”
While other newspapers focused the overwhelming majority of their front pages on Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak’s decision to not run again and focused less on Galant’s downfall, Ma’ariv put a huge picture of Galant on almost its entire front, with a small headline about Mubarak underneath.
But Liebskind pointed out that Ma’ariv’s top columnists coincidentally all wrote in a “solemn, restrained and even statesmanlike manner,” rather than declaring victory.
Liebskind first broke the story in December 2008 when Galant was OC Southern Command, and he followed up on it every few months.
He wrote that Galant had added 35 dunams (3.5 hectares) to his land in a way that was legal but ethically problematic, and another 25 completely illegally.
Liebskind also revealed that Galant had paved two driveways to his house and a large parking lot on private land. The general also expanded his house and presented explanations to the courts that were incorrect.
For a long time, Liebskind’s reports about Galant had little impact and resulted in barely any follow-up. Only over the past three weeks did they become big news that every media outlet wrote about, ultimately causing Galant’s downfall.
Liebskind lamented the fact that the Hebrew media does not follow up on stories of rival publications and often make a point of downplaying them or trying to contradict them. He said this has resulted in important stories not having the necessary impact, at least until it is almost too late, as happened with his Galant scoop.
“It’s not good that the story only blew up two weeks before Galant was set to replace [Lt.-Gen. Gabi] Ashkenazi,” Liebskind said. “I wish it would have been nipped in the bud a long time ago.”
Liebskind, who is seen as Ma’ariv’s most right-wing columnist, said politics were neither the reason for his report, nor for other media outlets not following up on it. He has probed people across the political spectrum as an investigative reporter with the right-wing Makor Rishon and then with Ma’ariv over the past 14 years.
Ma’ariv gave him a weekly column a year ago.
“The story isn’t political,” Liebskind said. “I don’t even know what side of the political map Galant is on.”
Galant came under fire from the Right for helping facilitate the Gaza Strip withdrawal in 2005, as then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s military attaché. National Union MK Ya’acov Katz has blamed his downfall on what he calls the “disengagement curse” that he says also struck former prime ministers Sharon and Ehud Olmert, former president Moshe Katsav, former IDF chief Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz and former Israel Police senior officers Insp.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Karadi and Cmdr. (ret.) Uri Bar-Lev.
Liebskind said he does not believe in curses.
“I don’t respect people who think they know what God thinks, plans and punishes,” he said. “I am a religious man who keeps the commandments. I believe in God, but I don’t claim to be able to explain Him.”