Brigadier General Avi Benayahu, formerly the IDF Spokesperson, on Saturday shared with the Yediot Aharonot weekend supplement that Israel’s official radio channel, Kol Israel, was instructed to block access to MKs wishing to speak against the uprooting of some 8,000 Jews from Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
“During the disengagement (the laundered, government issue term for the mass deporatations), all the rebel MKs, those who objected to the move did not receive access to Kol Israel,” by decree from above, Benayahu recalled. “I allowed them, of course, to be interviewed on Army Radio, and was receiving messages from [Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon that I was providing a platform for the extreme right, the marginal voices.”
“Back then we understood that to be our role,” the former IDF Spokesperson said, reminding many readers that the left-leaning military station used to be a small l liberal outfit.
According to the Israeli media monitoring NGO Keshev (Listening), the Israeli media systematically overstated “the threat posed by those opposed to disengagement and emphasized extreme scenarios.” Keshev’s report states that “throughout the weeks before the disengagement, and during the evacuation itself, the Israeli media repeatedly warned of potential violent confrontation between settlers and security forces. These scenarios, which never materialized, took over the headlines.”
Keshev’s report suggests the Israeli print and TV media “relegated to back pages and buried deep in the newscasts, often under misleading headlines” items that “mitigated the extreme forecasts.” Editors delivered “one dominant, ominous message:,” such as Channel 1’s Aug. 14, 2005 story: “Police Declare High Alert Starting Tomorrow, Close to a State of War.”
“The discrepancy between the relatively calm reality emerging from most stories and the overall picture reflected in the headlines is evident in every aspect of the disengagement story: in the suppression of information about the voluntary collection of weapons held by the settlers in the Gaza Strip; in reporting exaggerated numbers of right-wing protesters who infiltrated the Strip before the evacuation; in misrepresentation of the purpose of settler protest (which was an exercise in public relations, not a true attempt to thwart the disengagement plan); and in playing down coordinated efforts between the Israeli security forces and the settlers,” Keshev reports.
According to Keshev, the price for this misrepresentation was paid, at least in part, by the settlers, whose public image was radicalized unjustifiably. After the disengagement was completed without violence between Israelis and a sense of unity and pride pervaded society, “the media chose to give Israeli society, and especially its security forces, a pat on the back.”