A Leading Israeli TV Journalist's Careful Balancing Act

For Ilana Dayan, good journalism means avoiding expressions of political opinion and refusing to take a stand. In a wide-ranging interview with Haaretz, the host of the investigative news magazine 'Fact' sums up her journalistic philosophy.

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Ilana Dayan.
Ilana Dayan.Credit: Tali Mayer
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

“I called my friend Iris before you arrived and I said to her: ‘I don’t want to sound defensive. She’ll ask me about Nawi, about all kinds of things, and I don’t want to sound defensive,” Ilana Dayan tells me toward the end of our conversation this week, in the Ramat Hahayal offices of Channel 2 franchisee Keshet. “And then Iris says to me, ‘Just remember that you’re okay. You can explain, give reasons, describe – but you’re okay.’ We constantly tell each other that. ‘You’re okay, you did your best.’ We have this thing that we care about what people will say. Like right now, I won’t ask the secretary to bring water. I’ll get it myself, even though every minute is precious. You have no idea how much I talk with myself about such things.”

It’s not easy with Ilana Dayan. At age 52, after 22 seasons of her investigative television program “Fact” (“Uvda” in Hebrew), she makes for a tough interviewee. She’s such a wonderful conversationalist, so phenomenally intelligent and so pleasant to be with, that you feel like suppressing any urge to be critical. And recognition of all the respect due after a lengthy journalistic career including numerous major reports exerts a similar effect.

But the hardest thing about Dayan is her unfailing mechanism of balance, which comes as naturally to her as breathing: She is very careful not to say anything that might get her into trouble. And if she does go off in a certain direction, she will automatically follow it with a counter-statement that is equally eloquent and convincing. This mechanism is kept finely honed, in the name of professional responsibility and journalistic integrity, which Dayan invariably cites whenever she wants to deflect criticism. The only time her warm smile disappears and her expression turns angry is when her journalistic work is impugned.

This balance mechanism has also been displayed when it comes to the person whom Dayan, like the rest of the media, has been covering intensively lately: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Speaking at a recent protest against the premier’s attempt to do away with the new public broadcasting company, she remarked sarcastically: “I had a few minutes free while working on my report on Netanyahu’s successes around the world, so I thought I’d come” (At a briefing a few months ago that Netanyahu gave for journalists from Keshet, the network that broadcasts “Fact,” Netanyahu had asked her why she didn’t do more stories on his successes around the world).

Dayan then went on to say: “Netanyahu must be told that there are red lines when it comes to harming basic principles, and there are red lines when it comes to harming people. You [Netanyahu] know that the public broadcasting company must be created If it truly matters to us, we must wage this battle like no other before – with solidarity, courage and not a shred of despair.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers remarks at the Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn Award Ceremony at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 22, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers remarks at the Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn Award Ceremony at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 22, 2016. Credit: Andrew Kelly, Reuters

She said something similar in an interview with the Mako website (which is associated with Keshet) in November 2015, ahead of the premiere of the the new season of “Fact”: “When you see the way things are being done with regard to the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and the regulatory process vis-a-vis Channel 2, and all that Channel 10 had to go through before it was finally granted a license – the attempt to use every tool at the kingdom’s disposal in order to intimidate [is] very worrisome.”

But in that very same interview, as well as on other occasions, she also says, “The media has genuinely earned Netanyahu’s criticism. For years, Netanyahu was not given fair treatment in the media. And from that perspective, I can understand him.”

On the one hand you agree that the man is waging war on the media, as you yourself have said, in a manner that is unprecedented. On the other hand, you offer him justifications – a historical or psychological motive.

“By that, I meant two things: First, that we also ought to look inside ourselves, to really see whether there was some sort of frenzy of Netanyahu hatred that reached a peak after he was elected in ’96. And second, that this might explain the sentiment itself, but doesn’t rule out criticizing him wherever red lines are crossed.”

It’s not 1996 anymore. It’s now 20 years later and Netanyahu is laying waste to the media.

“In the 2015 election campaign, the same thing happened. I could go through the newspapers with you. I saw places in which there were competing interests and a war between the two most popular newspapers – one newspaper that’s in the hands of the prime minister, and another that has declared war on him. Certainly, there are differences between them: One newspaper is problematic by definition and there are issues with the other one. The behavior of both during the election was problematic.”

Okay, let’s say you’re right, and let’s move on to the second part: It’s like justifying the occupation by saying that Israelis are afraid of Palestinian terrorism, which does in fact exist.

“Unlike you, I’m not afraid that if I understand the sentiment, it will blunt the criticism. I’m very interested in the sentiment. First I take it and try to understand it. Then I go on to the most important thing, which is his actions.”

The report that will open the new season of “Fact” next week is about the Prime Minister’s Office. What is it about?

“Basically, the idea was to try to take this man – who has been the biggest presence in our lives for the past 10 or maybe 20 years – and break everything down into different elements, which has never been done before: his decision-making process, the way those around him function, the tumult, the pitfalls, the problems. But our intent is not to embark on a crusade. Rather, to also show the positive sides of the man.

“I’m fascinated by him. He’s not just anybody, he’s somebody. Someone you can’t ignore. His personal capabilities, his intellect, his ability to grasp things, the depth of his historical memory, also in terms of a feeling of historic responsibility. The duality within him. He also has a liberal and humanistic worldview that he brought from America. I know it’s there, but can I tell you just what happens to it and what makes it shrink? No, I can’t. I’m always hoping that it will manifest itself, though I admit that the odds of that seem to be dwindling.”

Could your forgiving attitude toward Netanyahu possibly be related to the fact that your father, a Likud member, was an ardent Bibi supporter?

'No one has ever told me what I can and cannot broadcast. When it comes to the tycoons and to prime ministers – I don’t think any other program or media outlet enjoys the level of independence that we do.'

“My father was a Likudnik – and more than that, a sworn devotee, some would say an infatuated devotee, of Netanyahu. From 1988 on, he would say to me, ‘Show me another leader of his stature.’ He would go to the party’s central committee meetings – which he hated, he detested that whole marketplace atmosphere – just to be able to vote for a decision that Bibi wanted. When my father was about to turn 80, I was going crazy trying to figure out what to do for him for his birthday. My husband Harel said, ‘If you bring him a birthday greeting from Netanyahu, it will make Mordechai’s day.’ And he was right. Netanyahu wished him a happy birthday and said, ‘It’s too bad that your daughter didn’t go along in the path of your worldview.’ I asked him how he knew that, but I didn’t want to get into a confrontation, so I said, ‘We’re not doing a television interview here, just give Dad your wishes and we’ll let you go.’

“Six months later, in May 2010, my father died. He died during a weekend that he’d organized for people [like him] with a South American background He was like their Nahum Barnea [popular commentator for Yedioth Ahronoth]; he would give a talk on Friday and organize other speakers for Saturday. In his talk Friday evening in Be’er Sheva he said something really unnecessary – that he didn’t trust the Arabs of Umm al-Fahm any more than he did the Arabs of Jenin and Ramallah. The next day, a friend of his, a Mapainik, got up and said: ‘Dayan made a racist statement that’s unacceptable.’ My father got up to answer him and said: ‘We’ve known each other for 50 years and we’ll go on quarreling for another 50 years. I don’t hate Arabs and I don’t love them either. I don’t trust them.’ And just then he had a heart attack, collapsed and died.

“Someone told Netanyahu my father died and he called during the shivah and spoke with my mother who, by the way, never voted anything right of Meretz. Besides being moved that the prime minister was calling, she said to him: ‘I want you to know that my husband died on your watch.’

Ilana Dayan.
Ilana Dayan.Credit: Tali Mayer

“He was on the phone with her for 20 minutes. You ask me if that has something to do with my attitude toward him? It doesn’t. It’s possible that because I have this background from my family, it makes me want to get to know him better. But rest assured that I am not doing PR pieces for the prime minister.”

Ratings, judgment calls

There’s been some criticism of your program in recent years – that it’s been tending more toward Yedioth Ahronoth-type personal stories that are shocking and emotional, toward heroic military reenactments and exclusive interviews. Less investigative reporting.

“Any answer I give will sound apologetic. We’ve been hearing this kind of criticism since the very first show and I think that precisely the opposite is true. In the last season, for example, there was an item you probably hardly remember, on the odd conflict of interest agreement that allowed [Moshe] Kahlon to become communications minister even though his sister had become one of the top five highest-paid employees at HOT [cable TV company]. “So, I’ll answer you the way my mother does: Do you know what I would look like if I wasn’t on a diet? Do you know how many reports we try to do and then end up deciding that it would be great for TheMarker, but we won’t be able to make it work on television? And as for interviews, I don’t get what the problem is. Rakefet Russak-Aminoach [CEO of Bank Leumi] wants to be interviewed by me? Yallah, I'm going to do that. Fairly but incisively, as best I can, on the knife’s edge. So as to send out this signal: People, this here is a media event. A woman who has never granted an interview before, who should be made to provide answers, and you ought to listen. I’m not going to turn down the interview with Rakefet just to avoid giving her screen time.”

Why not do a report instead, say, on the allocation of credit at Bank Leumi?

“No reason why not. When we do reports on things like black-market medicine at Ichilov [Hospital], or [tycoon Lev] Leviev’s diamond empire, or the Abu Kabir Pathological Institute... they do deal with the centers of power, with powerful people in dark corners of the Israeli authorities.”

When I ask Dayan to comment on something the former editor of her show, Gilad Tocatly, said in an interview with Itay Stern in Haaretz this past June – “There are investigative reports that are halted for financial reasons, that have to do with the controlling shareholders of Keshet. Which is easy to understand. I’m okay with that. Just like you wouldn’t do an investigative report on the controlling shakeholder of Haaretz” – Dayan is slightly taken aback and chooses her words carefully.

Keshet CEO Avi Nir.
Keshet CEO Avi Nir.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“I don’t know in what context that was said. And I’m not going to get into that. Gilad has been a good friend and partner since the show’s first day. He also knows what I’m about to tell you right now, and I’m looking you in the eye, and saying this with the utmost sense of responsibility: No one has ever told me what I can and cannot broadcast. When it comes to the tycoons and to prime ministers – I don’t think any other program or media outlet enjoys the level of independence that we do. There have even been a number of times when I found out that [Keshet CEO] Avi Nir rebuffed financial or political pressures before they got to us.”

I’ll give you an example of what I haven’t seen you do. For years, a controversial gas plan that went all the way to the High Court of Justice has been on the agenda. Yitzhak Tshuva is a Keshet stockholder [20 percent, through his daughter Gal Naor], and a partner in all the large gas field operations. Did you just not find him interesting enough to do a report on?

“Wait, we’ll touch on that in the next season of ‘Fact’ as well. We’ve tried to come up with some leads concerning the gas plan or the tycoons involved. If we had something new to reveal, we’d do it, but just to do a synthesis or integration of things that have already been reported – that’s not our job.”

Israeli border police search a Palestinian in east Jerusalem, Oct. 15, 2015.
Israeli border police search a Palestinian in east Jerusalem, Oct. 15, 2015. Credit: Oded Balilty, AP

I’d like to give you another example from the previous season of a story that might have had ratings potential, but I’m not certain I understand its journalistic value. You showed a reenactment of the Yamam [Border Police counter-terrorism unit] raid on a hospital in Nablus that was launched to catch one of the terrorists who murdered Eitam and Naama Henkin, based on footage shot from cameras on the fighters’ helmets. Does the Yamam need you to promote its reputation? Is that journalism?

“You’re making all kinds of incorrect assumptions here. As soon as I get exclusive material, I have to ask myself if it’s okay, if it’s correct, legitimate and appropriate for the public – if it’s okay to tell this story. We’d be in big trouble if such items were to take over the screen. But just like [Haaretz correspondent] Amos Harel can write a hard-hitting column about how blind Israel is being to [PA President] Abu Mazen’s collapse, and also follow new recruits in Nahal [an IDF infantry brigade] through their training, we can do that too. I’m not going to rule out a story about how the Yamam raided the hospital, including an interview with the hospital director, who says: This is heroism? Including that critical view. You’ll say that the heroics obscures that aspect of the piece. So we can argue.”

The heroics of raiding a hospital.

“I don’t forget that lying inside that hospital is a terrorist who murdered a mother and father in front of their four children. Besides, what my editor Eyal Gonen and I are out to do is to tell important stories. And this story that was happening at the height of the third intifada is important. Before we even get to the ethical judgments, before we get to the problematics of a raid on a hospital – there’s a story here, and we have an opportunity to convey it like no one else can. After that, I agree that we have to use our power and our high profile to show the public what is happening in the territories. It’s our sacred duty.”

That’s how you show what’s going on in the territories? You accompany a Yamam soldier? You’re toeing the line with the entire Israeli media, which covers the conflict in this way.

'I don’t see the Border Police counter-terrorism forces as storm troopers of the occupation. They’re risking their lives and they wholeheartedly believe that they are working to protect our lives.'

“Because of what’s going on in the territories, we’re not going to tell the story of the Yamam fighter? Because there are things that are happening in the territories and we must tell about them – and perhaps we don’t talk about it enough – we won’t allow the Yamam soldier onto the screen? I don’t see the Yamam soldiers as storm troopers of the occupation. They’re risking their lives and they wholeheartedly believe that they are working to protect our lives. I don’t forget that, and having two kids in the army helps me not to forget.

“As for the overall criticism of the media, I couldn’t agree more. Look at the holiday [newspaper] supplements: Every deputy battalion commander is the subject of a profile article. Every female soldier in the Snapir unit gets a double spread. There is a PR project going on here in the name of the army, which gets a disproportionate amount of column inches in print and minutes of screen time.”

So why do you do it too?

“I don’t. When we do the Yamam piece, we’re not telling a story in order to give that unit publicity. When Omri Assenheim does a piece about Shejaiya [referring to an incident during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, in which seven IDF soldiers were killed] – he tells the story of the broken-down APC, he gets the young officers who were left there on their own. When I do a report on the warnings the Shin Bet [security service] gave about the tunnels [dug by Hamas and leading into Israel] on the eve of the war – I’m not doing it to glorify the military ethos even if you see high-ranking military figures on the screen..”

Investigative reporter Omri Assenheim.
Investigative reporter Omri Assenheim.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Trademark balance

Two reports during the last season of “Fact” drew more attention than all the others. The first, which aired in January 2016, was about activist Ezra Nawi of the Ta’ayush organization; and the second, broadcast in April, was about the late general and politician Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi. Many people thought the two pieces were like mirror images, an example of that trademark Dayan balance mechanism (“Nonsense,” she scoffs. “The piece on Gandhi was started a long time before”).

Ezra Nawi.
Social activist Ezra Nawi, Jerusalem Magistrate Court, October 10, 2009.Credit: Emil Salman

The first piece featured footage, shot secretly by someone working undercover for the right-wing Ad Kan organization, of Nawi ostensibly trying to turn in to the Palestinian Authority an Arab man who was offering to sell land to settlers, with the implication being that Nawi was sending the man to his death. The exposé led to the arrests of Nawi and B’Tselem human rights activist Nasser Nawaja (Nawi allegedly made use of Nawaja’s connections in the Palestinian Preventive Security apparatus in order to turn in the land dealer), and of Ta’ayush activist Guy Butavia. The latter is seen talking on the phone with Nawi, who asks him to obtain information about the alleged land seller. Nawi’s arrest was on suspicion of conspiring in an attempted murder, contact with a foreign agent, and other charges; he was also initially denied the opportunity to meet with a lawyer.

This “Fact” report brought the wrath of leftist circles – and not only them – down upon Dayan. Indeed, even longtime devotees of the show expressed astonishment that the piece was broadcast. It also spawned a series of critical articles, the harshest of which appeared in Haaretz. It was written by Ta’ayush activist Michal Peleg and entitled in Hebrew, “And how will you live with your conscience?” In it, Peleg accused Dayan, whom she had accompanied on a trip to Berlin in 1993 to interview Markus Wolf, head of East German counterintelligence. Peleg suggested that Dayan ask herself the same kind of questions she had asked Wolf. Dayan insists she wasn’t offended by Peleg, but the jolt the piece caused her is still evident. Especially when she is reminded of its title.

Dayan: “‘And how will you live with your conscience’ – that’s the title of an article about what? What is that statement about? About a piece that reflected a disturbing truth. And how will you live with your conscience? Really? If Michal or [Haaretz’s] Gideon Levy want to argue about the how, about the context, about the proportions, about the screen time, about whether we should have noted that the undercover fellow received a military decoration in Operation Protective Edge – then fine, let’s discuss it. But there is one thing I will not argue about. That when information is received and verified and cross-checked and is only broadcast after months of concerted investigative work, and it reveals how, step after step, a well-known human rights activist, who is the moving force behind a well-known human rights organization, is actively working in tandem with one activist and then another activist, in order to send a land-dealer to his death – I can’t imagine, I don’t want to think that you, or any of your colleagues, would stop and shelve the material.”

First of all, what I see is this: Material that was brought in by someone who is not a journalist, about whom I have no idea where his interests lie, and you are airing it.

“The same can be said about the B’Tselem footage of Elor Azaria [the soldier charged with manslaughter in the killing of a Palestinian terrorist in Hebron in March].”

But in addition to the film of the shooting by Azaria, there is testimony from his company commander and other soldiers who were there, including some who want to help him.

“But who said there isn’t that here? That item aired nearly six months after we obtained the material. During the six months, both Omri Assenheim and Matan Gez worked on examining the facts. The fact checking that takes place with an investigative report, any investigative report, in most cases does not appear in the piece itself. The same thing happened here. Otherwise so many months wouldn’t pass between the time the material is obtained and when the piece airs.

“And then a renowned legal scholar like Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer says he suspects that the Palestinian land-dealer in the report, Musa, is himself a mole. Why doesn’t he suspect something similar when somebody from Leviev’s diamond industry, in the piece that Ronny Singer and I did, comes out and describes everything he saw and experienced there?”

You say Nawi was knowingly sending a person to his death. But you didn’t cite any such incidents. There is no data on executions by the [Palestinian] government in the West Bank.

“First of all, there is. There was a Palestinian trader who fell to his death in 2012 after being arrested on suspicion of selling land. And there was a death sentence meted out to another land-dealer. Aside from that, Ezra himself attests to what awaits them. You don’t really think that this land-dealer can expect a picnic or a trip to the park if he is turned in to the Preventive Security services. So if you’re asking if he would really be executed – maybe yes and maybe no. Abu Mazen said in 2014 that there would be no more death sentences, adding that he also thinks there should be life imprisonment with hard labor. If that makes you feel better, great.

“But let’s get to the bottom line. You’re asking me all sorts of questions that are meant to cast doubt on the results of the investigative report. You’re asking if we checked the facts. And my answer is: We checked. And I’m asking you the most important question: Is what you saw on the screen – Nawi planning step after step to lead this land-dealer to his death, claiming that he has done it three or four times before, or saying that he’s just come from a meeting at the Preventive Security headquarters, that he met with the guy from B’Tselem who is helping him [Nasser Nawaja], talking on the phone with Guy Butavia from Ta’ayush [Dayan pounds the table here] – Is this something that you wouldn’t report? Does it justify words like ‘McCarthyism’ and ‘Stasi’? Does it justify a blog by a veteran media scholar, claiming that we didn’t crosscheck our sources? Did he check if we crosschecked our sources?"

I’ll tell you what else I see aside from what Ezra Nawi says. I see an aging man, with a young man near him, in whom he’s interested romantically, and so it’s quite possible he’s just bragging to make an impression on him.

“That’s sounds very nice, but there are three problems with that thesis. The thing is that, one, this is not just about talk, it’s about actions. A plan is being put together here and we see how it progresses: how he checks with Preventive Security and goes back and meets with the mole and so on. Two, he doesn’t do it alone. There’s also the involvement of Nawaja and Butavia. Three, and this is also something that should be taken into account: When we asked these organizations for a response, that is not what they said. They didn’t say, ‘Listen, Ezra was just running off at the mouth, Ezra was showing off, we don’t view such behavior favorably – in fact we find it very troubling as it doesn’t fit the humanism to which we are devoted, as a rights organizations.’ Which is what I hoped they’d say. Instead they said, ‘When you tell something to the Palestinian Authority something, that’s not being an informer.’ They didn’t distance themselves from the event, from the action and the person who did it. Okay?”

Butavia, who was mentioned for a second in the piece, was arrested and spent six days in detention, including 26 hours in which he wasn’t able to see a lawyer, and says he went through a hell from which he is still struggling to recover. For what? Because he was asked to find out to whom a certain phone number belonged to?

“I’m not showering compliments on the legal authorities for how they treated the men. We broadcast a telephone call with him, which appears in the investigative report, that proves that he is in fact cooperating with Nawi in the process he’s trying to advance.”

You don’t feel guilty about it? A man was imprisoned for six days because of passing mention on your program.

“It has nothing to do with guilt. Just as you expect me to condemn the legal authorities in this case, I expect you and your friends to condemn what you saw on the screen. I return to what, to me, is the thing that matters most. Here you have something that really happened. What happened is really not good. And this thing is on camera. Where would you and I and our journalist colleagues, including those who criticized me, be if I didn’t say that our job is to hurl the truth in the face of the Israeli viewer no matter what? There’s no symmetry between good and bad. If the bad is uncovered in Ta’ayush, even if it is an organization that strives for good – this has to be revealed. In anticipation of our conversation now, I was thinking: Let’s say that together we uncovered an embezzlement scandal in an organization that helps victims of sexual assault. Even though the organization’s work is so important to us, would that stop us from revealing it?”

Of course it wouldn’t.

“So from this perspective I’m open to criticism – that we could have done more to specify that this [i.e., the Nawi expose] wasn’t referring to all the left-wing organizations, that we could have put more emphasis on the organizations’ activity. That we could have added the context of what’s happening in the southern Hebron Hills and background about the activity to which Ezra Nawi chose to devote his adult life. But that wouldn’t have softened the criticism against us. I’m well aware that when your criticism is directed at the weak – and human rights organizations are under attack – you have to ask yourself a lot of questions. And we did ask. Therefore, by the way, when we’re sitting there with the material that has to do with Breaking the Silence and we see question marks and not exclamation points, we decide not to air it. [The material referred to by Dayan, which was also based on material filmed undercover by Ad Kan, was later aired in a piece by Ofer Hadad on Channel 2 news].”

'If the bad is uncovered in Ta’ayush, even if it is an organization that strives for good – this has to be revealed.'

What decided the fate of the Breaking the Silence materials – its quality or the atmosphere of persecution of human-rights organizations?

"I wouldn’t put it like that. I would say that the fact that the materials raised more question marks than exclamation points gives the rest of it a different dimension."

It doesn’t bother you that, in the end, nothing came of the cases that were opened amid such great fanfare following the Nawi item?

“I’m not a contractor – not for criminal investigations, and certainly not for indictments. In my view, Nawi’s actions present a problem, whether or not they rise to the level of a criminal offense. Woe unto us if we were to draw the same conclusion about the big Lieberman case that didn’t lead to an indictment, or Tzachi Hanegbi’s Derekh Tzlaha case, or some of the affairs involving [Ehud] Olmert or the upcoming report on Netanyahu. Should we say that we won’t cover any of these things because they didn’t end in indictments?”

Rehavam Ze'evi with the lioness he held at an Israeli army base.
Rehavam Ze'evi with the lioness he held at an Israeli army base. Credit: Daniel Rosenblum  

‘An evil woman’

Rehavam Ze’evi’s son, Palmach Ze’evi.
Rehavam Ze’evi’s son, Palmach Ze’evi.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky

This week, at the memorial event for Rehavam Ze’evi, Ze’evi’s son Palmach called Dayan an “evil woman” (after a recent “Fact” exposé featured numerous women who accused Ze’evi of having raped or sexually harassed them while he was a commander in the IDF, among other things). For his part, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “Everyone, living or dead, has the right to their good name. Therefore, we must be extra cautious in judging Gandhi one-sidedly, when he is unable to give his side of the story.”

Dayan: “I’m not looking for a fight with one person who calls me names or with the prime minister, who for some reason is very sorry about the Ze’evi family being hurt and less sorry about the hurt caused to the women who were attacked. Omri Assenheim worked on the Gandhi piece for a year, and found material and evidence that had never been revealed before. About the killing of captives, about the underworld, about the harming of journalists and also about a series of women who testified about serious sexual assault. We would never dream of telling these women who kept quiet for 40-50 years that they should now just go back home and go on keeping quiet. This goes back to my basic journalistic philosophy, which has really been thrown into sharp relief in the past year: You know that you’re going to take flak from the left one time, and flak from the right another time, and you just have to go with the story.”

I see in you, as with many people who came out of Army Radio, more professionalism and less subversion, as a starting point in life and in the profession. You’re less concerned with deconstruction.

“It does happen, but it looks different. When we come to Rakefet [Russak-Aminoach] – we deconstruct. We come to Netanyahu – we deconstruct. We come to Gandhi – we deconstruct. We come to Nawi – we deconstruct. The question is whether you deconstruct in just one political direction and not another.

“It’s not my intention to use the profession to put an end to the occupation. If I have an ideology about the occupation and about annexation – it will remain at home. What doesn’t remain at home? An outlook that says a person has to behave like a human being. In places where there is a horrible injustice, a terrible offense, a terrible crossing of a red line – that’s where the journalist should be. If we can present a story that illustrates this injustice, we will do so. We need to distinguish between good and bad and then be curious and delve into it. If I came at it with a political viewpoint it would cripple me. I come with an ethical outlook, with a set of tools. That’s what enables me to get to know Hagit Rein, Benaya Rein's mom, Alina Bonimovich, Sasha's mom, Aliza Goren, Adam's mom, and Michal Grossman, Uri's mom [a reference to mothers of soldiers killed during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, and who were featured in a 'Fact' item]. And also to get to know – not to make any comparison – the mother of a shaheed [martyr] whom I met in Nablus during the second intifada. Someone who thinks that the settlements are a terrible crime”

Do you think that?

“I’m not going to go into it, certainly not in this interview. You might as well ask me whom I vote for.”

'It’s not my intention to use the profession to put an end to the occupation. If I have an ideology about the occupation and about annexation – it will remain at home.'

That’s a much less important question. You don’t think that a journalist should be open about their stances on an issue such as the settlements?

“There are things that happen over the Green Line that really should be exposed, and talked about. It’s okay for a journalist to have positions on this, but not mandatory. What is mandatory is that he have the ability to identify injustice where it is occurring.”

The settlements are not an injustice? Not according to the ethical outlook you say you have, that ability to distinguish between good and bad, something you say is in your DNA – the rule of law, human rights, a liberal humanistic worldview?

“Is it possible and legitimate for there to be an item on ‘Fact’ about, say, the way in which this government or certain ministers in it are trying to play or out-maneuver the High Court? Sure. There’s plenty to cover when it comes to how an outpost was established and why the High Court rulings aren’t being implemented, and what exactly is happening now and what will happen in the end. But that’s not what you asked me. You asked me if the settlement project is a crime. I think the debate about the future of this country has to proceed in a way that doesn’t rob these people of the right to adhere to their path, to promote it and defend it.”

An Israeli border police officer stands as Palestinian women wait to cross the Qalandiyah checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, Friday, June 17, 2015.
An Israeli border police officer stands as Palestinian women wait to cross the Qalandiyah checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on June 17, 2015. Credit: Majdi Mohammed / AP

And if their path causes someone else to have to wait four hours at a checkpoint?

“Stories should be done about what goes on at the checkpoints. But unlike you, I think that this debate also has to take place on the premise that part of the Israeli public, which includes Netanyahu and [Minister Naftali] Bennett, believes in a different risk-management formula. Part of the Israeli public thinks that settlement in Judea and Samaria is the guarantee for our continued survival. You’ll argue with that, others will argue, a debate will take place and grow impassioned to whatever degree that it does. If we as journalists set out to cover this thing from an a priori stance that the settlements are a crime – we’ll be committing a crime. This is a stance that masks and blurs fair and proper journalistic work.

“Another area where we disagree is the people. In addition to the problems, some of which derive from the occupation – infringement of rights, injustices and so on – there is something else that I can’t ignore. And that’s one of the things that grabs me with these people [settlers], with some of them: their readiness to pay a personal price for the sake of a worldview. It’s the desire, and this is something I admire, to be part of something that’s bigger than you. The willingness to follow an idea, to live what you see as an ideal life, just as you want to do, in your way. This debate cannot take place based on an a priori assertion on our part that all these people are criminals. Let’s not forget that there are things on the other side too, a culture of death and shaheedism.”

That’s them, it’s not me. The settlers are part of my people.

“I differ with you on this. We owe it to ourselves to be concerned with what has happened to Palestinian society. With the intensification of the culture of death that has taken hold there – what makes a kid take a knife and go out and stab people, even with their despair, and also how does this affect our despair. What is happening among the Palestinians very much affects us. It explains the Israeli anxiety about ‘skipping from one branch to the next,’ as [David] Grossman describes it. When you’re afraid, you’re not willing to go forward. Perhaps it explains the anxiety of a Jew by the name of Benjamin Netanyahu. I think it’s important for us to address that too.”

Is it possible that your work conscience has taken the place of your personal conscience, and that it’s taken the place of a basic morality that you identify as a political stance?

“You’re basically saying that I have no morality. That because I don’t reveal my political views it means I’m a less moral person. Rather than just get annoyed, I’ll answer you: I think exactly the opposite is the case.”

At the same time, Dayan adds that she’s noted a change in herself. “In the past year, I’ve noticed that I’ve come to feel freer to say things that are outside my investigative reporter persona from ‘Fact.’”

How so?

“Like going to speak at the conference on the public broadcasting corporation. In the past, I spoke out against former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and how he was hurting the Supreme Court, and then I gave a speech in support of the court at the Van Leer Institute. Up to now, I only did that kind of thing in regard to that matter. In the past year, I’ve come to feel freer. Like at the Ophir Awards when I said some things to [Culture] Minister Miri Regev who was in the audience. It may not seem like such a brave thing to do, but in the past it wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. I didn’t see that as being my job. Now I feel that it’s important to me. It was important to me to say something to Miri Regev. So I did.”

'Ten years of fighting for the truth'

Ilana Dayan is accustomed to fighting. The effort she invests in defending the Nawi report is nothing compared to what she went through during another period in the life of “Fact.” 

“I thought to myself, before I came in here – ‘Ilana, just don’t come out looking like a crybaby.’ It’s very tempting for me to say: ‘Listen, I spent 10 years of my life defending the truth that I aired in a case that dealt with precisely those things that trouble you and me. I paid dearly for it,” she says about the so-called Captain R. affair, which was sparked by her exposé on “Fact” in November 2004.

The piece at issue was an account of the events of October 5, 2004, near the Girit observation post on the outskirts of Rafah, in Gaza, during which Iman al-Hams, a 13-year-old Palestinian girl, was shot to death. Captain R., the company commander at the scene, sued Dayan and her show for libel for their report on the shooting. R. himself was tried and ultimately acquitted in military court for his role in the incident, but in a dramatic reversal of a district court ruling that he had been libeled, the Supreme Court eventually acquitted Dayan.

Dayan: “I’ll never forget that first pre-trial session in the small courtroom of Judge Noam Solberg in the district court – and now he’s on his way to becoming president of the Supreme Court. He proposed that I do a ‘corrective’ report. That I say that I got carried away, that I erred and sinned, and then he would reduce the sum of the damages we were being asked to pay. That’s how he began the hearing. And for a week I didn’t sleep. I thought, God help us, where are we headed? After 10 years, one round in district court and two rounds in the Supreme Court, it was established that we had told the truth and that we had done responsible journalism.”

The piece is not available online.

“If you want, we can watch it together.”

Why isn’t it available for viewing?

“Originally, because it was part of a legal proceeding. Maybe now the time has come to put it online.”

Dayan considers this expose and its repercussions as a defining episode in her career: “I spent 10 years of my life fighting for the truth that we broadcast. To tell people: This is something you need to see. A little girl is on her way to school, and for some reason she gets lost or strays from the path, and God knows why but she ends up close to an army post, and a company of soldiers fires at her and continues to fire at her even after she runs away, and the company commander charges after her and says afterward over the radio, ‘Confirmed kill’ and shoots her twice at point-blank range, as he attests. And then he turns around and goes back to her, and lets off another volley from around, as he attests. A young girl mistakenly enters the special security zone and ends up dead? Why? There was no other way to get her out of there?”

You talk with so much passion about a 13-year-old girl who apparently got lost and ended up dying, but maybe another reason is that the Captain R. affair really got to you because you were being called a bad journalist.

“Yes, my integrity was being impugned. The most sensitive spot for my professionalism. The comments from Ruth Yaron, the IDF Spokesperson at the time, who said that I fabricated videos, echoed in my mind for a long time. I didn’t fabricate videos and I didn’t distort reports. On the advice of a psychologist friend, I tried to keep telling myself in those years that, as much as I might have felt that people were ganging up on me, ultimately there was only one victim here and it wasn’t me. It was a 13-year-old girl.”

Maybe the Captain R. piece gave rise to the Nawi piece?

“Stop: You know yourself that there is no connection. When those people showed up with that material, neither Captain R. from before or Gandhi who came after, was anywhere in my consciousness.”

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