Israel's Military Chief Seeks to Shutter or Privatize Army Radio

Increased airtime for a Netanyahu-sanctioned commentator who lashes out at attorney general has become a thorn in the side of military brass and station officials alike

Itay Stern
Itay Stern
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Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi
Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv KochaviCredit: Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry
Itay Stern
Itay Stern

Israeli military chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi wants Defense Minister Benny Gantz to either close Army Radio or turn it into a civilian radio station, Channel 12 News reported on Monday.

The report follows ongoing objections among senior army brass to the politicization the station has undergone, with an emphasis on its political commentator and evening newscaster, Yaakov Bardugo. According to the report, Kochavi has, on a number of occasions, said that he “was being kept too busy talking about issues relating to the station and wants Gantz to put an end to it.”

In recent weeks, Bardugo has sharpened his tone against Gantz, saying, among other things, that Gantz is interested only in his honor and in the benefits of his post, such as his Audi. Bardugo also lashes out regularly at Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, whom he recently called “the carcass in the Foreign Ministry.”

Bardugo’s expanding influence at the station – he gets more airtime than any other broadcaster or commentator there – is making senior IDF officers and station officials increasingly angry. Nevertheless, Bardugo has the direct support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in a tweet last year called him the “one broadcaster on Army Radio who isn’t prepared to toe the line of the left and the guild."

Netanyahu continued, "He disrupts the daily propaganda broadcasts by Rino Tzror, Razi Barkai and others who support the leftist party of Lapid-Gantz, so they are exerting incredible pressure to throw him out of the station. It won’t happen. There’s a limit to the leftist thought police and silencing. We are not North Korea. If the right isn’t given expression [there], Army Radio has no right to exist.”

The trend continued when Amir Ivgi was appointed head of the station’s news department this month. Ivgi, in an interview he gave to Yedioth Ahronoth in December 2018, said that the media is doing Netanyahu an injustice. "It could be that if there were more Amir Ivgis and right-wing journalists in the media, he wouldn’t have ended up under investigation,” Ivigi said. As one of the hosts of Army Radio's afternoon news program, Ivgi has given Bardugo substantial airtime to offer his political commentary.

A source at the station told Haaretz that “It would be better if Kochavi and Gantz would reorganize Army Radio rather than doing what others have tried to do and failed."

He added that privatizing the station would allow it to fall into the hands of a tycoon, who would use it as an establishment mouthpiece. "If the chief of staff and the new defense minister have a problem with the station’s failed management and the politicization it’s undergoing, [they] can make order and contribute to democracy."

Army Radio’s response, as quoted by Channel 12, was, “We will not address things said in private conversations between the defense minister and the chief of the general staff.”

Officials weigh closing Army Radio every couple of years for various reasons. The previous chief of staff, Gadi Eisenkot, sought to carry out a similar plan, but it never materialized. Kochavi, who is preparing for a series of military budget cuts, has prioritized Army Radio as one of the first military assets to transfer to a different government organization. Some have suggested moving the station to the Public Broadcasting Corporation, but due to logistical reasons, it is unlikely.

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