Israeli Investigative TV Program Unsure of Its Facts

The Ta'ayush group is a persistent thorn in the side of the settlement enterprise. The fact it has been targeted by a leading TV investigative news show is itself worthy of investigation.

Left-wing activist Ezra Nawi, seen in 2009.
Emil Salman/Jini

Itzik Goldway is 23. A sergeant in the reserves, last February he received a medal for his part in Operation Protective Edge (following a citation by the head of the regional command). Around the time he finished his compulsory service, he joined an organization called Ad Kan (“No More”), which was set up to spy on the tiny Israeli left wing. He and his girlfriend, Julia T., were sent to infiltrate the Arab-Jewish partnership Ta’ayush, and witnessed a number of attacks on Palestinians by Jewish settlers. They then went off to the Far East, from where they posted Facebook pictures of themselves smiling against the backdrop of lakes and snow-capped mountains.

Goldway and T. are the proof that, until proven otherwise, in every Israeli lurks a little Shin Bet security service officer.

Ezra Nawi, whom Goldway shadowed, is an easy target. He’s an aging Mizrahi homosexual with an old conviction for soliciting and having intercourse with a minor. He has a big mouth (and a foul one, to boot), sports headgear that makes him stand out from the nerdy norm; he’s an ex-plumber who is all but bankrupt thanks to his political activity. The police hide in ambush for him: unjustified traffic tickets are issued; he is hassled at home; military restraining orders are frequently issued against him and his Ta’ayush associates. He is a known figure in the magistrate’s court (either in the context of being arrested and charged, or making claims about the harassment against him).

And the settlers hate him. This is the first key to understanding the context of the story about him that was aired on Israeli investigative television show “Uvda” (“Fact”) last Thursday night. “Uvda” devoted its 600th episode to Ad Kan, thus bringing the organization’s existence to light. The show broadcast candid footage of Ad Kan people – masquerading as activists and supporters – who had been accompanying Nawi. Their faces were blurred, though, and their names changed in the program.

Ta’ayush is an easy target, too: It is neither an organization, nor an NGO. It has no charter or terms for accepting members; it is unsupervised, and there is no leadership or salaries. It is just a bunch of dedicated people devoting their lives and money to a cause. Their experience and temperament make them, in the eyes of right-wing activists, an “elite” that must be infiltrated.

For 15 years, Ta’ayush activists have been trying to prevent Palestinians living in the South Hebron Hills from being stripped of their homes, lands and livelihoods. They have served as a human shield against attacks by the settlers and Israel Defense Forces (both literally and metaphorically). That is the key to understanding the story shown on the prestigious news show.

Ta’ayush is a thorn stubbornly stuck in the well-greased machine of the Israeli army, Civil Administration, police, settlers and courts – a mechanism that is designed to expel as many Palestinians as possible from as much land as possible.

Let us believe that it is only due to their naveté that the “Uvda” journalists became involved in the effort to extract that thorn. Ta’ayush and the reason for its existence – the policy of dispossession – are not the type of things that typically intrigues “Uvda.” The fact is that, checking the broadcasts of that prime-time slot from year-end 2014, not a single segment focuses on that Israeli-Jewish bonanza – the theft of land from Palestinians in the West Bank.

During that time, there were no “Uvda” stories about discrimination and dispossession of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, either. There were some segments on Arabs – Sayed Kashua; Mohammad Zoabi (who spoke out against the kidnap of the three Israeli yeshiva students in the West Bank); the arson attack on a bilingual school in Jerusalem; the Islamic State group.

The segment on Ad Kan was not true investigative journalism, for reasons elaborated on by +972 Magazine and the Friends of George blog (in Hebrew) . It was a puff piece for a privatized, mini-Shin Bet. If it had been investigative journalism, “Uvda” would have told us about Ad Kan’s funding sources and budget. It would have explained why the name of Goldway, as the recipient of a medal, appeared only in initials. Is the army associated with Ad Kan, and is it protecting Goldway from exposure, so he can spy on the left? (The IDF Spokesperson said that, for personal reasons, Goldway requested to be interviewed anonymously, and his full name is shown in the booklet of all medal recipients.)

If it had been investigative journalism, the correspondent would have probed and discovered whether the Palestinian Authority really did – as Nawi bragged, in a crude way that reflects only his stupid side – execute the land dealers he allegedly handed over to it.

If they had conducted an investigation, the correspondent would have discovered that the PA had long ceased carrying out executions. A real investigation would have checked who this land dealer is who suddenly popped up in Nawi’s life, and whether he is connected with Ad Kan.

An investigation would have provided the background and context for Nawi’s statements: the deceptiveness and cruelty of the Jewish land dealers and their collaborators; their methods of fraud; their deceptiveness and intimidation (instead of which, we hear the voice of a former Shin Bet officer and a current land dealer in the West Bank). Every Palestinian has the right to advise the PA about attempts to sell their land, and decent Israelis have an obligation to eschew any connection with the land robbers.

Ad Kan doesn’t hide the fact that its aim is to bring down left wingers, and thought it had caught one. It took Nawi’s unproven statements and manufactured generalizations, then used these unfounded generalizations to taint the left and human rights organizations.

These are familiar tactics of the right, big money and government, too. There is no point in raising eyebrows: we can only hope that in an era when human rights activists have to wear ID badges when entering the Knesset, it is extreme naveté that led the “Uvda” correspondents to join the national trend of marking the opponents of occupation as criminals.

Goldway refused to comment for this article.