One of Israel’s Last Brave Military Commentators

Haaretz’s Reuven Pedatzur, who died this week, asked questions few others dared to. Why do we need the Iron Dome missile-defense system? Why attack Iran?

Gideon Levy
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Reuven Pedatzur.Credit: Chaim Taragan
Gideon Levy

A few days ago we bumped into each other late at night in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Tzedek neighborhood. Tamar and Reuven Pedatzur had just come back from “Le Week-End,” the new movie about a British couple celebrating their 30-year anniversary in Paris. Tamar said the film made a strong impression on her; it’s not easy to keep a relationship going for such a long time. She and Reuven would soon celebrate 20 years together.

Of course, we couldn’t know that their time together would end just a few days later in a . The day after Pedatzur died while trying to fix his motorcycle, a friend and I went to see “Le Week-End” as well, probably the last film Reuven ever saw. For us it was a personal farewell to a much loved and appreciated colleague.

For years, Capt. Pedatzur was a uniquely critical voice among our military commentators and journalists, from those who detested the Israel Defense Forces to those who eagerly served in its ranks. Some would simply regurgitate what they were fed by defense officials, having a hard time straddling the blurry line between journalist and spokesman. Pedatzur didn’t have this problem. He was critical of the establishment.

In Israel, military reporting is a key factor in brainwashing the populace and shaping public opinion — the furthest thing from journalism. Only police coverage has begun to catch up in recent years, thanks to the glorification of police on television. From the murky swamp in which journalists and officers swam, Pedatzur’s voice shone through, perhaps our last brave military commentator.

Like some of his colleagues he also “came from there” — he had been a combat pilot. He ate from the same mess tin. But as a journalist, he dropped his memories of the mess tin. Sure, he wore a great leather jacket like the other military commentators, but he wasn’t one of them. During wars he didn’t urge us to keep on fighting, and he didn’t applaud when those wars began.

Pedatzur fiercely investigated his subjects, breaking down conventions. For him, things we accept with an uneasy silence like the defense budget, the weapons industry, the nuclear option and missile defense were topics of piercing critical analysis.

He wrote about them with seriousness, knowledge and thoroughness. He would ask questions that few others dared to. Why do we need the Iron Dome anti-rocket system? What about the Arrow missile? Why the Lavi jet? Why attack Iran?

He tried to expose all the tricks in the defense budget, to no avail. Few of his colleagues cared about such matters — they were satisfied quoting the IDF’s statement on the latest targeted killing, even if it was a lie or propaganda.

His writing was concise and eschewed the sensational. He wasn’t a radical leftist, but he worried about the actions of his colleagues, the bomber pilots. He was most interested in the IDF’s shocking waste. That’s what he fought against, a Don Quixote without his Sancho Panza. Only Haaretz provided backup.

Pedatzur waged a holy war against sacred cows. It’s not easy to go against the herd, especially when writing about the ritual of security. Pedatzur wasn’t deterred, even when they tried to prosecute him for “espionage.”

The grandson of Safed’s first Jewish mayor and nephew of defunct newspaper Lamerhav’s last editor knew that without criticism, there’s no journalism. In recent years he tried to impart this on his students, but to no avail — Pedatzur would lament their ignorance and lack of interest.

In his last article, which appeared in Hebrew shortly before he died, he slammed Israel’s current darling, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. “The radical right is dictating his behavior,” Pedatzur wrote, while his journalist colleagues, in their Passover interviews, kept singing the chief of staff’s praises around the campfire.