Arguing about Israel's Army Radio from a left-right perspective may be convenient, but it’s beside the point. The station should be closed not because it’s right-wing or left-wing, but because a radio station – a journalistic media outlet whose success depends upon its independence – is not supposed to be subordinate to a hierarchical and antidemocratic organization like the army.
For some time now, Army Radio has faced a barrage of accusations from both the right and the left regarding its political identity. For a long time, the criticism came from the right. Razi Barkai became emblematic of this when he brought such criticism to a peak by equating bereaved Israeli families and the families of captive soldiers with Palestinian families. This comparison seemed to prove that Army Radio had become completely disconnected from its raison d’etre: To be a media home for the troops. To compare fallen Israeli soldiers with Palestinians who were killed, you could just attend the alternative Memorial Day ceremony. You don’t need a military radio station.
Erel Segal’s arrival to Army Radio marked a turning point. Now the left began to stir. Ishay Shnerb, Jacob Bardugo and Amir Ivgi, that was just too much for those who liked hearing echoes of themselves in their familiar forms – Barkai, Rino Tzror, Tali Lipkin-Shahak and others. The station’s directors, Yaron Dekel and Shimon Elkabetz, moved the leftists’ cheese, and the anger mounted.
The problem is that there is an inherent conflict with a military radio station. Rather than the army being above all political debate, above the politics of right and left, Army Radio has become a home for political arguments and rifts. The Israel Defense Forces has been unwillingly inserted into the political cauldron and forced to continually put out fires, as if that were its primary purpose.
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Army Radio was very important in the past, when it served the purpose for which it was established. That was in another time, when Israel was fighting the Arab enemy, fear was high, it was vital to raise morale and the chasm between left and right was not nearly as wide. My family tells the story of how my great-grandfather would listen to the station’s broadcasts during the Six-Day War and mark off on a map of Israel the areas that were liberated by the IDF.
What of all that remains? Is the “Night Owls” music and talk show really necessary? The economics affairs program? What do they have to do with a military station? What does Rino Tzror have to do with combat soldiers? Or Bardugo with noncombat soldiers? A soldier who wants to listen to music can open Spotify. The public broadcaster could be asked to set aside a few days a year for Independence Day broadcasts and interviews with soldiers on induction day.
Unlike his predecessors, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi appears to understand what the IDF’s supreme purpose is: To protect Israel and strive for military excellence, to be ready to win any battle. He says the station is dragging the army into unnecessary and distracting public fusses. He is right. An army ought not to have to deal with this kind of thing, just as it ought not to waste energy on sociopolitical battles like eliminating the draft for women or enforcing it for Haredi men. The army’s sole purpose is to prepare for war, defeat the enemy and guarantee Israel’s security.
Kochavi should show resolve and win this battle too. If not to close Army Radio, then at least to find a new place for “the soldiers’ home.”