Opinion |

Roni Daniel Paid Israelis a Great Service, Hiding the Truth About the Army and the Occupation

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Roni Daniel in Nativ Ha'asara by the Gaza strip, 2014.
Roni Daniel in Nativ Ha'asara by the Gaza strip, 2014. Credit: Reuben Castro/Walla
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The national mourning over the death of Channel 12 military commentator Roni Daniel – declared by Israel’s television stations, notably his own – fell on attentive ears.

Many Israelis have indeed been deeply saddened by the passing of this icon, just as his journalist colleagues have deeply mourned him. Daniel was a person to love, they said, as well as a person who told the truth. It is therefore permissible and even necessary to state the truth about him, even following his passing.

I personally took issue with him on the sets of broadcast studios on occasion, but I also had a fondness for him for being among the last of the uncynical journalists. Also the fact that his son Eri is buried a short distance from my son Tom in the children’s section of Tel Aviv’s Kiryat Shaul cemetery has added to my sense of a shared destiny. But that’s not the issue at hand.

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Daniel was the major guardian from the truth on Israeli television. He protected his viewers as well as his colleagues from the truth and that’s why they loved him so much. He protected television and its viewers from being exposed to the bitter and ugly truth about the Israeli army that they love so much. He guarded his colleagues and viewers from the terrible and painful truth about the occupation and protected all of us from dealing with the reality that we have pervertedly been denying for decades – as sexuality theoretician Danielle Knafo put in an interview with Gid’on Lev in Haaretz (June 3).

If Israeli society is in a perverted situation of denial and suppression, that to a great extent is due to Roni Daniel. It is thanks to him that we have been living so well. Thanks to him, it’s possible to kill children in Gaza and then ignore it; to kill demonstrators in the West Bank, but instead get all riled up over allegations against a modelling agent, as is in the news at the moment.

Daniel enabled his television colleagues to continue dealing with their own nonsense rather than getting overly bothered by the more fateful issues. He also permitted his views to enjoy a nice routine in life, deflecting them from seeing what is happening in that dark and cruel backyard of theirs. Everything is all right, he would tell us, while occasionally adding that we need to land more blows. One barbaric attack after another, and Daniel was there to explain that it’s not terrible, or that there was no alternative or that we need to do more of the same.

One can only imagine what Israel would look like if its main television station had had a military commentator who didn’t protect the country from the truth but instead reported the truth. A military commentator who recounted how last Friday, the paratroopers really killed Mohammed al-Tamimi, a 17-year-old boy, an unarmed demonstrator, whom they shot three times with live ammunition in his upper body even though he wasn’t endangering anyone’s life.

Imagine a military commentator reporting on how Israeli army sharpshooters killed more than 200 unarmed demonstrators on the Gaza border, how West Bank residents are killed on a weekly basis and could be easily arrested instead of killed. Or how the army carries out political arrests every night, and how the army destroys the lives of millions of human beings.

All it requires is reporting, not commentary. But Roni Daniel thought it is inappropriate to report on such things. It could cause harm to the holy of holies, which would be a violation of the journalist ethics that he invented for himself and that Israel in Israel is called Zionism, patriotism and the salt of the earth.

Daniel wasn’t motivated by hatred of Arabs, and perhaps also not out of a love of war, even if he incited to war non-stop. For Daniel, there was one thing that was sacred and that was the Israel Defense Forces. When he said, “It can’t be that a teenager who threw stones at IDF soldiers leaves the incident still walking,” it wasn’t out of sadism, even if it signified something shockingly sadistic. Instead, it was out of concern for the sacred soldier who might be scratched by a rock.

Israelis loved that. O how they loved it. The journalists loved it too. He spared us all of any moral responsibility. Roni Daniel paid us a great service. He enabled Israel to shoot and even not cry. And as a result, Israel is crying over his passing.

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