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Israel Got Away From Media Personality Razi Barkai

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Razi Barkai.
Razi Barkai.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The state slipped through the fingers of Razi Barkai. That’s why the veteran Army Radio broadcaster is quitting. In his final broadcast he said he lost the will to chase after it. The state fled, Barkai fled. But precisely what state fled from Barkai, and what Army Radio?

He was partly right in saying the media outlets have been taken over by coarse and ignorant politicos, but he’s wrong in his condescending diagnosis, according to which the state was stolen from him. Such a remark by one of the cultural stalwarts of Israel’s Zionist left is heard often. It is mendacious and exasperating.

It is false on two counts. The country these people are pining for was never the country they are depicting, and no one stole it from them. It never belonged only to them, so it hasn’t been taken away from anyone. It belonged and still does to all its citizens, including those who once, in those good old days, were confined to their ghettos and now, devil be damned, they are everywhere, even for Razi’s friends. The latter have no extra rights.

Let’s start with Army Radio. I worked there years before Barkai arrived there, spending some of the best years of my life there. I like pining for those years and for the radio station it used to be. But when I look back without the deceptive nostalgia for something that will never be again, I don’t see a more independent or professional Army Radio in comparison to the current situation.

We were trapped in a bubble back then, in the carefree 1970s. A bunch of ambitious young Ashkenazim, nearly all of us from the big cities, nearly all of us secular, from the country’s best high schools. The only Mizrahim were a few of the technicians, and the master sergeant, Nissim Badosa. No immigrants, no observant Jews, much less Haredim, and of course there were no Arabs at the station.

On Shabbat the Hebrew language expert Avshalom Kor – he didn’t wear a kippa then – would travel to guard the settlement of Ofra, which had just been established by fraud, but the occupation, the territories, Palestinians, the Nakba and ethnic discrimination held no interest for us; it’s doubtful that we’d ever heard of those things.

We were the young people of the center. I can’t remember any political arguments at the station. Even our surroundings in Jaffa were of no interest. We’d eat omelets at a local eatery, sometimes hummus at Abu Hassan’s, up the street. We knew nothing about Jaffa’s Arabs. We told listeners mainly about the beautiful Land of Israel.

That Army Radio, which has slipped away from Razi Barkai, is responsible, along with most of Israel’s media outlets, for the moral blindness, the complacency, arrogance, smugness, indifference and ignorance regarding many aspects of life in Israel. This where turning a blind eye began.

There was no occupation or discrimination there. There was no voice there for any oppressed group. There was a blacklist of radical leftists that we could not interview, by military order, and we all thought this was proper, that this is how it is in journalism, just as we needed approval from the Army Spokesperson’s Unit before interviewing any Knesset member. Any story about the military had to be submitted for approval before airing. We thought this was okay too. We gave conformity and obedience a bad name.

The face of Army Radio was the face of the state. The state that eludes Barkai also has no Arabs, Haredim, Mizrahim or people from the social and geographic periphery. It was the states of Jerusalem and of Tel Aviv – their “good” neighborhoods. The state they’ve “lost” perpetrated unforgivable crimes and injustice in the years in which we so loved it. We simply didn’t talk about it, not on Army Radio and not anywhere else. That’s why it’s so easy to yearn for it.

It’s true, people talked in nicer tones then, there was less cynicism and corruption. But Barkai is pining for a country that never existed. It was a country that Army Radio and its ilk invented, in order to make the lives of good Israelis pleasant, allowing them to feel so good about themselves. It was a country with no Arabs, no occupation, no oppression, no Nakba, no Haredim and no Mizrahim; oh, what a country! But they were all present, even if they never made it to Army Radio. Now they are everywhere, and Barkai has lost his country.

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