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How respectable journalists are joining attacks on Israel's Left

The country’s top investigative news program airs a hidden-camera sting operation carried out by a shady right-wing organization, and fails to ask the tough questions and give the necessary context.

Ilan Dayan, on Channel 2 show Uvda

Channel 2’s Ilan Dayan, host of investigative news show ‘Uvda.’

Uvda, Israel’s most prominent investigative television news program, dedicated its 600th episode on Thursday to joining the massive-and-growing campaign against the Israeli Left and human rights NGOs in the country. The show’s host, Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan, known as a courageous and decent reporter who recently won the prestigious Sokolov Award for outstanding journalism, failed miserably and demonstrated poor journalistic judgment.

The entire episode was based on a story handed to Uvda by a relatively new and secretive right-wing NGO, comprised of former military personnel, and which aims to “expose the true face of anti-Israeli organizations” – i.e. left-wing groups working against the occupation.

Its juicy revelation: the right-wing organization followed Ezra Nawi, an activist who has dedicated the past few decades of his life to protecting Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills from settler and state violence.  They secretly recorded as he bragged about informing on Palestinians who sell land to Jews, to the Palestinian intelligence service, so that they can be tortured and executed by Palestinian authorities – according to his own words. This, according to Uvda and the right-wing NGO, is proof of Nawi’s questionable morals, and by proxy, those of anyone involved with him and of the entire Israeli Left — somehow. As Edo Konrad mentioned here yesterday, the highest echelons of Israel’s government were quick to jump on board.

The right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)

The right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)

Undoubtedly, talking about and even rejoicing at the possibility of the torture and execution of others – as seen in the tape – is deplorable. However, there are some very serious problems with this piece of investigative journalism that put into question the entire basis of its findings. There are no answers to the question of who is backing this new NGO that did all the actual reporting, and how it funds its extensive work and expensive surveillance equipment. The organization’s website doesn’t provide any answers either.

But more importantly, Uvda’s researchers ignored some crucial pieces of information which must be addressed. First of all, although Prime Minister Netanyahu promptly accused the left and the Palestinian Authority of the murder of innocent people, the show, with all its undercover work and investigative resources, was not able to prove that any person was actually harmed by Nawi’s actions. It is true that Palestinian law prescribes capital punishment for anyone convicted of selling land to Israelis, but the show made no mention of the fact that the Palestinian Authority has not carried out a single execution since Mahmoud Abbas came to power in 2005, more than a decade ago.

Torture, on the other hand, is commonly employed by the PA’s security forces (and by Israeli ones), but for the most part it is used against political adversaries of Abbas’ Fatah movement and against people designated as security threats by Israel and “handled” by the PA at the behest of Israel security forces —part of the famous “security coordination” between the two. While Nawi boasts sending people into the Palestinian torture chambers, Uvda was unable to find a single person who was actually arrested or tortured as a result of Nawi’s actions. Finding such people who were sent there by Israeli officials would be much easier.

Yet another failure in Uvda’s reporting is the baffling lack of context it provided for the story. The missing context of this dramatic episode is the military occupation of the West Bank, where since 1967 Israeli settlers and state authorities have worked hand in hand to achieve one central goal – the expropriation of as much land as possible, all while kicking as many Palestinians as possible off of that land.

A Palestinian family outside their tent home in the south Hebron Hills village of Susya (Photo: Activestills.org)

A Palestinian family outside their tent home in the south Hebron Hills village of Susya (Photo: Activestills.org)

More specifically, the backdrop of this story is the South Hebron Hills, an area where disempowered and impoverished Palestinian communities live in caves, tents and tin huts in the middle of the desert, and have for decades been trying to non-violently repel the army’s attempts to demolish their meager homes for the benefit of settlement expansion.

Ta’ayush, the group with which Nawi volunteers, has taken it upon itself to do the unrewarding, dedicated, marvelous and difficult work of helping these communities in their struggle for survival, documenting and protecting them from settler violence, and more.

With this in mind, let’s get back to the Uvda story. Nawi, one of the more prominent activists doing this type of work, was being secretly recorded when he got a strange call from a stranger, a Palestinian, offering him to sell him land adjacent to Israeli settlements in the South Hebron Hills, and who suggests that Nawi help him find Jewish buyers. Such sales, by the way, are often times made by people who claim to own the land, claims that Israeli courts have on numerous occasions found to be fraudulent.

As Nawi stated in a comment published as nothing more than an afterthought on the show, he suspected someone was trying to set him up, to frame him and make his Palestinian partners think he was collaborating with Israeli settlers. After all, it is quite unlikely that anyone who knows anything about Nawi would think even for a moment that he might willingly participate in such a dubious deal. Looking back at it now, it is an unlikely coincidence that the would-be land broker just happened to call Nawi while his was being secretly filmed and recorded.

Ezra Nawi, 2009 (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Ezra Nawi, 2009 (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

So what did he do? That is, aside from talking trash about how people like the land broker should be executed? What did actually do? He called his Palestinian friends from the area, informed them of the call he got, and together they decided to turn the supposed land broker over to the legally entrusted authorities who deal with such matters. They tried to set a meeting with the man, but he then disappeared and stopped making any contact with them. Naturally, he was not arrested, nor was he tortured, let alone executed.

To sum up: what we have here is a report on prime-time television, which enjoys considerable journalistic credibility, that was in fact made by a shady covert NGO of unknown origin and not seriously criticized by the news desk that produced it. The report aims to blacken the entire Left, led to a series of government statements against the Left, all based on one person, who – aside from saying some terrible things – was not shown to actually have harmed anyone. Someone who was only trying to protect himself from being framed and working with his friends to try and have a suspicious man arrested by authorities. All this while the true story – of continuous land grabs and settler and army brutality – goes completely untold.

Those campaigning against the Israeli Left and human rights organizations should be proud of themselves. Well done.

A different, longer version of this post was published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Tzila

      The very ” fascistoïde Israeli era ” is working, history and perhaps the ICJ will take care of it one day.
      The Pavlovian induced Israelis beleive that the occupation is a synonymous of security, till now… nothing like that has occured.
      I saw the ” documentary” in Hebrew, not completely, and in spite of that everything that I saw seems to me like very known ” schtiks” and a whitch-hunt.
      I would like to ask who finances the rightists NGOs ?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      ‘Boaz Khayat’: “…the fog of insincerity from every organization operating in the name of “human rights” in Israel…”

      Khayat, you, who give every indication–this choice tidbit of yours included–of being a smear artist, a snide purveyor of contempt, insincerity and ethical laziness; who certainly gives no indication of treating any non-Jews within a 100 km radius of Tel Aviv as human beings with rights equal to Jews; for you of all people to lecture anyone here on either insincerity or human rights is an interesting study in pathological narcissism.

      You don’t want to call it human rights activism? Ok, Khayat. How about freedom fighting? Does that work for you? Does that dispense with your dripping condescension for liberal values? I think it does. Bracing enough for you? 18th Century enough for you? Shall we have a tea party? What have you, Khayat the right wing Jewish American, got against freedom? Care to tell me?

      I realize though that if your real gig is a very un-American colonialist contempt for those you occupy, then I understand how you would reject universal morality and prattle on about a classic scapegoat of “evil human rights activists” in your crusade against the state of Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Tzila

      PA, etc are all Israeli subcontractors

      Reply to Comment
    4. Oleg

      “There are some very serious problems with this piece of investigative journalism that put into question the entire basis of its findings. There are no answers to the question of who is backing this new NGO that did all the actual reporting, and how it funds its extensive work and expensive surveillance equipment. The organization’s website doesn’t provide any answers either.”

      Why on Earth is it so important who finance them? Say their money are coming directly from Hitler, Mussolini and Pinoçet. Then what? Then the facts that are shown are not true? Then Ezra Nawi had not laughed about torturing and killing of innocent people?

      Whilst man people from Israeli left (including Yitzhak Herzog) has already condemned the behavior of Nawi, it is really a shame that neither Betselem, nor Merets did it. People like Nawi just bring Israeli left into discredit.

      Reply to Comment
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