Home > IDF, Impunity > An Israeli journalist’s guide to handling IDF obfuscation, Part II

An Israeli journalist’s guide to handling IDF obfuscation, Part II


Brig. Avi Benayahu, IDF Spokesperson

This year (2009), the Israeli public debate on the issue of institutional corruption in the IDF has been particularly angry. Defense Minister Barak’s lavish stay in Paris during Aeronautical Salon provoked an already incensed media into a frenzy of muckracking. One result was the exposure, in late November, of the fact that MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) was receiving a full IDF pension, even though he served only three years of regular duty (as IDF spokesperson in the early ’90s.)

Unlike the rest of the media, which took the easy path and blasted Shai, Globes columnist Matti Golan, decided to find out who exactly in the IDF made the decision to award the extraordinary pension. Since many Israeli politicians (Barak, for example) held senior IDF positions at the time, this is not a trivial question.

The IDF Spokesperson, unused to questioning of his statements, was caught off guard. Golan’s December 4 2009 column is a blow-by-blow account of how a journalist can sink his teeth into a defense bureaucrat’s calf and hold on like a bulldog.

The spokesman’s office asked what I mean. They are right. They are used to telling journalists “competent authorities” and the journalists repeat it like parrots without unnecessary questions.

Two weeks later, even though the issue is completely out of the news, Golan is still at it. His December 17 column (full text after the jump) chronicles his continued interrogation of the IDF spokesperson’s staff, who continue to throw fragments at him, when he will settle for nothing except the whole story.

I was troubled by the phrase “To the best of our examination.”  What does it mean?  The obvious conclusion would be that they are not certain.  They did not say, “We looked into it and that’s the way it is.”  They said that their examination failed to yield a clear and unequivocal answer.  Should it turn out in the future that their reply was inaccurate, incorrect, or wrong, they could always argue that “the best of our examination” was not good enough…

This is why I sent my following reaction to the IDF spokesperson:  “I wish to know what exactly do you mean by ‘to the best of our examination’?  Is it possible that your examination was inconclusive?

The pension is no longer the issue. Neither is the conduct of the IDF Spokesperson. Golan is out to prove that the soft-pedaling of his fellow journalists facilitates IDF obfuscation. Under the subheading “This is how the media help the whitewashers,” he ends with

I was doubtful right from the start.  In this era of computers, does it really take time to find 13-years-old material?  What is worse, if the IDF needs to look for the “authorizing party,” why did it eventually name those very parties when answering the press?  Was it trying to lie, knowingly?  No, it was not.  This is simply the automatic reply to embarrassing queries: “Authorized parties approved,” “everything was done according to the rules,” and so on.

For civilian deaths, even those of children, a common IDF reply is along the lines of “the force felt threatened and fired at suspects” and, except for a few exceptions that prove the rule, that is the end of any investigative journalism. Imagine the change if every foreign bureau chief or Israeli defense correspondent, took the Golan approach and really looked into the death of even one of every fifty or a hundred dead children. That’s how oversight works — even the slight chance of exposure causes a tremendous change in behavior.


Follow-up:  Did the late Dan Shomron approve Shai’s pension?  Are you sure?

The IDF failed to produce unequivocal answers for the Nahman Shai affair

Column, Matti Golan, Globes, December 17 2009

A reminder: Some three weeks ago, the media reported that the IDF is paying Nahman Shaia full military pension, to which he would have been entitled had he served eight years, but that he actually only served three years as IDF spokesman.  The IDF Spokesperson’s Office responded:  “That entitlement (Shai’s to the pension) was approved by the authorized parties in the IDF at the time.”  Two weeks ago (on December 4 2009), I wrote here that I am very unhappy with such responses because they conceal more than they reveal.  I queried the IDF spokesperson, pointing at the most unclear part of that response:  “Who are those ‘authorized parties’ that approved the pensionary financial arrangement?”

As I stated here before, I turned down the IDF spokesperson’ offer to give me an answer off the record and demanded that his reply be given in writing, as the query was.  Soon after that, I received the following reaction:  “Since the retirement took place 13 years ago, a specific reference to it requires the location and examination of all the relevant material.  After all the materials are found, gathered, and examined, we would be able to address the issues in question.”

I sent the IDF spokesperson another email, telling him that I had promised my readers that I will keep pursing the issue until he provides the answer that the public deserves, which is why I want him to answer ASAP, as he is required by law.  This morning (December 17 2009), I received the following reply:  “According to the IDF Career Service Act (Pensions), Combined Version – 1985, the party authorized to order the retirement of a soldier who served as a career officer with the IDF is the chief of staff.  To the best of our examination, the retirement of Brigadier General Nahman Shai was approved by then chief of staff, the late Lieutenant General Dan Shomron.”

That did not satisfy me

Are you satisfied with this answer?  I was not really satisfied.  What bothered me?  I was troubled by the phrase “To the best of our examination.”  What does it mean?  The obvious conclusion would be that they are not certain.  They did not say, “We looked into it and that’s the way it is.”  They said that their examination failed to yield a clear and unequivocal answer.  Should it turn out in the future that their reply was inaccurate, incorrect, or wrong, they could always argue that “the best of our examination” was not good enough.  This IDF response is particularly troubling because it assigns responsibility for the contorted pensionary deal to a person who is no longer with us.  This only makes it more imperative to find a clear and unequivocal answer, so as not to unjustifiably blemish the late chief of staff.

This is why I sent my following reaction to the IDF spokesperson:  “I wish to know what exactly do you mean by ‘to the best of our examination’?  Is it possible that your examination was inconclusive?  If indeed the late Dan Shomron approved the pensionary arrangement, there should have been some documentation.  Does such a document exist?  If it does not exist, what or who were your conclusions, to the best of your examination, based on?  I hope that your reply arrives in time for me to update the Globes readers next weekend.”

This is how the media help the whitewashers

I was doubtful right from the start.  In this era of computers, does it really take time to find 13-years-old material?  What is worse, if the IDF needs to look for the “authorizing party,” why did it eventually name those very parties when answering the press?  Was it trying to lie, knowingly?  No, it was not.  This is simply the automatic reply to embarrassing queries: “Authorized parties approved,” “everything was done according to the rules,” and so on.

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Categories: IDF, Impunity

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