YERUSHALAYIM – Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit informed Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman that he does not have the authority to intervene in Army Radio programing.
Mandelblit phoned Liberman the night before a meeting with the station’s civilian head Yaron Dekel to discuss the airing of an educational program on Palestinian author Mahmoud Darwish, a PLO member who had attacked Israel in his writings.
The attorney general’s cautionary message did not deter Liberman from going ahead with the meeting, however, in which he compared Darwish’s writings on Israel to Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
“Mahmoud Darwish, who in his poems called for the Jewish people to be thrown out of the Land of Israel, and wrote that ‘from the flesh of the occupation I will have what to eat’ — cannot be part of the Israeli founding narrative as it was presented on the program broadcast by Army Radio,” Liberman said, according to a transcript furnished by his office.
“By the same logic you can add to the Israeli narrative the legacy of the mufti al-Husseini and praise on the air the literary quality of Mein Kampf,” he added.
Despite the scathing criticism, Liberman acknowledged the attorney general’s opinion and maintained that he did not seek to interfere with the specific content of the station’s programs.
Liberman assured Dekel that “there is no involvement by the political leadership in the content of Army Radio broadcasts, but the purpose of an army radio station in a democratic and complex society like the Israeli society is to strengthen unity in the society and not to deepen rifts and certainly not to offend public feeling,” according to the official statement.
Liberman “made it clear that there is a big difference between freedom of expression and freedom of incitement and it is the responsibility of the station commanders to clarify that to presenters, to reporters, and editors at the station.”
According to the Defense Ministry transcript, Dekel responded that “he sees the importance of preserving freedom of expression and educational texts are not to be taken as identification with what they say, but it is possible that the context of things as part of the Israeli narrative could be understood incorrectly.”
MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint (Arab) List faction, took Army Radio’s side against Liberman, whom he denounced as evil.
“Only a person full of hatred and evil can compare between the wonderful and loving poems of Mahmoud Darwish and the writings of Hitler,” Odeh said in a statement which went on to laud Darwish’s “courageous struggle against Holocaust denial” and “an eternal symbol of love of the fellow man…values the defense minister doesn’t even know.”
During a Thursday morning broadcast, Dekel put out the soothing message: “remove worry from your hearts, freedom of speech on Army Radio will be preserved,” he said.