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Haaretz’s Bad Case of Journalistic Amnesia

doron zahavi

IDF accused rapist-torturer Doron Zahavi (Daniel Bar On)

Today, Haaretz reporter, Revital Hovel, published an “expose” (Hebrew, chasifah) revealing that the name of Israeli IDF torturer, Captain George, was Doron Zahavi. The only problem? This was no chasifah. This was old news, 3 1/2 year-old news to be exact. I know this because I first exposed Zahavi’s identity and have been tracking his notorious career ever since. My Israeli source did a great deal of work in connecting Captain George with Zahavi. And now, with a few keystrokes, the illustrious Israeli publication has erased it all.

Within the article, Zahavi’s lawyer says that his client’s identity can be exposed because it is commonly found in Google searches. This is only partially true. All of those Google searches refer back to this blog as the original source.  Had I not broken the Israeli gag order in 2010, no Israeli judge would’ve lifted it now.  And Hovel and Haaretz wouldn’t have gotten their alleged “chasifah.”  All this means either that Haaretz has a bad case of journalistic amnesia, Hovel is a lazy reporter, or the omission is deliberate. Knowing how poorly I’m thought of by Amos Schocken and other Haaretz reporters (though not by any means all of them), I can’t discount this possibility.

But considering that I credit and link to Haaretz reporting virtually every day here, the least you’d think they could do was return the favor. But that’s not the generally accepted practice in Israeli journalism. Every outlet is a fief unto itself. The competition is cutthroat and you almost never credit a competitor, no matter how crucial his reporting was to your own.

What I do here should be a partnership with Israeli journalism.  My work enables them eventually to be able to do the work they should be able to do without me.  But because Israel isn’t a democracy and the press isn’t free (except in a nominal sense), I serve an important role.  There are however, many who begrudge this.  They’d rather not have me around and wait for the crumbs that fall from the security apparatus’ table.  Then it’s truly ‘their’ story and they own it, even if it’s based on a few accidentially-dropped crumbs.  It’s a misguided approach.  But so be it.

This willing amnesia isn’t just characteristic of journalism. It’s also a quality evident in national history and politics.  I’ve called this historical amnesia. Whenever there is an issue that is too troublesome, like Nakba, just deny it. If your city is built upon the ruins of a Palestinian village, forget about it (which is why the name of the Israeli NGO, Zochrot-Memories, is so ironic and important). If your citizens hate African refugees, forget that your own Jewish ancestors were “strangers in a strange land” and commanded to be merciful to strangers in your own midst.  Incensed that Iran may want a nuclear weapon?  Forget that your own country has as many of 200 of them already.  If a foreign reporter is beating the pants off your own reporting–ignore him.

Since, as I wrote above, I believe in giving credit where it’s due, I will say that Haaretz is the first source I know to publish a picture of the real Doron Zahavi.  Note: back in 2010, Ha’Ir, a small sister-publication to Haaretz, published a long profile of me by Lital Grossman which did credit my breaking the Zahavi story.  But Ha’Ir was shuttered by Haaretz the same week that story was published (I hope I played no role in that!).

H/t to Sol Salbe.

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{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Major Scoop December 31, 2013, 6:19 AM

    Please allow me to quote Dvorit Shargal on the subject:
    “I don’t understand why Silverstein thinks he deserves any journalistic credit. Everyone in Israel knew who Captain Gorge was. There were 3 different GAG orders. Silverstein isn’t bound by the Israeli law’s and that’s why he published. He never received credit for the matter in Hayir Newspaper, he’s listed as a part of a group of people who wrote the name. It’s not that Silverstein preformed any investigative reporting. The name was published in hebrew prior.”
    http://velvetunderground.co.il/?p=52312#comments

    “מאת velvet:
    31 בדצמבר 2013 בשעה 14:05
    לא מבינה אותך. מה הגבורה? כאמור כולם ידעו, היו שלושה צווי איסור פרסום שונים. הוא לא כפוף לחוק הישראלי ולכן פרסם. אין לו בהעיר שום קרדיט, הוא מתואר כחלק ממי שכתבו את השם. זה לא שהוא חקר ומצא. השם פורסם ברבים ובעברית.”

    • Richard Silverstein December 31, 2013, 3:25 PM

      @ Major Scoop: Quoting Dvorit on the subject only shows how little she understands what this story is about. First, not “everyone” in Israel knew his name. In fact, if everyone did someone would’ve leaked it. No doubt, many people in Dvorit’s sphere of journalists or bloggers did know. But NONE OF THEM REPORTED IT. That’s the only salient fact. If you are a journalist and either won’t or can’t report a story there is no story. You haven’t reported to the public, which is what journalists do.

      Whether or not I’m subject to Israeli law is irrelevant journalistically. Of course I can report the story without fear of arrest and of course Israeli journalists felt they couldn’t because they would be subject to punishment of some sort. But the truth is I am the one making the statement by rejecting Israeli law on this matter and publishing despite it. They are not. It really doesn’t matter why they aren’t doing this reporting or rebelling. They simply aren’t and I am. It’s that simple.

      As for the circumstance of how the story was uncovered. I already reported that here, and Shargel and you have been lazy in not researching it before making generalizations. ACRI filed a complaint against Doron Zahavi, using his real name, in his role as Jerusalem police officer for Arab affairs. From there, my Israeli source was able to connect him to Captain George. The credit goes entirely to him for doing this. Not to Dvorit Shargel. Not to all those Israeli journalists who purportedly knew this but published it nowhere. It is true that the profile in Ha’Ir does note that there were comments in the thread for a Haaretz article about Zahavi which used his real name. But it is one thing to be mentioned in a comment and quite another to be identified in a blog post. Do you think if Edward Snowden announced in a comment thread that he’d penetrated NSA secrets anyone would take notice?

      You didn’t translate another part of Dvorit’s comment which asked disdainfully: “Where’s the heroism?” I think there’s a case of journalistic envy going on here and this is precisely the sort of envy I spoke about in the post. Instead of seeing this as a collaboration, Israelis like Shargel feel envy or spite. Contrary to what she wrote, I don’t feel I’m a hero. I’ve written many times here that I wish I didn’t have to play this role. I wish Israeli press freedom was such that she could report these stories with her colleagues. But she can’t so I do. Again, it’s as simple as that.

      There’s another important point, I don’t seek this recognition I’ve demanded from Haaretz for personal reasons. I seek it because there is a mission involved here. It is (and should be) bigger than me. The mission is to make Israel a more transparent society. It is to break the monopoly of the national security apparatus. The more people, institutions and media that recognize that the more powerful this tool becomes and the more effective it will be. If I am zealous in demanding respect that isn’t forthcoming from Haaretz, it is for this cause.

      Of course, there is always ego involved in any project in which you invest many years of your life. I can’t deny that. But in this case, I am clear about my motives. I should add that it’s quite likely there is anger, ego and pique involved in the visceral dislike of me and my work expressed by Amos Schocken & others (though not all) at Haaretz. So I guess we’re even on that score.

      Finally, posting Dvorit’s comment was deliberately provocative and just plain pissed me off. You clearly wanted to provoke me. Congratulations, you got your wish–you’re moderated.

  • dvorit January 1, 2014, 1:07 AM

    just to clear the atmosphere:
    I’m not envy at you at all.
    For me you’ll always be a colleague.

  • Elisabeth January 4, 2014, 8:39 AM

    Modoweiss just now gives you credit for your scoop:
    (….) Doron Zahavi, a former interrogator for the Israeli military (now an adviser on Arab affairs to the commander of the Jerusalem District Police), who last week came forward and identified himself publicly as the officer previously known in the Israeli media as “Captain George.” (Tikun Olam bloggger Richard Silverstein actually revealed the officer’s real name in 2010, but the Israeli press ignored his scoop.)

    • Richard Silverstein January 4, 2014, 2:44 PM

      Thanks, I caught that & published a comment there thanking Henry Norr for his acknowledgement. Ben White just wrote a post about the Zahavi story & he too didn’t credit me. Oh well, he’s (White, not Norr) stopped answering my e mails as well!

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