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.