מדוע לא הוקרן ב”עובדה” הריאיון הארוך שערכה איתי אילנה דיין? אולי כי דיברתי על האסיר איקס 2, ה”חפרפרת” של איראן בצמרת המוסד
Israel’s leading TV newsmagazine is Uvda (“Fact”) and its distinguished correspondent, Ilana Dayan, is one of the best-known and most respected broadcast journalists in Israel. She is to the Israeli newsmagazine what 60 Minutes is to U. S. television. She in some sense rules the airwaves. Her guests are among the most influential in their fields and her investigative reports are always hard-hitting, while being informative and enlightening. If you are a figure who seeks coverage from a literate, decent TV news interviewer who will present your views carefully and comprehensively, this is where you want to be.
Naturally, one of my aspirations was to be featured for an Uvda segment. One of its producers first approached me a decade ago. She even traveled to America for a family religious ceremony and suggested that she come to Seattle to interview me. Nothing ever came of that plan and the producer moved on to another TV show.
Last year, I was approached by a different Uvda producer who was more committed to the idea. I was careful this time and told her that I only wanted to pursue this if it was going to happen, but that in principle I was very interested.
From there, things moved rapidly. She proposed dates for me to fly to Washington DC and spend two days filming with Dayan and her cameraman. They booked my hotel room and plane reservations and off I went last winter to the nation’s capital.
The interview was intense and exhausting because you naturally want to say everything that’s important for an audience to know. You want to explain what you do and why you do it. You want to make a compelling case for your views and her audience. We interviewed for many hours both in the hotel and the neighborhood.
Dayan was the quintessential Israeli liberal in the best sense of the word. Not radical by any means. But inquisitive and accepting of varied views. She of course embraced the Israeli patriotic narrative. But not at all in the jingoistic sense that the most right-wing Israelis do. Despite certain limitations in this point of view, I really felt that she is an Israeli treasure. She puts shows on the air that almost no one else in Israeli TV could or would do.
Uvda does make mistakes though. Uvda aired a revolting segment a few years ago which featured an Ad Kan informant secretly filming Israeli activists. The program was put together in my opinion in a fraudulent manner which made the activists appear to be putting a Palestinian’s life in danger. The problem was that this individual was a fictional character created by the informant. The activists were questioned by police and thankfully were not prosecuted. But their lives could have been profoundly damaged by this fraud. And Uvda fell for it.
Largely, her questioning of me revolved around a major case Amir Oren and I reported years ago about a Mossad officer who directed Israeli spying operations against Iran. According to Oren’s Haaretz report, Iran “turned” him and he began either to give them information or somehow betray his country (the circumstances of his offense are vague).
As with all such affairs, the Israeli intelligence apparatus sought to bury the story. It tried him and convicted him in secret. His wife, despite speaking with Oren, refused to do an on the record interview. The spy, whom I called Prisoner X2 (the first Prisoner X being Ben Zygier, whose identity was hidden as well after he committed suicide in his Israeli prison cell), was eventually released from prison after serving a 14-year sentence. He has somehow receded into the background and nothing more has been heard from him or about him.
To this day, the case may not be reported in Israel. The man may not be named. His crime may not be revealed. This is the type of case that is most important to me, because I believe that democracy thrives in sunlight and authoritarianism triumphs in darkness. The intelligence apparatus must not be permitted to hide its dirty linen from the public.
In some sense, I think the producer who initiated the segment idea and Dayan shared this view as well. I believe they thought they could put together a segment that would pass muster with the censor and make it to air. They believed that Israelis deserved to learn this story. Alas, that’s not what happened.
As she prepared to leave Washington, Dayan said to me that the material they filmed would work well and that the segment should be aired relatively soon. That, of course, heartened me. I awaited my 15-minutes of Warholian fame. Naively, it turned out. Weeks turned to months. The producer would call periodically and remind me that the show would air. But she never offered a firm date and said that putting together these projects takes time and that I should be patient. Then the show’s season ended without my interview being aired. I somehow hoped that it might make it into next season, which began a few months ago.
Finally, I realized that somehow the segment had been killed. I knew that though the producer was very warm in my interactions with her, that she probably had no say in the matter. I also knew that for whatever reason, she would (or could) never tell me what happened. You can imagine how powerless all this made me feel.
So I resolved to do the only thing I could think back to take control of the situation, as poor a gesture as it might be. I emailed the producer and said that I had finally realized the story had been killed. I didn’t blame her. But that I was deeply disappointed to have offered Uvda two entire days of my life with many hours of airplane travel and hours of taping, only to be put on the shelf with all the other unseen programs they may have done. It was not a nice feeling.
I knew the producer would want to write back to me something kind but vague. But I didn’t want to hear it. I just wanted to make a definitive statement and be done with it and them.
What happened to my story? Obviously, I don’t know or I would tell you. But my hunch is that when they began working on the segment and brought it to the censor she killed the project outright. After I finished the interview and waited for it to air, I asked the producer whether the censor may be the reason it was being held up. She denied this was the reason.
For those who haven’t read this blog or my history with the military censor: I was Israeli Public Enemy, if not #1, then pretty close. Brig. Gen. Ariella Ben Avraham is, if possible, even more restrictive and oppressive in her censorship protocols than her predecessor, Sima Vaknin-Gil. She certainly wouldn’t want a whiff of this Mossad story on the Israeli airwaves. And she certainly would not want a major Israeli TV program to give me any airtime.
Coincidentally, Ben Avraham just put in her papers to resign from the IDF in order to take a new job running communications for NSO Group, one of Israel’s most controversial companies. There she will seek to shield from the prying eyes of the world the companies worst human rights abuses, just as she sought to shield Israeli eyes from the worst secrets of the IDF and the intelligence apparatus. It seems a job tailor-made for her.
Even more frustrating than the show not airing is not knowing the reason it won’t air. What an utter waste. Nevertheless, I went into the project with the best of intentions and produced material that would have made a good show (at least I think so). The rest is beyond my control.