AG rejects Gantz’s bid to appoint new Army Radio head before elections

Baharav-Miara says absence of permanent chief is ‘inappropriate’ but Defense Ministry failed to provide arguments justifying changing the law

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, May 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Thursday that the permanent appointment of a new commander for Army Radio will need to wait until after elections are held on November 1.

Responding to a petition to the High Court of Justice on the issue, Baharav-Miara said that “for Army Radio to be operating for so long without a permanent commander is inappropriate.”

She acknowledged that the Justice Ministry had asked the Defense Ministry to advance the appointment before elections were announced, but argued that the process of locating a new commander for the radio station should have begun before the former commander, Shimon Elkabetz, left the role in August 2021.

Despite the necessity of appointing a new commander, the attorney general said that once the Knesset has been dispersed and the country is heading to the polls, the defense minister is not allowed to continue the process of appointments and the position of the Defense Ministry cannot be taken into account.

Baharav-Miara noted that the Defense Ministry had failed to produce arguments justifying changing the current legal procedures on the issue.

She added that the interim commander of the station, journalist Galit Altstein, who was appointed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz in August last year, has agreed to continue serving in her temporary position for the time being.

She stressed, however, that the country’s next defense minister will need to address the issue and appoint a permanent commander “immediately” after entering office.

Her decision comes despite the fact that a committee appointed by Gantz in May, before elections were called, had already chosen a person to lead the station.

Gantz hoped that by appointing an external, professional committee for choosing the station’s next commander, the appointment would be approved as it would not depend on the decision of an elected official.

Last month, Baharav-Miara approved Gantz’s request to appoint a new IDF chief of staff before the elections, citing security concerns.

Citing security officials, the Ynet news site said that the attorney general had expressed concerns about approving another appointment during election season, fearing the move would draw public criticism.

According to the reports, the individual picked by the committee to be the next permanent commander of Army Radio is Or Zelkovnik, who currently serves as director of 103FM Radio.

“I respect the attorney general’s decision as the qualified interpreter of the law to not allow [the appointment],” Gantz said in response to Baharav-Miara’s decision.

“Interim station commander Galit Altstein will continue to serve in her position and lead the station in a professional manner,” he added.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi tour the West Bank on August 2, 2022. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

For several years, the Israel Defense Forces has sought to remove Army Radio from the purview of the military and the Defense Ministry. In January 2021, Gantz announced a plan to separate Army Radio from the IDF, a move that had long been expected but had been repeatedly delayed so as to avoid shuttering the station for good.

The Attorney General’s Office said earlier this year that Gantz and IDF chief Aviv Kohavi lacked the authority to shutter Army Radio on their own, and instead, a Knesset bill would be the best method for approving such a move.

The military’s operating and funding of a radio station with journalists responsible for investigating the IDF itself, as well as politicians, has long been considered anachronistic, expensive and an ethical minefield.

The station’s position as a media outlet has thus always been an uneasy one, functioning simultaneously, and sometimes discordantly, as an independent news organization that seeks to critique the government and as an arm of the Israeli military dedicated to covering the troops and furthering the narrative of the military as an area of national consensus.

Army Radio — one of the most listened-to news stations in the country — is staffed by a mix of young soldiers and seasoned journalists.

Emanual Fabian contributed to this report. 

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