Attorney general says defense brass can’t close Army Radio on their own

In likely setback to plans pushed by defense minister and IDF chief to shutter station, deputy AG says government must make decision on its fate

A soldier-reporter for Israel's Army Radio, on November 11, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)
A soldier-reporter for Israel's Army Radio, on November 11, 2019. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi lack the authority to shutter Army Radio on their own, the Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday, dealing a likely setback to plans for the station to be decoupled from the military.

Deputy Attorney General Meir Levin issued a legal opinion — which was sent to the Defense Ministry on Tuesday — concerning the authority to order the closure of Army Radio, saying a Knesset bill was the best method for approving the move.

Levin cited Army Radio’s “centrality,” the multiplicity of opinions on its airwaves and argued its closure would entail “some harm” to freedom of speech.

“However, if the political leadership chooses to advance the station’s closure, the move requires, at the very least, a government decision,” a statement from the Attorney General’s Office said.

“The chief of staff’s decision with the defense minister’s approval is not enough to close Army Radio,” it added.

There was no immediate response to the legal opinion from the Defense Ministry or Israel Defense Forces.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, left, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, on October 19, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

The defense minister reiterated his intention to shut down Army Radio in June, when he said the attorney general ruled during recent elections that the matter could not be addressed until a new government was formed. Days later, the new government was sworn in.

“I think that IDF soldiers must be kept as far as possible from any political involvement, and the station should be apolitical, and it has long stopped being so,” Gantz said at the time. “I don’t think there is any way to operate Army Radio in its current form, largely due to the political angle.”

The military’s operating and funding 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 decision to finally jettison Army Radio from the military came after a fresh request from the IDF chief of staff last summer.

Grafitti reading “Army — get out of the radio. A soldier is not a journalist” is written on a building near Army Radio headquarters in Jaffa, on August 19, 2015. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

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

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