The Government Press Office has opened an investigation into an Italian journalist who recently interviewed three senior Israeli officials and a wounded Israel Defense Forces soldier for what turned out to be a Hezbollah documentary on the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
According to the Hebrew-language Ynet news website, the GPO “is taking steps” against Michela Moni and Italy’s ANSA news agency over the documentary, and has called the head of ANSA to demand an explanation.
“This is a severe situation that borders on fraud and misrepresentation, and which goes against professional journalistic standards,” GPO chief Nitzan Chen said.
Earlier this year, Moni interviewed former defense minister Amir Peretz, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Maj. Gen. (res.) MK Eyal Ben-Reuven and ex-Israeli solider Tomer Weinberg, telling them the footage would be broadcast on Italian television and the BBC in Britain and Al-Jazeera.
The interviews were instead featured in a three-part documentary series documentary titled “What Happened in 2006” on al-Mayadeen, a television channel affiliated with Hezbollah to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 34-day war between Israel and the Lebanese-based terror group.
The head of the ANSA offices in Israel, Mossimo Lomokano told the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth that “ANSA never gave freelance journalist Michela Moni any assignment to interview any of the people interviewed for the piece on the events from 2006. Moni never told ANSA that he was doing these interviews. Moreover, ANSA has never published any interviews conducted by Moni regarding those events.”
Meanwhile, Walid al-Omri, the head of Al Jazeera in Israel and the West Bank, also said in a statement to the daily that his network never requested the interviews.
After the footage was aired, Moni told Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday that he too was misled, and claimed that a Palestinian producer in Jerusalem named Ahmed Barghouthi tricked him into accepting the task.
“I also didn’t know that the interviews I was sent to do in Israel were intended for Hezbollah,” Moni told Yedioth. “When I realized that the Hezbollah channel broadcast the interviews and not Al Jazeera or the BBC, I understood that I had been used, and I came out looking like a liar to my interviewees.”
Barghouti declined to speak with the Israeli daily.
On Saturday, al-Mayadeen broadcast previously unreleased footage of Hezbollah fighters training for the attack that launched the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Three IDF soldiers were killed and two — First Sergeant Ehud Goldwasser and Sergeant Eldad Regev — were captured in the raid. Five more IDF soldiers were killed shortly thereafter in a failed Israeli rescue attempt.
The broadcast is part of a three-episode documentary series commemorating the war’s 10th anniversary. It is seen in Israel as part of Hezbollah efforts to rehabilitate its image in Lebanon as the cause for the country’s suffering, both resulting from the 2006 war and due to its active participation in the Syria civil war in support of Iranian and Syrian regime forces.
Weinberg, an IDF veteran who was wounded in 2006, told Yedioth earlier this week that he declined to be interviewed by Moni at first, citing his mental and physical health, but eventually agreed.
“The Italian journalist didn’t give up and I eventually agreed to be interviewed. When he came to my home, he told me he was staying in Jerusalem and came to visit me especially ‘because the Italian people are extremely interested to hear your story, and it is important they hear the circumstances of the kidnapping,’” Weinberg said on Tuesday.
During the hour-long interview, Moni urged him repeatedly to be filmed next to a photo from the 2006 ambush in which his comrades were abducted and killed, and he was injured. He refused. And the Hezbollah documentary distorted his account, making it seem like he abandoned his fellow soldiers, Weinberg maintained.
“My friends shamed me because after all that I told the Italian journalist, they showed only a tiny part of it, which implies that I escaped from the vehicle and abandoned my friends. All at once, the memories from the incident came flooding back and I started to feel anxiety,” Weinberg said.
“Since the film was shown, I have not been to work,” he told Yedioth.
Spokespeople for Livni and Peretz said they were never informed they were being interviewed for al-Mayadeen. Former head of Military Intelligence Amos Yadlin also appears in the documentary, but told Yedioth he believed the filmmakers simply used old footage from his previous Israeli TV appearances.