Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday dressed down the head of Israel’s Army Radio station for broadcasting an educational piece on a renowned Palestinian poet, comparing the move to praising the writing of Adolf Hitler.
Liberman had summoned the station’s civilian chief, Yaron Dekel, after the broadcast of an educational program on Palestinian nationalist poet and author Mahmoud Darwish earlier this week raised hackles among right-wing politicians, who chafed at his criticisms of Israel.
“Mahmoud Darwish, who in his poems called for the Jewish people to be thrown out of the Land of Israel, and wrote that ‘from the flesh of the occupation I will have what to eat’ — cannot be part of the Israeli founding narrative as it was presented on the program broadcast by Army Radio,” Liberman said, according to a transcript sent by his office after the meeting.
“By the same logic you can add to the Israeli narrative the legacy of the mufti al-Husseini and praise on the air the literary quality of ‘Mein Kampf,'” he added, a reference to the Nazi leader’s seminal work in which he first outlined his hatred of Jews, and also apparently to Mohammed Amin al-Husseini, a pre-WWII era Arab nationalist leader who met with Hitler and urged creating a Palestinian state instead of a Jewish one.
While run as a civilian concern, Army Radio is officially under the aegis of the Defense Ministry and includes serving soldiers as part of its staff. Dekel, who is officially a commander, was appointed by the ministry.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, after learning of the upcoming meeting with Dekel, had telephoned Liberman the night before to tell the minster he has no right to intervene in the broadcasts of Army Radio, Haaretz reported.
Mandelblit based his view limiting Liberman’s control on a legal opinion formed in 2015 by Assistant Attorney-General Dana Zilber who found that ministers are not authorized to interfere in the broadcasts of Army Radio and its sister music station Galgalatz, even though they are both army radio stations.
Zilber formed the opinion at the time after Culture Minister Miri Regev complained there wasn’t enough Eastern Jewish music played on the stations.
During the meeting, Liberman said that “there is no involvement by the political leadership in the content of Army Radio broadcasts, but the purpose of an army radio station in a democratic and complex society like the Israeli society is to strengthen unity in the society and not to deepen rifts and certainly not to offend public feeling,” the statement said.
Liberman “made it clear that there is a big difference between freedom of expression and freedom of incitement and it is the responsibility of the station commanders to clarify that to presenters, to reporters, and editors at the station.”
According to the Defense Ministry’s statement, Dekel said that “he sees the importance of preserving freedom of expression and educational texts are not to be taken as identification with what they say, but it is possible that the context of things as part of the Israeli narrative could be understood incorrectly.”
Darwish, who died in 2008, is considered a Palestinian national symbol and was a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Born in a village that later became part of northern Israel and a resident of countries including Lebanon, France and Jordan, he spent part of the last years of his life in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Darwish was a frequent visitor to Israel, where four of his books were translated into Hebrew.
He was critical of Israel as well as of terror group Hamas, which currently rules the Gaza Strip.
In 2000, the Education Ministry briefly considered adding him to the school curriculum, but pulled the idea after right-wing outcry.
MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint (Arab) List faction, blasted Liberman for comparing Darwish to Hitler.
“Only a person full of hatred and evil can compare between the wonderful and loving poems of Mahmoud Darwish and the writings of Hitler,” Odeh said in a statement. “Darwashe, who led a stubborn and courageous struggle against Holocaust denial, will continue to be an eternal symbol of love of the fellow man, to emotional intelligence, values the defense minister doesn’t even know.”
During his Thursday morning broadcast alongside Amit Segal, Dekel urged his listeners to “remove worry from your hearts, freedom of speech on Army Radio will be preserved,” the report said.
In response to the criticism, Army Radio defended its programming, saying in a statement the same day that its educational broadcasts sought to “enrich and engage” their listeners with a variety of ideas.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.