The sister of a female soldier killed in a weekend shooting attack on the Egypt border has slammed a right-wing news network for appearing to imply impropriety on the part of the male and female soldiers who had been stationed at the targeted post.
Channel 14 has come under attack from opposition politicians, journalists and thousands of members of the public after its coverage of the border tragedy included a discussion of the merits of mixed-gender combat units and criticism by several of its reporters and anchors of the fact that a male soldier and a female soldier had been on duty alone at a guard post for an all-night shift.
On Monday, the sister of Sgt. Lia Ben Nun, 19 — the female servicemember who was killed at the post alongside comrade Staff Sgt. Ori Yitzhak Iluz, 20 — rebuked the network in comments to reporters as the family sat shiva, the traditional mourning period.
Ofir Ben Nun said her grandfather had been particularly pained by the comments: “Grandpa said someone on Channel 14 said: ‘How do they put a man and a woman in the same guard post? They must have done stuff.’ The person who said this should be ashamed.”
However, she added, the family was focusing on its grief: “It’s simply not interesting right now. The girl isn’t here anymore. The other things are not interesting. The result is the same result.”
Iluz and Ben Nun were guarding the military post early Saturday when they were shot dead by the attacker, Egyptian policeman Mohamed Salah, 22. According to the IDF’s initial probe, the pair were believed to have been killed between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. after having been at the post since around 9 p.m.
An officer dispatched to the scene discovered Ben Nun and Iluz’s bodies at around 9 a.m., after which military officials declared a terror incident in the area and launched searches. The intruder was spotted by a drone and soldiers converged on his position.
The attacker opened fire at a group of soldiers approaching the area — some 200 meters (656 feet) away — fatally hitting a third soldier, Staff Sgt. Ohad Dahan, 20.
The three soldiers served in the mixed-gender light infantry Bardelas and Caracal battalions tasked with guarding the border. They were laid to rest on Sunday in their respective hometowns of Safed, Rishon Lezion and Ofakim.
On Sunday, Channel 14’s military correspondent Hallel Bitton Rosen said in a broadcast that “putting a male combat soldier and a female combat soldier alone for 12 hours at night… is problematic.”
“This is unprofessional and a disgrace to the army’s values, and it’s being driven by crazy left-wing agendas,” the panel’s moderator, Boaz Golan, added.
בערוץ המורשת שומרים על כבוד הלוחם והלוחמת שנהרגו. לכו תדעו מה היה שם לפני. pic.twitter.com/QbpRSBYxY0
— Yosef Yisrael (@yosefyisrael25) June 4, 2023
Later that evening, the network’s pundit Yinon Magal made a similar point, saying: “I’m hearing about an atmosphere of partying, including in these battalions, about the whole issue of men and women.”
Bitton Rosen, the Channel 14 military reporter, has denied implying inappropriate conduct and accused his critics of defamation. He said his complaints were purely about the long overnight guard shifts, even though his colleagues and coalition lawmakers evidently understood his remark the way his critics had. “It is irresponsible to do something like this,” he added during the broadcast. “Let’s say it’s two men or two women — 12 hours, alone, on the border, without contact?”
The Second Authority for Television and Radio regulator opened a preliminary probe against Channel 14 after more than 2,000 complaints from the public were received by Monday afternoon. The probe could result in a fine for the network.
Meanwhile, several right-wing coalition members have voiced support for the charges leveled by some of the network’s on-air staff.
During Sunday’s broadcast, Channel 14 hosted Religious Zionism MK Zvi Sukkot, who said he agreed with Bitton Rosen’s “every word” and that it was “unacceptable that under our watch… these left-wing agendas continue inside the army.” He said that “these things must change” — an apparent reference to mixed-gender battalions in general or to posting male and female soldiers together on guard duty.
On Tuesday, MK Ariel Kallner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party told the Ynet news site: “This thing, with a man and a woman who are together in one place, is something that needs to be examined from an operational and social aspect.”
He noted, however, that “at least according to the IDF’s initial investigation, it seems like there was no connection” between the mixed-gender issue and the pair’s death.
Fellow Likud MK Danny Danon told Ynet that he saw “no problem with a male and female soldier being together on shift.”
Labor party chairwoman Merav Michaeli dedicated much of her speech at the beginning of her faction meeting on Monday to the issue, saying that “the coalition’s media channels see a young man and woman alone at night on guard duty, and all they can think about is sex. Not responsibility, not service, not courage, not camaraderie. Just sex.”
“The coalition’s disgusting poison machine is not ashamed to insult them and their memory,” said Michaeli, referring to Channel 14, which is closely affiliated with Netanyahu and his right-wing and far-right government. “Shame on the media and shame on the country,” she added.