A leading news anchor stirred controversy Saturday night after saying on air that Israel’s ongoing rule over the West Bank was turning soldiers into “animals.”
Channel 13’s Oshrat Kotler made the comments at the end of a piece about IDF soldiers suspected of badly beating two bound and blindfolded Palestinian suspects following their comrades’ deaths in an attack.
“We send the children to the army, to the territories and get back animals. That is the result of the occupation,” she said.
Towards the end of the program, having apparently been informed her comment had caused controversy, Kotler told viewers: “My own children and their friends are all combat soldiers… My criticism was aimed only at those soldiers who have been led to harm innocents by our control over the Palestinians.”
She then added: “I’m actually in favor of easing the soldiers’ punishment, because it is we who sent them into that impossible reality.”
In a joint statement, parents of the accused soldiers said Kotler’s comments were “unfortunate and ugly” and “have no place in Israeli discourse, certainly not by a news anchor who should present facts and not her warped world view.
“Kotler did not ask who these soldiers are… what terrible difficulty they’ve gone through, and chose to call them terrible words,” they said, accusing her of “judging them without a trial.”
New Right party chief Naftali Bennett rebuked Kotler on Twitter.
“Oshrat, you’re confused,” he wrote. “IDF soldiers give their lives so that you can sleep soundly. Animals are those terrorists who murder children in their beds, a teen out for a walk or an entire family driving down the road. IDF soldiers are our children, our strength. Apologize.”
חיילי צה"ל מוסרים את נפשם כדי שאת תוכלי לישון בשקט.
חיות אדם אלו המחבלים שרוצחים ילדים במיטתם, נערה שהולכת לטיול או משפחה שלמה שנוסעת בכביש.
חיילי צה"ל הם הילדים שלנו, העוצמה שלנו.
— Naftali Bennett בנט (@naftalibennett) February 16, 2019
The New Right said it would call on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to launch an investigation into Kotler’s comments for libel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also weighed in. “I am proud of the soldiers of the IDF and love them very much. Kotler’s comments should be condemned,” he said.
The Yisrael Beytenu party joined in on the criticism.
“We send journalists to sit in the air conditioned studio with huge salaries and get back condescension. That is the result of being out of touch. We embrace the soldiers of the IDF,” the party said in a statement.
Former IDF chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon of Israel Resilience-Telem said: “The use of military force is a necessity that should not be condemned, in the face of the threat we face — from Iran to Judea and Samaria. All who live in this country should be thankful to the IDF and its soldiers for the sacrifice, that allows us to live.”
Meanwhile, on the left, the Peace Now group backed Kotler. “It is permissible and even desirable to look into the mirror from time to time and honestly admit to the damage [caused by] the occupation. Those whose children’s futures are important to them should work to end the conflict rather than maintain it, because the price is high.”
Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg spoke out against Kotler’s critics, calling their attacks on her “pathetic and yet predictable…shutting your eyes [to the problem] and then assailing the messenger is not a solution.”
Channel 13 news said in a statement: “Oshrat Kotler is an opinionated journalist who makes her opinions known from time to time, as do other reporters with different opinions. Oshrat was voicing her personal opinion only.”
Israel Defense Forces soldiers Sgt. Yosef Cohen and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef were shot dead near the Givat Assaf outpost on December 13, in an attack that also seriously wounded two other people — soldier Netanel Felber and Shira Sabag, a civilian woman. The shooter, Asem Barghouti, was arrested by the IDF nearly a month later.
Five Israeli soldiers from Cohen and Yosef’s unit are charged with seriously beating two handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian suspects, a father and his 15-year-old son, who were arrested during the search for Barghouti, on suspicion of having aided the gunman’s escape.
The soldiers involved, all of whom serve in the Kfir Brigade’s religious Netzah Yehuda Battalion, deny the accusations and claim they did not abuse the Palestinian detainees.
The bereaved parents of the two slain IDF soldiers have asked military courts to be lenient in sentencing the accused servicemen, asking that the emotional pain the accused soldiers suffered be taken into consideration.
Eliyahu and Odel Cohen, parents of Yosef, sent a letter urging that consideration be given to the accused soldiers’ argument that they received no emotional support in dealing with their comrades’ deaths and were put under enormous emotional strain when tasked with guarding two Palestinians suspected of helping the killer.
“These combat soldiers were brothers in arms, brothers in pain, injured brothers, and from the day that Yosef was murdered, they became our sons,” the Cohens wrote. “As bereaved parents we know the pain of bereavement did not pass over them… The moment when they lost their friends is not a moment to judge their shortcomings.”
An indictment was filed at the end of last month against the five soldiers, who are charged with aggravated assault and aggravated abuse.
The two Palestinians are suspected of assisting Barghouti in his escape. They remain in Israeli custody but have yet to be charged.
The son had a number of wounds to his head and “significant swelling” to his face, according to the charge sheet. The father sustained multiple broken ribs and a “severely” broken nose, as well as subdermal bleeding around his stomach. He was hospitalized for three days after the beating, according to the indictment.
The extent of the father’s injuries was so great that he could not be interrogated for several days.
According to the Shin Bet, the gunman, Asem Barghouti, also took part in another shooting attack on December 9 with his brother, Salih, in which they injured seven Israelis, among them a seven-months pregnant woman, who was seriously wounded. The woman’s baby was delivered in an emergency operation, but died days later.
Salih Barghouti was shot dead on December 12 in Kobar as he attacked Israeli security forces in an attempt to evade arrest, the army said at the time.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.