And Who Didn’t Come?

By Gideon Levy – Israel
It’s a long time since we’ve had a war that’s not ours that was so thoroughly covered and present for us. We can’t travel to Afghanistan, Iraq and Darfur with Israeli passports, nor to Gaza; Chechnya and Kosovo did not interest us, for some reason; Congo and Rwanda are too far away; and suddenly, it’s a whole new ballgame. The main road between Tblisi and Gori was full of Israeli journalists and photographers. One reporter, Tzadok Yehezkeli, was severely wounded, a fact that immediately raised the superfluous question of whether it is right for Israeli journalists to be endangering their lives in a war that ostensibly has nothing to do with us. But the Israeli press registered an impressive presence with a level of reportage that would not shame any international media outlet. That is the right thing to do.

Of course, we could have passed up on any Israeli coverage of international affairs, make do with the news agency reports and the hell with journalism. After all, that’s what we’ve been doing for almost two years with events in Gaza, and nobody seems to care. That way we also keep our distance from half the world – Africa, South America and Asia are not even on the map, unless an Israeli hiker gets lost there. But self-respecting journalism must be present at every significant international event, even if there are no Israeli tanks invading at dawn. It’s dangerous in Lebanon and Nablus, as well as in Georgia, but it’s work that must be done. No news agency correspondent will cover a war in the world for the Israeli reader the way a Hebrew journalist will do it.

It is hard to know what was behind this change. Was it the "Jewish angle," the fact that Georgia has a relatively large Jewish community? The "Israeli angle," with all the Israeli weapons suppliers and mercenaries there? Or perhaps it was simply the short and relatively accessible flights? We can only hope that things will be the same during the next war of international significance.

Talented, courageous and reliable Israeli journalists went to Georgia. Only thanks to them did the war make the headlines in Israel. Conspicuous in their absence: the military correspondents. Other than one exception, Channel 10’s new military correspondent, Or Heller, nobody came. Not all the Roni Daniels and Yoav Limors, the warmongers and spokesmen for the army. Those responsible for the most problematic area of news coverage in Israel – we have no journalism as subjective and subservient to the government as in the area of military coverage – decided that this war was none of their business. In any case, since Moshe Dayan went to cover the war in Vietnam, we cannot recall the presence of Israeli military correspondents and commentators in wars of others.

This is definitely not a coincidence. It testifies to the nature of the work of our correspondents and commentators, the "Mr. Security" types. In Georgia they aren’t pals with the generals, they don’t serve as senior reserve officers in its army, and they are not interested in pushing Georgia into more and more violent activities, as they do here. Therefore they were unable to do their work as they are used to doing it. They left the objective coverage of the war there to others, those whose natural curiosity and sense of journalistic mission will take them everywhere.

(Haaretz, August 21, 2008)

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