An Israeli journalist who called Israeli army soldiers “animals” for beating a Palestinian father and son in custody is to face trial.
Oshrat Kotler, a journalist with Israel’s Channel 13, is to face trial on charges of incitement, incrimination of suspects, failure to grant a right of reply and more after she called several soldiers accused of beating two Palestinians in custody “human animals”, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Speaking on the channel’s news programme in February, Kotler said:
When you send your children to the [Israeli] army, they are kids. You send them to the [occupied Palestinian] territories, and they come back as human animals. This is the result of the occupation.
Her comments allegedly prompted complaints from thousands of viewers, as well as complaints to Israel’s Press Council, an independent body established to safeguard press freedoms and outline journalism ethics. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also responded to Kotler’s comments, saying her words “deserve every condemnation” and that he is “proud of the [Israeli army] soldiers and loves them very much.”
She now faces trial and will appear at a court hearing, though it is unclear when she will be summoned.
The Israeli soldiers to whom Kotler referred were last week convicted of aggravated assault and aggravated battery for beating a 50-year-old Palestinian and his 15-year-old son who were detained in custody. The soldiers were suspected of beating the father and son as revenge for a December attack on members of their battalion, since both sets of soldiers belong to the same unit – the ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion of the Kfir Brigade, which is stationed in northern West Bank city of Jenin.
Details of the brutal beating emerged during February’s court proceedings, with the 15-year-old boy telling the court: “I was lying on my back, with hands cuffed behind my back and a blindfold over my eyes. I was kicked by four soldiers – who used their hands, feet and the barrels of their M16 rifles – in the face, chest, abdomen, legs, and testicles […] I couldn’t open my left eye and my mouth was filled with blood.”
Despite the severity of the crimes and the Netzah Yehuda battalion’s history of anti-Palestinian violence, the soldiers reached a plea bargain and will serve only 190 days in prison. They were sentenced yesterday by an Israeli military court.
The bid to take Kotler to court will be seen as the latest evidence of Israel’s attempts to silence anyone who criticises its army or politicians. Journalists in particular have come under attack, with Netanyahu slamming the “left-wing media” for conspiring against him and the country’s interests ahead of the upcoming election on 9 April.
Netanyahu drew criticism in January when a billboard appeared outside Tel Aviv showing a number of prominent journalists who have been critical of his premiership with the words “they will not decide”. The four journalists had been closely covering the corruption scandal in which Netanyahu has long been embroiled, and it was thought his Likud party was behind the campaign to discredit them. Netanyahu’s rivals lambasted the move, with head of the Yesh Atid party and Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) co-leader Yair Lapid labelling the move incitement.
Netanyahu has also tried to side-step the mainstream media by creating his own TV channel, dubbed Likud TV. Launching the channel on his official Facebook page with the slogan “we’re throwing the ‘fake’ out of the news,” Netanyahu said that “whoever the media praises is bad for Likud and usually whoever it crucifies is good for Likud”.
Commentators were quick to point out the similarity between Netanyahu’s campaign and that of US President Donald Trump, noting that Likud TV “seems to follow the model of [Trump’s] Real News Update” ahead of the US elections due to be held in 2020. Trump has championed the “fake news” narrative, labelling journalists the “enemy of the people” and taking aim at some of America’s biggest news outlets.