Besides uncovering tunnels and bunkers in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead is also exposing a rift between a large part of the Israeli people and some of the leading mainstream media personalities.
On the third day of the war, a citizen started a petition on a free petition-hosting website, in which she accused Channel 2's main anchorwoman, Yonit Levy, of being “anti-Zionist” and expressing empathy with the enemy. The petition's goal was to reach 10,000 signatures but less than two weeks after it was launched, it had reached 34,000 and was still growing rapidly (the petition's owner decided to disable further signatures because, she said, it had gotten out of control).
Flash 90, Moshe Shai/PR
The Ma'ariv/NRG website reported that Levy also faced severe criticism from within the ranks of Channel 2's News Corporation. Her critics accused her of weakening national morale by conducting empathetic interviews with Gazan Arabs and asking them about the civilian casualties there. This criticism, combined with the web petition, reportedly caused Levy to react emotionally and led to a teary-eyed incident after the evening newscast on January 6.
Angry viewers also filed complaints with Channel 2's ombudsman. “I watched the 8 o'clock news presented by Miss Yonit Levy,” one of them wrote, “and at the end of the newscast she said the following sentence: 'It's hard to convince the world that the war is justified when we have one person dead and the Palestinian nation has 350 dead.'”
The letter went on: “As a father to a combat soldier in the Armored Corps, how am I supposed to send him into battle when I hear such sentences from the aforementioned lady and I conclude from their content that this war is unjustified? How can I send my son to battle when the Nation of Israel's television announces with pomp that students are holding a demonstration against the war?”
Channel 2 enjoys the highest ratings among Israel's TV channels and its 8:00 p.m. newscast maintains a clear lead over competitors Channel 10 and Channel 1.
Maa'riv/NRG reported that the public protests against Levy's perceived injection of her dovish views “has been discussed in internal conversations and Levy has been asked to be aware of what she says – but no one will admit this publicly.”
“We are not from the United Nations,” the evening newscast's chief editor, Guy Sudri, said. “We are Israelis and we are all patriots.”
The Ma'ariv/NRG reporter notes that “Yonit Levy is not the only anchorwoman whose words can be interpreted, at least by some of the viewers, as empathy for the other side. In interviews conducted in the last days, one could also view Channel 10's anchorwomen Miki Haimovich and Oshrat Kotler sensitively asking interviewees from Gaza about their personal security and that of their children.”
The report said further that “Dana Weiss, of Channel 2 news, was also not sparing in her show of concern for the other side in the interviews she held in the nightly edition she hosts, and the facial expression, which so worried the talkback writers with regard to Levy, exuded clear sorrow and pain.”
Another top female news personality, Ilana Dayan, defended Levy in an interview with Keren Noibach on Voice of Israel radio. “I know Yonit and I know that she is having a difficult time facing this assault,” she said.
Columnist Ariana Melamed hinted in Ynet that Levy was being attacked because of her sex: “In numerous items of research and surveys, it turns out that viewers want their news presented by men, preferably with silvery hair and an authoritative voice. It creates trust. Young women are generally believed less,” Melamed claimed.
Channel 10's Kotler employed militant feminist rhetoric when she came out against the possibility of war in Gaza in January of 2008. Kotler used her television platform as presenter of Channel 10's evening newscast to call for negotiations with Hamas “before we sacrifice hundreds of victims on the altar of Israeli masculinity.”