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Cozy Relationship Between Israeli Judiciary, Military Facilitates Gag Orders, Other Free Speech Violations

Israeli gag order

Israeli gag order

Yediot republishes Judy Miller's 'Israeli Censorship Scandal' story with black-outs

There is much that is instructive in the Anat Kam case about the deficiencies in Israeli democracy.  I’ve discussed many of them in earlier posts.  Tonight, I want to talk about the overly cozy relationship between the judiciary and the military-intelligence apparatus.  Let’s say you’re the Shin Bet or the Attorney General and you’ve got a case like the one we’re talking about.  You want a gag order.  Complicated?  Hardly.  In fact, about as easy as getting a warrantless NSA wiretap during the Bush administration.

Let’s take the Kam matter as a case in point.  The prosecution couldn’t have found a more willing judicial accomplice than the rather rotund Judge Einat Ron whose online bio describes her legal experience.  She served in the military prosecutor’s office in varied capacities beginning as a prosecuting attorney and concluding as a military judge.  She was named as a judge to the Petah Tikvah court in 2007.  Before this she had NO experience in the civilian justice system.  How’s that for venue shopping?

An Israeli journalist friend informs me that Yediot Achronot has republished Judy Miller’s story (h/t to Didi Remez for the pdf) in The Daily Beast about this case.  However, it has blacked out about half the original piece because it might violate the gag order (they thankfully didn’t excise my name or my blog’s name, but almost all my interview quote was blacked out, which is a bit excessive since I didn’t mention Kam in the passage Miller quoted in her original article).  I’ve been reading Israeli newspapers and I can’t recall a time when such a thing happened.  But this case has made for numerous unfortunate “firsts” in the annals of suppression of Israeli free speech.  My Israeli readers who are more experienced in reading their papers, can tell me if they recall things differently.

Einat Ron, judge who granted Kam gag order

Usually, the military censor (which is slightly different than a gag order) works much more subtly.  Newspapers don’t reveal their negotiations or dealings with the censor.  So you don’t know what material was in a story originally.  You don’t know which stories are axed by the censor.  You don’t know if a story was approved by the censor.  But in a situation like this Yediot wants their readers to know in the most public way possible that they are subject to such censorship.  But let’s not begin singing hosannahs yet to Israel’s free press.  When Yediot publishes such a story without blackouts, then we can celebrate.  Even better, when it sends its reporters out to investigate and break the story itself, then we can really celebrate.  Until then, we can only commiserate (if you’re sympathetic) or rail against the media’s collaboration with the authorities in maintaining this oppressive regime.

Ben Gurion University professor Zvi Solow just sent me this interesting e-mail, which he wishes me to emphasize consists of his personal opinion.  It also taught me a wonderful Hebrew word I hadn’t heard:

The IDF censor is now on the radio trying to defend herself attacking the press as “irresponsible” and anyway she’s is only “trying to preserve the security of Israel”. The majority opinion here is that the whole thing is shlemieliut [from the Yiddish shlemiel, or a person who is prone to very bad luck] on the part of the security agencies. Uzi Benziman, a very senior journalist here simply suggested on Galei Zahal that…the gag was imposed in order to defend certain unnamed officials who screwed up. The Yediot story is – I haven’t seen it yet – apparently full of blackouts, but these are the last efforts to stem the flood. The headlines on the radio quote Dorner as condemning strongly the gags. This is going to be one juicy scandal here – for the good of our threatened democracy.

From his mouth to God’s ears (an old Yiddish saying).

In an earlier post, I credited brave Israeli bloggers who’ve broken the code of silence about this case.  I neglected Freedom of Search, from whom the above gag order graphic is borrowed.

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  • Dimi April 6, 2010, 12:29 AM

    Richard, I really feel I have to take issue with what you keep asking of the Israeli media to do. There are two very good reasons why Israeli bloggers and mainstream papers haven’t broken the full story yet: The gag order is being upheld by Anat herself; and there’s a court hearing on April 12 that will in all likelihood result in removal of the gag order regardless of Anat’s position.
    Considering the insane punishments Israeli papers and journalists can face for violating the law (hefty fines; closure of publications; prison sentences for journalists, publishers and editors), it’s absolutely reasonable and not remotely cowardly to actively pursue the legal channels first! If the court upholds the gag, /then/ it will be incumbent on the media to defy the order, but before that, what you’re asking us to do is to commit collective suicide /before/ trying even the most basic remedy.
    Besides, right now the censorship is just upping the hype – as evidenced by the very daring Yedioth move.

  • Jerry Haber April 6, 2010, 1:26 PM

    Dimi is right, Richard. But the Israeli press could have made more noise earlier a la the Yediot censored page.

    By the way, you made the NY Times big time.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/world/middleeast/07israel.html

    The quesition we should all consider is whether the Israeli bloggers helped or hurt Anat by not coming out sooner with details. I know that she requested not to, or that may be her lawyer’s advice. But it is clear that this was pressure that may not have worked to her advantage. This is a conversation that Israeli bloggers should have in the future.

    Anyway, apparently Israeli Facebooks posters still enjoy immunity, on the grounds that the Facebook servers are outside of Israel!

    All this has been a great embarrassment to Israel. Keep up the good work.