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Israel: End Censorship Now!

I am the bane of the Israeli censor and security services.  I am proud of it.  There is no need for censorship in Israel.  If Israel wishes ever to be a normal country and western democracy it must end censorship, just as it must end Occupation: NOW!

The Ben Zygier tragedy is a case in point.  Instead of arresting him and trying him and imprisoning him through a transparent judicial process that allowed Israel to know at least something about the case, three judges essentially gave up their judicial prerogatives and allowed the State to run roughshod over an innocent man.  I say innocent because no matter what he may’ve done, nothing had been proven.  He had not had his day in court.  He’d been in complete isolation for eight months and been neither charged nor convicted of anything.  For two years after his death, the State took the extraordinary position that nothing must be known by the public about him or his case.

To understand the position of the Old Guard, let’s examine what retired IDF Gen. Shlomo Gazit has to say (Hebrew) on the subject in Maariv (which I want to do especially because he gets a personal dig in against me):

Q: Then why not end censorship so as not to have to create the sorts of fictions that were used in the case of Ben Zygier?

There is no other substitute for censorship.  In our reality, there are secrets which we must maintain.  No one expects that the State would permit the media to name Shabak and Mossad agents.

Q: But bloggers like Richard Silverstein and foreign media investigative reports expose secrets that are no less important.

The conclusion to be drawn from this line of thinking would lead to the destruction of Israel.

Really.  Does the U.S. face threats any less dangerous than Israel?  In fact, some might say the threats we face are much more dangerous.  Though we under the past two presidents have seriously compromised constitutional rights regarding counter-terror policy, we do not throw reporters in jail for reporting the identity of CIA agents.  Though we have secrecy rules within intelligence agencies, we do not have censorship laws that entitle the CIA to compel the media to maintain silence.

Is the republic in danger because of this?  No.  Does this frustrate the CIA and perhaps make its work harder in some cases?  Undoubtedly yes.  But we here in the U.S. have made the decision to err on the side of openness rather than secrecy.  Now, I realize that Bush and Obama have taken us far down a road leading in the opposite direction.  In fact, in many ways they’re espousing polices that would be quite at home within the Israeli context.  But in terms of press freedom, we still have a great deal while in Israel the press is muzzled at critical juncture as it was in the Zygier case.

Israel cannot be a democracy as long as it has military censorship.  It cannot have democracy as long as editors may be summoned to the prime minister’s office and directed not to report on an embarrassing scandal simply because it would mortify the intelligence apparatus.  I get hives when I read a columnist decrying censorship and the press’ inability to report the truth in the pages of a newspaper whose editor is betraying these very principles.  And the editors are only partly to blame because if they don’t do the government’s bidding Bibi and his henchmen will take away their license.

This is not a free press.  It’s truncated democracy at best.  Real democracy means there are forces within society that are striving for different, even conflicting goals, with neither having dominance over the other.  There must be a healthy press that can challenge the security establishment.  That is what happens in a vibrant democracy.

It is simply unsustainable and untrue to claim Israel would self destruct if the names of Mossad agents were publicly reported in circumstances in which they do great harm to the country–or its claimed they have.  Much more likely is that the intelligence services will protect their prerogatives and cover their asses behind the cover of censorship.

But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Gazit is right and censorship is good for Israel (an idea I reject).  Even if this is correct, can such a model be sustained in the age of social media, in the age of digital democracy?  Can information be stopped at the border like people?  Can you throttle the internet?  I suppose you can do it in China if you’re willing to invest a huge amount of political and financial capital in the project.  But in Israel?  Will Israelis stand for it?  To a certain extent they might.  But to go whole hog and ban access to critical information that citizens need to know to understand how their leaders make decisions?  I don’t think they’ll go that far.

Proof of this may be seen in the early days of the Zygier case when nearly 30,000 people visited this blog, well over half from Israel.  Israelis were thirsty for information.  They weren’t content to be stifled like the Chinese.  Can you put the genie back in the bottle?  Turn back the hands of time and return to the 20th century and an age of carrier pigeons and printing presses?  No.  Today information flies through the air from one end of the world to another almost instantly.

End censorship in Israel NOW!

After reading this, Israelis might want to decide whether they’d prefer to be more like the country whose leader is quoted here or like the U.S. or UK:

“Any direct or indirect interference in our internal affairs — any form of pressure on Russia…is unacceptable…We need to act as resolutely as possible…to block attempts by radical groups to use information technologies, Internet resources and social networking Web sites for their propaganda.

Citizens’ right to freedom of speech is unshakable and inviolable — however, no one has the right to sow hatred, to stir up society and the country, and put under threat the life, welfare and peace of millions of our citizens.”

On a related note, it’s no accident that just as I began reporting about Ben Zygier Facebook reported to me that a hacker in Tel Aviv had hacked my password.  Luckily Facebook suspended access to the account.  It doesn’t matter whether the hacker was a wannabe super patriot or an official representative of the security apparatus.  What does matter is the attempt by the national security state to sabotage us and silence us.  This cyber-warfare follows similar attempts to hack my Paypal account and a successful hack of my blog in September by Semion Kras.

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{ 45 comments… add one }

  • Zhu Bajie February 16, 2013, 3:17 AM

    “Can you throttle the internet? I suppose you can do it in China if you’re willing to invest a huge amount of political and financial capital in the project.”

    Not really. I read this blog from the PRC.

    • yankel February 16, 2013, 11:47 AM

      You can read this blog there just because your powers-to-be haven’t (yet?) deemed it unpleasant enough to their interests.

      • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 8:07 PM

        If I revealed the dirty little secrets of China’s political & military elite, I’d be banned in China as well. In fact, you may not be able to read this comment in China!

        • Zhu Bajie February 18, 2013, 10:52 PM

          I’m reading it right now! The truth is, no one China gives a rip about Israel.

      • Zhu Bajie February 18, 2013, 10:54 PM

        You’re assuming the government is organized and efficient, with long term plans, etc. In reality, the main plan is to go to lunch early.

    • Eden February 16, 2013, 4:43 PM

      Google “tianenmen square massacre” and tell us what you get.
      If we don’t hear from you agaiin we will kmow why.

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 7:53 PM

      The Chinese will throttle specific keywords & subjects they don’t want the people to read. They don’t throttle everything.

      • Zhu Bajie February 18, 2013, 10:58 PM

        True. But the choice of keywords is unsystematic. Proxy servers are quite helpful, too.

        Guys, the Cold War is over.

  • BorisG February 16, 2013, 3:46 AM

    “Does the U.S. face threats any less dangerous than Israel? In fact, some might say the threats we face are much more dangerous.”

    You seem to have lost all sense of proportions. The richest and by far the most powerful nation on earth against a tiny strip of land and a permanent state of war with its immediate neighbours.

    • Meni Zehavi February 16, 2013, 5:03 AM

      At present, it is indeed exaggerated to say that the threats faced by the US are greater than those faced by Israel, but some 30 years ago it was definitely true. There were thousands of Soviet missiles capable of bearing WMD warheads aimed at US territory, with destructive potential far surpassing anything Israel had or will have ever to deal with.
      In trying to defend themselves against this threat, the Americans did their share of things raging from stupidity to atrocity, but there were also things that never came to their mind. For example, they did not think that living with an enemy who has a nuclear capability means the end of the world. And they did not entertain the idea that undercover assassinations of Soviet scientists would somehow make them more secure.

      • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 7:58 PM

        There are still thousands of missles aimed at the U.S. THere are also countries that don’t yet have such missles to aim at us, but who are pursuing them (N. Korea for one). But I agree that a nation under threat can live with that threat w/o engaging in the sorts of nasty acts Israel does.

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 7:54 PM

      The U.S. is in the sites of every terrorist and terror state in the world. There are nations linked up waiting to take us on. Israel has lots of enemies, we have far more.

      • BorisG February 16, 2013, 10:24 PM

        ‘Israel has lots of enemies, we have far more.’ How do you measure this? The US is a global power, and yes may have more enemies because of that. and more allies. But Israel is far more vulnarable.

        • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 2:09 AM

          How many nuclear weapons exploding on U.S soil would it take for you to concede that we too are “vulnerable?” In fact, there are NO nuclear weapons now pointing at Israel, which further buttresses my claim that we are more vulnerable than Israel.

          • eden February 17, 2013, 11:30 AM

            How do you know no nukes are pointed at Israel? Not even Russian nukes? How many nukes would it take to wipe out Israel and the Palestinians together? Compare that to the US? The threat is also not only nukes. How many times have US cities been shelled ? How many buses or restaurants have blown up in the US?

          • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 2:55 PM

            I assure you that if any Russian nukes are pointed at Israel it’s an after-thought. Russia’s enemies are elsewhere.

          • Eden February 17, 2013, 3:45 PM

            If you personally assure me then it must be true. After all, each time Putin moves a missile he sends you a txt to inform you.

          • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 7:21 PM

            @Eden: Hey that’s funny. Keep it up & you won’t be long for these threads.

  • BorisG February 16, 2013, 4:08 AM

    I think every nation has the right to protect its state secrets. What is unacceptable is imposing secrecy for political rather than security reasons, to protect not from external threats but from political embarassment. In any case you are right that it is mostly ineffective in the 21st century (even when desirable). I do not have enough information to judge whether their initial secrecy was justified, but once the events were reported by foregin media (ABC), the reaction of the censors was simply an embarassment – and was rightly condemned by mainstream Israeli media.

  • pabelmont February 16, 2013, 5:50 AM

    The issue (for me) has always been the misue of government secrecy (not censorship, merely controls on disclosure by government folk) to avoid embarrassment / prosecution-for-crime of officials. This is not protection of the country (or what is to me mysteriously called protection of the security of the country). This is pure coverup adn should never be allowed.

    Now, if it is necessary to prosecute-for-crime a member of the government who normally or occasionally operates secretely, in my view courts should allow such prosecutions with controls on publication of secrets, but allowing otherwise-secret information to be used in court. I assume that this does NOT happen in Israel and I know that it does not happen in tthe USA. In both countries, as in all dictatorships, government secrecy is used to protect the goverment and its people against the justice-interests of the public — to allow crimes and protect criminals, as well as to allow stupidity and fraud and every sort of malfeasance short of crime to go undiscovered, undiscussed, and unprosecuted.

  • Oui February 16, 2013, 6:07 AM

    Key Players have ‘No Comment’
    Australian spy agency handled the case of Prisoner X, spooks stated Zygier’s legal rights would be respected.
    Mr Smith: “It would be inappropriate to comment in advance of the outcome of the investigation.”
    What did Mr Kevin Rudd know? “No comment.”
    Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv was clearly sidelined.
    Israel’s ambassador in Australia, Yuval Rotem said: “I told you guys I’ve got no comment to make about this.”

    Former Australian FM Downer says in 1990s Israel was warned not to issue fake passports to Mossad agents.

    Yuval Rotem, Israeli Ambassador to New Zealand, responds: “Try wearing Israeli Shoes”
    ‘Mossad spies’ jailed over New Zealand passport fraud, identity theft of tetraplegic man – 2004
    ‘NZ quake victim was Mossad agent’ – July 2011

  • mary February 16, 2013, 6:23 AM

    The US should not be held up as any bastion of press freedom. If anything, its habits in handling sensitive news stories echo those of Israel.

    http://www.salon.com/2011/02/21/nyt_16/

    “The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A.. On Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication, though George Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, declined any further comment.

    In other words, the NYT knew about Davis’ work for the CIA (and Blackwater) but concealed it because the U.S. Government told it to. Now that The Guardian and other foreign papers reported it, the U.S. Government gave permission to the NYT to report this, so now that they have government license, they do so — only after it’s already been reported by other newspapers which don’t take orders from the U.S. Government.

    It’s one thing for a newspaper to withhold information because they believe its disclosure would endanger lives. But here, the U.S. Government has spent weeks making public statements that were misleading in the extreme — Obama’s calling Davis “our diplomat in Pakistan” — while the NYT deliberately concealed facts undermining those government claims because government officials told them to do so. That’s called being an active enabler of government propaganda. While working for the CIA doesn’t preclude holding “diplomatic immunity,” it’s certainly relevant to the dispute between the two countries and the picture being painted by Obama officials. Moreover, since there is no declared war in Pakistan, this incident — as the NYT puts it today — “inadvertently pulled back the curtain on a web of covert American operations inside Pakistan, part of a secret war run by the C.I.A. ” That alone makes Davis’ work not just newsworthy, but crucial.”

    The idea that the press should withhold its information for the sake of national security is farcical. The public has a right to know what the government is doing in its name.

  • yankel February 16, 2013, 11:58 AM

    None is as blind as those who would not see and the Israeli public would rather keep hanging anyone trying to force its eyes open than allow a handful of sun rays to disturb the comfort of its self-imposed darkness.

  • Eden February 16, 2013, 1:43 PM

    “Really. Does the U.S. face threats any less dangerous than Israel?”

    Arguing that a country with a GDP of more than $16 trillion, a population of more than 300 million people, a defense budget larger than the 10 next countries, and a territory 100 fold or more the size of Israel would be in a position that is not only as dangerous but even more than Israel is absurd.

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 8:09 PM

      When you have as many nuclear missiles pointed at you as we have at us, then you can talk.

      • Davey February 16, 2013, 9:19 PM

        The dangers faced by Israel are of its own making, its own choice to pursue aggression over peace. It is much the same with the US which is not interesed in “peace” as such (but rather the status quo.) The US pursues militarism for profit and power, to extend the empire and thereby incurs the wrath of native peoples worldwide (over 800 US bases worldwide.) Israel incurs the wrath of the local indigenous people who they control. It is pretty much the same level of threat on a per capita basis. I don’t see any difference in the level of threats. Both have made enemies in their neighborhoods but the US neighborhood is global.

        Richard’s appeal to US freedom of press as a standard leaves much to be desired. The press is “free” in the US only to extent that it is perceived as powerless. MSM are self-censoring, which is just as onerous as government censors.

        • eden February 17, 2013, 9:05 AM

          @Davey. I share your concerns about freedom in the US or Israel but I am concerned that criticizing these democrscies for their faults will simply weaken them in their ongoing wars against countries that do not even value freedom and pluralism. You could have criticized the British govt in 1942 for many reasons. That would have further weaken England and help the Germans who were much worse.
          For example, I would like Israeli Arab MK not to suffer from intimidations fr cettain sectors or I would like Black kids in the USA not to be so more likely to be in failing schools. Compare that the human right issues in China or Syria or to the fate of the Jews who lived in Muslim dominated countries.

          • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 3:09 PM

            Here is yet another fundamental flaw in Israeli understanding of democracy. Criticism does not weaken democracy. It strengthens it. Silence weakens democracy. Repression weakens democracy. Thousands of years worth of democracy going back to Ancient Greece prove this point beyond doubt. The reason Israelis don’t understand what democracy is or how to cultivate it & maintain its health is that they do not live in a real democracy.

      • Eden February 17, 2013, 6:12 AM

        I believe I have as many as you do. I live in America and I am not from Israel. Can I talk? I am just checking since I seem to be threatened permanently of being silenced on a website which deplores intimidation and censorship.

  • Eden February 16, 2013, 1:47 PM

    “But we here in the U.S. have made the decision to err on the side of openness rather than secrecy.”

    Do you mean that sending a drone and killing a US citizen based on an extra judicial process and by the order of one man (POTUS) is somehow better than putting a citizen in jail? I would understand much more your criticism of the terrible things done in the defense of Israel if you were as critical of other countries including the US.
    This being said and I stated in other posts the US and Israel are democracies and as bad as they are, they remain much better than non democratic country.

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 8:12 PM

      OFF-TOPIC. Not only off-topic but I’ve dealt with U.S. drone & counter terror policy here MANY times & written precisely what you claim I haven’t. Which not only shows your laziness, but your sloppiness. I do NOT like rehashing material that’s already been covered–ad nauseam. Another comment rule violation. STAY ON TOPIC. If you don’t know what that means, read the comment rules. The more off topic you go, the more times you do it, the closer you are to moderation.

      Israel is not a democracy.

  • BorisG February 16, 2013, 9:01 PM

    A statement that the dangers faced by tiny Israel are no greater than those faced by the US is so absurd that no one can take it seriously. How to deal with it is another matter. Although censorship in Israel is limited to a handful of isolated cases, and has judicial oversight, recent examples suggest it is clumsy and it appears (though I don’t have sufficient information) that is creates more problems than it solves.

    On a related note, how far you would like to take the argument that ‘the public has the right to know’? Do you think US press should print the names of US spies operating in foreign countries? Should espionage end? Should the press uncover names of FBI agents within the mafia?

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 9:56 PM

      I think it should be the decision of journalists & editors, if they gain access to this information, to decide whether to publish. It should not be the decision of generals, spies or politicians. BTW, that’s the way it works RIGHT NOW. And not many agents are exposed by the media.

  • ron February 17, 2013, 1:03 AM

    כמה נוח לשבת בחדר המחומם והנעים בסיאטל וושינגטון ולבקר את מדינת ישראל.

    • Yanshuf February 17, 2013, 5:26 AM

      אמת

  • ian February 17, 2013, 1:03 AM

    All Democratic countries have secrets and have laws to protect those secrets.
    Just as examples the US pursuit of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange illustrates this as does the conviction of “Scooter Libby.
    The US has a law that makes it illegal to disclose the names of CIA agents.
    The followng from wikipedia.

    “Intelligence Identities Protection Act” which according to wikipedia” is a United States federal law that makes it a federal crime for those with access to classified information, or those who systematically seek to identify and expose covert agents and have reason to believe that it will harm the foreign intelligence activities of the U.S.,[1] to intentionally reveal the identity of an agent whom one knows to be in or recently in certain covert roles with a U.S. intelligence agency, unless the United States has publicly acknowledged or revealed the relationship.”

    The law specifically forbids journalists from publishing the names of CIA agents so it is not just a journalist’s decision that is preventing the exposure of agents in the US media.

    • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 2:00 AM

      You have claimed the law forbids the press from publishing the names of agents, but not quoted from it. I won’t trust you’re correct till you do. In fact, the press have published the names of U.S. intelligence agents quite often over the years. I’m not aware of any journalist being imprisoned or even charged for doing so.

      • ian February 17, 2013, 2:11 AM

        I am not a lawyer and I am relying on Wikipedia but I my understanding of the following is as I wrote

        The criminal provisions of the act are contained in 50 U.S.C. § 421. During Congress’s consideration of the measure, much attention is paid to subsection 421(c), which states:

        421(c) Disclosure of information by persons in course of pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents. Whoever, in the course of a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents and with reason to believe that such activities would impair or impede the foreign intelligence activities of the United States, discloses any information that identifies an individual as a covert agent to any individual not authorized to receive classified information, knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such individual and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such individual’s classified intelligence relationship to the United States, shall be fined under Title 18 or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

        • BorisG February 17, 2013, 3:52 AM

          I think Richard may be right here. Of course, a CIA or government employee “with access to classified information” is not allowed to disclose names of agents entusted to him. That would be a criminal offense. That’s your Scooter Libby or Manning. But the journalist publishing it is not bound by any secrecy act. Assange may be in a grey area; he is not a journalist or a media organisation. He may be prosecuted for complicity in the crimes of those who gave him classified information.

          • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 3:26 PM

            The U.S. has whistleblower laws supposed to protect people in Assange’s position. He is clearly a whistleblower. In fact, these laws are too weak & don’t often serve their purpose.

            But yes, I believe government employees or military personnel are bound by different, more restrictive laws. I still believe they should have the right to be whistleblowers. But they are not in the same category & would have less protections.

  • Yanshuf February 17, 2013, 5:27 AM

    אמת

  • Yanshuf February 17, 2013, 5:34 AM

    The journalists source becomes the target of the Federal Posecution for revealing the identity of the agent.
    As in the Vallery Plaine reveluation.

    Now if the journalist refuses to name the source they can be jailed for contempt of court as the NY Times Judith miller was incarcerated.

    • BorisG February 17, 2013, 8:08 AM

      which kind of makes sense. The law could prohibit you from publishing information that you know is classified, but this is likely be in vain for if the source is determine to get it out, he will talk to foreign media etc. Thus it is the source that is the problem, not the journalist or his media outlet – unless you the journalist is somehow complicit in the revealing the secret information – say if information is stolen from the source, or obtained through cheating or blackmail. I guess this is the argument against wikileaks in the Manning case. But not against papers, which published these materials!

      • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 3:19 PM

        The argument against Manning is that he was a U.S. soldier when he stole the documents just as Anat Kamm was an IDF soldier when she stole her documents. If anyone should be punished at all (& I’m not conceding this) it should be them. Punishing Uri Blau for publishing the docs was a travesty of justice & grave violation of press freedom. It hasn’t happened here yet in my recollection. Though given the path Obama has chosen it could very easily.

        Journalists should be inviolable. Though that doesn’t excuse journalists from using good judgment in what they do decide to publish. For example, I though Judith Miller’s publication of information that led to outing Valerie Plame via Scooter Libby showed bad judgment.

  • dickerson3870 February 17, 2013, 8:38 PM

    RE: “I get hives when I read a columnist decrying censorship and the press’ inability to report the truth in the pages of a newspaper whose editor is betraying these very principles. And the editors are only partly to blame because if they don’t do the government’s bidding Bibi and his henchmen will take away their license. ~ R.S.

    URI AVNERY ON THE SORRY STATE OF THE ISRAELI MEDIA/PRESS: “Israel’s Weird Elections”, by Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, 1/04/13:

    [EXCERPTS] . . . The Israeli media are already to a large extent neutralized, a creeping process not unsimilar to what the Germans used to call Gleichschaltung. [SEE: Gleichschaltung @ Wikipedia - J.L.D. ]
    All three TV channels are more or less bankrupt and dependent on government handouts. Their editors are practically government appointees. The printed press is also teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, except the largest “news” paper, which belongs to Sheldon Adelson and is a Netanyahu propaganda sheet, distributed gratis.
    [Naftali] Bennett repeats the ridiculous assertion that almost all journalists are left-wingers (meaning traitors.) He promises to put an end to this intolerable situation. . .
    . . . In the coming four years, the official annexation of the West Bank to Israel may become a fact. . .
    . . . If the government continues on its present course, this will lead to certain disaster – the entire country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River will become one unit under Israeli rule. This Greater Israel will contain an Arab majority and a shrinking Jewish minority, turning it inevitably into an apartheid state, plagued by a permanent civil war and shunned by the world.
    If pressure from without and within eventually compels the government to grant civil rights to the Arab majority, the country will turn into an Arab state. 134 years of Zionist endeavor will come to naught, a repetition of the Crusaders’ kingdom.
    This is so obvious, so inevitable, that one needs an iron will not to think about it. It seems that all major parties in these elections have this will. Speaking about peace, they believe, is poison. Giving back the West Bank and East Jerusalem for peace? God forbid even thinking about it.
    The weird fact is that this week two respected polls – independent of each other – came to the same conclusion: the great majority of Israeli voters favors the “two-state solution”
    , the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and the partition of Jerusalem. This majority includes the majority of Likud voters, and even about half of Bennett’s adherents.
    How come? The explanation lies in the next question: How many voters believe that this solution is possible? The answer: almost nobody. Over dozens of years, Israelis have been brainwashed into believing that “the Arabs” don’t want peace. If they say they do, they are lying.
    If peace is impossible, why think about it? Why even mention it in the election campaign? Why not go back 44 years to Golda Meir’s days and pretend that the Palestinians don’t exist? (“There is no such thing as a Palestinian people…It is not as though there was a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away. They did not exist.” – Golda Meir, June 13, 1969) . . .

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/01/04/israels-weird-elections/

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