Israel’s democracy watchdog, 7th Eye, reports that Google’s Israel subsidiary, Google.co.il, is censoring search results related to Boris Krasny, the Israeli double agent originally recruited by the KGB in the 1970s. Krasny exploited his status as a Soviet agent in Israel to betray Russia’s longest-serving and most valuable spy in Israel, Marcus Klingberg. Neither of these facts, based on original reporting first published here, may be reported by the Israeli media. In fact, Globes credited me by name for reporting the story (without mentioning my blog name, Krasny’s name, or linking to my stories) and the military censor forced the removal of the article. An earlier 7th Eye article by the same reporter didn’t even mention my name. It attributed reports about Krasny’s identity to “foreign bloggers.”
But this new development is both ominous and (almost) unprecedented. As 7th Eye describes it, multiple searches involving Krasny’s name displayed messages noting that the results had been censored due to a “legal request:”
In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read more about the request at LumenDatabase.org.
“Legal request” is a term so vague as to have almost no meaning. Does it mean Krasny’s lawyer went to court to get a gag order against Google? Or did he merely pick up the phone and ask for one? I e-mailed these questions to Eli Zohar, Krasny’s attorney, several hours ago. He hasn’t yet responded. I also tried the two phone numbers Google’s website lists for its offices in Tel Aviv and Haifa. They rang several times and then the call was dropped.
Contrary to what is stated in that online message, LumenDatabase.org has no record of this action. So Israelis are left entirely in the dark about what happened here.
7th Eye notes that Krasny’s public relations consulting firm represents Google’s Israel division. So that would make it even easier for him to engineer the company’s coöperation. When you’re a fixer like Krasny you do so many favors for corporate titans that it’s easy when you have to call in a favor for yourself.
There are many more questions that must be asked: did the Israeli government play any role in this? Did the IDF military censor (who’s already demanded removal of one article referring to Krasny) play a role? What material is being censored? Which specific search terms or results are targeted?
At first, I believed my own blog posts would be a prime target. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Besides, it might be hard for Google to justify censoring a website which is outside Israel’s jurisdiction. Then I thought perhaps that an Israeli blog that named Krasny might be a target. Though this remains a possibility, the blog does appear in some Hebrew language Google searches. I invite any SEO experts seeking to do some forensic work to help me parse what exactly is being censored (and why).
Israel prides itself on being a western democracy. Yet the only comparable Google precedent for acquiescence to censorship has been China. That turned out to be such an embarrassment to Google that it eventually abandoned the Chinese market altogether.
When I wrote above that this instance of censorship was unprecedented, almost, I was referring to the only other similar instance involving Google Israel. Several years ago, during the heyday of the social justice movement, activity-attorney Barak Cohen held protests against Israel’s banks and banker at the private homes of the CEOs. One CEO in particular obtained a restraining order against the protests at her home and against Cohen. She claimed, without any foundation whatsoever, that the demonstrations posed a threat to her children. As a result, Google Israel agreed to censor searches related to these bankers. I suppose it was meant to protect the corporate officers’ privacy, though why officers of a public company who engage in conduct harmful to nation’s consumers deserve any special privacy protection, is beyond me.
It may or may not be a coincidence that all of this occurs against the backdrop of deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely’s meeting with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Juniper Downs, at which the Israeli “diplomat” lobbied hard for Google censorship of “inciting” pro-Palestine videos. Though Google denied a claim by the MFA that it had agreed to participate in reviewing and censoring offending videos, less than a week later it is found actually censoring search results in Israel.
It’s ironic that 7th Eye is reporting about censorship in this particular case since the same journalist reporting this story has never even elliptically referred to my reporting. In his first story, he attributed the original story to “foreign blogs.” In this article he doesn’t even do that. He asserts that Israeli media reporting was censored (true), but that remnants of that original reporting remained uncensored in the “blogosphere.” Not true. Whenever Israeli media has acknowledged Krasny’s name and backstory have been published, it is a reference to reporting here.
This is also the same 7th Eye which, whenever it publishes a story about which I’ve reported, refuses to link to my original blog post. One of their reporters claimed the publication couldn’t do so because if it linked to a story in which I broke an Israeli gag order, it could be legally liable. This is legal theory which has never been tested. It represents an NGO supposedly dedicated to advancing democracy, but which capitulates at the first sign that the authorities might actually test their dedication to the concept.
Similarly, the Israeli Association for the Advancement of Democracy featured the 7th Eye report on its Facebook page. I published a comment noting my role in the Krasny case. Yet the comment was itself censored by the administrator of its page. How can Israel have democracy when its supposed champions are too frightened to advocate for it?