Google doesn’t just censor searches at the behest of China or the EU (controversial issues which have embarrassed the company over the past few years). It does so in Israel, as 7th Eye reported a few days ago. The reporter discovered that the Israeli search engine had removed search results related to Israeli double agent, Boris Krasny, who also betrayed the Russians’ longest serving Israeli spy, Marcus Klingberg. We knew this was under military censorship. But Google isn’t, as far as I know, subjected to military censorship.
Since then, I’ve been trying determine what exactly it’s censoring. If I can do that I might get an idea of why it’s censoring or who is behind it.
A Google employee has been frequenting the comment threads about his employer and offered a way to answer my question. Using the Hebrew search term, “Boris Krasny,” I performed the search using google.com and google.co.il. In the google.com search my first blog post about Boris Krasny displays on page 4 of the search results. Next, I did the same search using google.co.il. There are 14 pages of search results. My blog post is nowhere to be found.
I did an alternate search in google.co.il using the Hebrew search terms, “Boris Krasny Richard Silverstein.” No blog post. Further evidence something is afoot.
Since I’m not an expert on internet search, there may be other explanations for this. Perhaps, google.co.il searches derogate English-language search results. Perhaps the algorithm for the google.com and google.co.il is calibrated differently. Though if that’s the case, it doesn’t explain why there are other English language results displaying. I would also note that my Alexa blog ranking in Israel is quite high. An average of 20% of my site traffic originates there. And 6,000 site visits in the past two weeks began with visits to that post (most of them originating in Israel), making it my second most popular blog post in that period. So this should be reflected in google.co.il searches.
What especially odd about this is that if you add various other Hebrew search terms to “Boris Krasny,” like “Tikun Olam,” google.co.il will display my blog post. If this is censorship, it is haphazard and exceedingly inefficient. But given Google’s opacity it’s hard to know what’s going on.
There appears to be some form of censorship going on in the case of my post. If that is the case, then the statement Google’s Middle East press officer sent to me is either wrong or incomplete:
“There are a few very limited instances where we will remove links to webpages from our Search results, such as in response to valid legal requests to remove content that violates local laws, including defamation claims.”
As far as I know, I am not being sued by anyone. That means either the statement is wrong in my case; or there is another lawsuit causing Google to censor other related search results. If that’s the case it doesn’t explain the disappearance of my post from google.co.il listings.
I reached out to both the Israeli military censor and Boris Krasny’s attorney, Eli Zohar. In the case of the censor, the chief officer, Col. Ariella Ben Avraham refused to answer any questions or engage in any substantive conversation at all. It was a classic freeze-out and handled quite awkwardly. As she knew my name, I asked hers. She refused to answer, saying I must address any questions I had to the IDF press spokesperson. Considering that she was the one who would be censoring Google if that was happening, it made no sense to go to a unit that had no hand in the decision, if it was made. But I dutifully tweeted multiple times to Lt. Col. Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) and the @IDFSpokesperson Twitter account asking the same question. No one responded. I am persona non grata, which suits me just fine.
In other countries, government press officers generally act professionally even if they don’t like a particular journalist. In Israel, all such nicety and nuance is thrown out the window. Not a country know for manners or professionalism.
Eli Zohar did not respond to an e-mail I sent him asking what role, if any he played in the censorship. I hoped to find out if he had initiated a libel action against anyone on Krasny’s behalf. I then called his law firm’s publicist and spoke to her. She asked me to send her an e-mail with my questions. I did, but she never replied either.
Google’s long-time corporate slogan was: “Don’t be evil.” It should be terribly embarrassing for Google to admit that it’s being evil in Israel. The argument that Google must obey local statutes in order to continue serving customers in these nations is disingenuous. Israel is not China. Israel is not the EU. Israel does not have the leverage that these countries have to compel the company to obey laws it would consider draconian here in the U.S. Google can fight such restrictions if it wished. Especially ones that involve violations of press freedom. In fact, it has mobilized a considerable effort to fight on behalf of YouTube channel owners who are sued for copyright infringement. Google is even taking on their legal defense and paying for it.
In Israel, it is taking the easy, lazy way out. It’s incredibly easy for an Israeli fat-cat to hire a lawyer and get a gag order slapped on an offending individual or company. Judges are only too happy to do favors for members of the élite. But it takes real b—- to fight back against this cozy Old Israeli Boys Network. Google sure isn’t trying.