BREAKING: IDF censor prohibits reporting name of IDF officer in Haaretz who’s already been publicly named in the IDF’s own website: Col. Guy Shafran.
חשיפה: הצנזורה הצבאית אוסרת לפרסם את שמו של אל”מ גיא שפרן, למרות שהוא כבר פורסם ע”י דובר צה”ל
For years, the Israeli military censor has carried on a low-key skirmish with me regarding my violation of Israeli gag orders and censorship. Every year at the digital media conference, a journalist seems to ask her how she can justify the censorship regime given how freely and easily I publish information prohibited from the Israeli media. In prior years, when Sima Vaknin-Gil was censor, there was an attempt to treat this blog as an annoying gnat. Something the elephant swats at but can never eliminate due to forces outside its control.
But as the Bible says, “A new Pharaoh arose who knew not Joseph.” So Ariella Ben Avraham has taken the reins of the censor’s office and she has bold plans to impose her censorious regime not only upon the print and broadcast media, but over social media as well. As for me, I reported that she issued a not-so-veiled threat against me at this year’s conference saying that she hopes sometime in the future to be able to “deal with me.” Despite my efforts to point out how outrageous it is for an Israel military officer to threaten harm against an American journalist, Israel’s media posed no questions to her and it raised no eyebrows.
Now, the Israeli business publication, Globes, has offered Ben Avraham a flattering profile along with an in person tour of the censor’s offices just at the moment she will be removing a censor’s gag on the reporting of a major security development: the IDF discovery of a massive tunnel leading from Gaza to Israel. I’d known about the story for several days, but didn’t feel I had enough information to report the story. I finally did so almost simultaneously with the lifting of censorship on the story. Why did I know about it so far in advance of its exposure in the media? Because my security source obviously wanted the story published. He did so despite the fact that the censor or whoever she reported to in the IDF, didn’t. So in effect, there is an internal skirmish within the security apparatus between those who believe in more candor and those who believe in more opacity. The censor comes down on the side of the Old School, which believes in controlling, suppressing, and managing information.
Here’s a taste of the shameful flattery that passes for journalism in Ben Avraham’s piece:
After many year’s in the IDF public affairs office, in her last assignment she was deputy director, she was considered the strongest figure in the unit. She knows how to work the media. She knows every reporter in her field and not a word escapes her by accident. She appears collected and carefully calculated, her hair tied-back and with a permanent smile. The concentration in her gaze is the only thing that shows the wheels running in her mind, processing a thousand thoughts at the same time. All to ensure she doesn’t stumble and that not a word slips from her lips that is prohibited.
In the following passage, the reporter, Lior Averbach, allows Ben Avraham to lie with a straight face, and without being challenged (how could he when he was offered an exclusive look into the censor’s inner sanctum on a day when major news the censor controlled was breaking?):
I don’t conceal information from the Israeli public. I protect the security of our forces and the State through prohibiting the publication and by denying the enemy the ability to collect intelligence from us…
My only considerations [for censoring information] are operational. I’ve been in this position already for six months and I’ve discovered a tremendous maturation within the system [concerning freedom of information] and an openness and understanding of the nature of free speech; and an appreciation of the public’s right to know in a democratic society, and a proper balance with security needs.
…We are a democratic state in 2016. Not a repressive regime. In the end, whoever publishes must be responsible for what he writes. What am I–the Thought Police? Repressive regimes take down Facebook pages. We aren’t there.
Here she really comes a-cropper, completely contradicting her own behavior in earlier summoning over thirty Israeli bloggers and social media activists to present all of their security-related posts to her for prior-censorship:
The digital landscape presents challenges to us. Social media forces us to change our prior modes of operation. As opposed to traditional media, you must restrict more and more the number of things over which you will fight.
You’ll see the absolutely hypocrisy in this statement by the time you complete reading this post:
We are constantly examining what has already been published. If something has been published, then it is no longer a military secret.
In the interview, Ben Avraham responds to the interviewer’s question about my work by calling it “trickery:”
Q: What about the practice of transferring information to someone abroad? There are bloggers like Richard Silverstein who don’t fall under the censor.
A: We recognize this trick and know who these people are. Most of the media is very responsible. Nor do they try to damage the security of the State. If you explain to them how and why this will damage security, they accept it.
This is what I would’ve said to this reporter had I been offered an opportunity: I do not damage the security of the State. Not for a single minute. In fact, what the censor does damages the State far more than I do. A truly democratic state doesn’t need censors reviewing TV newscasts and reviewing every major security story published by the media. This is a national security state, not a democratic state.
If Ben Avraham wishes to concede that Israel is something other than that, then I’m perfectly willing to agree with her. But as long as she claims Israel is something it isn’t (a democracy), I will oppose her, oppose her judgement, and oppose the pernicious impact she has on Israeli society.
As a practicing journalist and blogger I resent having my professional work smeared as a “trick.” I resent an Israeli reporter not thinking that it would be reasonable and fair to permit another journalist to respond to such a low blow. Further, Ben Avraham makes the mistake of thinking that I, and those who are my sources are engaging in trickery of some sort. The truth is that these sources have their own reasons for collaborating with me. But they are just as legitimate as any interest she has in prohibiting their information from leaking to journalists like me. If they accepted her claims here that she is protecting the State, they wouldn’t do what they do. But they don’t. And their view is entirely legitimate. Without it, a free society would be ill-served, blind and ignorant on important security issues of the day.
As an example of the foolhardy nature of Israeli censorship, let’s point to a story written by Amos Harel, a military correspondent. In it, he profiles the IDF commander who oversees Israel’s northern border with Syria. He names him as “Col. G.”
In the interview, Harel repeats the bogus notion that Israel has kept its powder dry regarding the Syrian conflict and not intervened favoring either side. The reporting style is typically stenographic, relaying precisely the perspective the military and political echelon wish to convey, but not the reality. In fact, Harel’s reporting does an excellent job of concealing what his sources and the Israeli public wish to have concealed. They wish to keep the slaughter at bay. To be removed from the inconvenience and distaste of it. They wish to believe that they are innocent bystanders. That they don’t support “one of the most extreme terror groups [Al Nusra] in the Middle East” (as he notes below):
Till now, Israel has succeeded in remaining outside the sphere of fighting between ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Syrian Golan, kilometers from the border.
…During recent weeks, only a few kilometers from Israeli territory a savage battle has been conducted between the two most extreme terrorist groups in the Middle East. The fact that its impact has not been felt at all on the Israeli side of the border, and that the Golan continues to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors and that tourists from Israel and abroad, only sharpens the surprising Israeli achievement on its norther border–its success for the past five years in remaining on the sidelines of the Syrian civil war and isolating its citizens from the impact of the huge slaughter happening there.
As I and a number of foreign media outlets (including the Wall Street Journal and Vice) have shown, Israel intervenes regularly on behalf of Al-Nusra. It provides intelligence briefing and logistical support. It also houses a camp for the families of fighters on the Israeli occupied side of the line.
Now let’s return to the military censor. She refused to permit Harel to use the commander’s full name, when a cursory search of the website of the IDF public affair unit, where she used to be deputy chief (!), reveals the officer’s full name. It is Col. Guy Shafran.
Keep in mind Ben Avraham’s claim that revealing this information damages the security of the State. So how is it that the IDF itself revealed publicly the name of the officer and yet it damages the nation for me to do so? I hope you can see from this (and I performed the same task recently when I revealed that the same IDF unit had already revealed a “secret” about Israeli drones which Ben Avraham had forced a media outlet to censor) that Israeli censorship is a pathetic, sclerotic, dysfunctional effort.
Since I’ve broken censorship once, why not twice in the same post? Returning to the story of the Gaza tunnel: there were three conflicting reports about how Israel discovered the tunnel. One, the one offered by the army and politicians, was a lie: that the IDF’s technological advances in tunnel detection had disclosed its existence. My security source reported that a Hamas tunnel engineer had defected to Israel and revealed the tunnel’s existence. A third story claimed the same engineer was kidnapped by Israel. My source reaffirms the accuracy of his story, that the engineer defected. The former also reveals the identity of the defector: Sami Atawna. If you read Arabic, you will find Atawna referred to in this story by the initials “S.A.” My source would not reveal where Atawna is now. I presume he is in Israel. If he is not, he is quite a bit of danger.
Bernie X says
Ordinary Joe gets thrown into the American gulag.
It was an interesting read, but as usual, you do not seem to read the stories you link to yourself, Barbar.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Bernie/Barbar: As Elizabeth noted, the article proves the exact opposite of what you claim. Though the FBI overreacted to Lopez’ and arrested him without filing charges, in the end the system worked. He was released and charges against him dropped. He may even sue the government and win a few million dollars. Can any Palestinian Israeli imagine that happening to them in Israel? When will Dirar Abusisi get out of prison after his fraudulent, trumped up case? Where are the millions he should be able to claim for wrongful arrest, kidnapping, etc.?
So yes, there was the injustice of 14 months in a U.S. prison. But he finally found the legal & psychological support he needed to prove his innocence.
The article doesn’t say your reports are tricky but that sending you information in order to pass Israel censorship is a trick.
“It also houses a camp for the families of fighters on the Israeli occupied side of the line.” – nonsense!
That would be a big issue and it wasn’t reported anywhere. Even fighters treated in Israel were covered but a whole camp gets zilch coverag???
Deïr Yassin says
Jack Khoury reported the name of Sami al-Atawna in Haaretz nearly a week ago: “For their part, the Fatah sites reported that Sami al-Atawna, a senior member of the Hamas tunnel-digging unit in east Jabalya, fled to Israel. The reports did not say whether Israeli authorities had been able to get him to collaborate with them. ”
Richard Silverstein says
@Deir Yassin. I changed that once I realized my error. The breaking news or scoop involves Col. Shafran, not Atawna.
Deïr Yassin says
Times of Israel had an article about the same story one day before Haaretz but the guy (photo included) has a different first name and age, and the story is slightly different: http://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-uncovers-gaza-terror-tunnel-dug-into-israeli-territory/
” If they accepted her claims here that she is protecting the State, they wouldn’t do what they do. But they don’t. And their view is entirely legitimate. ”
This view poses a serious problem. The IDF censor is not a personal crusade, she is carrying out Israeli law. Does this mean that an individual who disagrees with a law (for whatever reasons) that is it “legitimate” to breach it? As you know, these people, if caught, would be charged, convicted and likely jailed by a court of law.
As you know, the right wing extremists here use the same “moral” argument for doing what they do. So do some US tax cheats.
So what you are doing is sanctioning breaking the law because of your conception of secular humanist progressive liberal values.
Does civil disobedience go only one way? Is it legitimate for conservative activists to use this tool? Do we leave this up to individual conscience?
Richard Silverstein says
@ Yehuda: Three comment per day goes into effect for you. Please respect this and do not monopolize the comment threads.
As for the rule of law, yes, laws must be just. If they are not morally just, then citizens may disobey them. If the State wishes it may prosecute them. In a decent country, the citizens will realize that such laws are unjust & will cancel them. That is what happened in the 1960s during the Civil Rights movement here. Such a thing can never happen in Israel. The nutcases rule the asylum. THe criminals are the judges.
So if Ben Avraham has the guts to arrest my source she’ll make many enemies in places she would not likely wish to make them. In fact, I am sure she would arrest them if she could. But she can’t. And thank God for that.
Right wing extremists have no moral argument. Their argument is racist and genocidal. But the fact that Israel as a whole either endorses or tacitly accepts the settler narrative reinforces the notion that the lunatics are running the Israeli asylum.
My values are not “secular humanist,” but international law, something standard to western democracies, but alien to Israel. Further, my values are JEWISH. Never ever attempt to sever my values from Judaism.
Your argument that settlers claim the same right to disobey as leftists has been tried here many times before. It failed before and failed again. You’re done in this thread.
Richard- did you hear about Jewish values such as “HAKAM LEHORGECHA HASHKEM LOHORGO” or “KOL HAMERACHEM AL ACHZARIM SOFO SHEYITACHZER EL RACHMANIM”?
Judaism isn’t about turning the other chick but about morals where the poor isn’t right b/c of its sufferings
Richard Silverstein says
@ Israel: Has anyone raised that tired hasbara meme? Only about 20 times. Can I tell you how much it bores me for your to be the 21st?? It’s completely inapplicable in the case of Israel’s campaign of murder against Palestinians.
And why are those rules ‘completely innaplica’ in the current wave of Palestinian stabbing attempts? Are they not trying to kill people? Or is it justified b/c of ‘the occupation’?
And all the talk about INTERNATIONAL LAW is also a bit over the top. Those rules were introduced very recently and they still go through changes and been shaped. They are constantly broken by many countries and the number of disagreements on borders alone surpasses 100.
While I’m not saying int’l law has no merit, swearing by it is like swearing by the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is not an absolute moral system but a result of clashes of interests of powerful nations less than a century ago which themselves follow or don’t follow it depends on their current needs.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Israel: If Palestinians are “trying to kill people,” they’re doing a lousy job of it. But yes, I would say resistance against the Israeli military is entirely justified until you recognize Palestinian indigenous rights to their land, sovereignty, and political self determination. When you do that, then you will have to right to demand that such resistance cease & I will support you.
NOPE, the roots of international law go back nearly a century. So unless you are God and speaking of cosmic time, then international law is no recent phenomenon. This body of law goes through changes just like any body of law. Just because it may change does not weaken its validity.
Of course there are border disagreements. And largely because the parties refuse to recognize international law, as Israel does. When a nation wishes to steal the land of another it always does so in violation of international law, refusing to recognize the applicability of such law to its case. That in turn breeds anger, resentment & violence by the victim nation.
Nope again. International law is not based on political power. It is based on legal principles. Those are entirely different things.
I urge you to only write about what you know. And if you think you know something, prove it with credible sources. You are, once again, expressing opinions with no basis in fact. You will not persuade anyone here just by expressing opinions.
I would suggest that you relay a message to Frank Luntz and the hasbara consultants at Hasbara Central. Suggest to them that they hire one of us 😜 to tell their charges how to craft a strong hasbara message. Because people like you make a mess out of it & do your cause ill in the process.