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.