Arutz 7, which is a media mouthpiece for the radical settler movement, published a story about the retrieval of the body of IDF soldier, Zachary Baumel, 37 years after he fell on the battlefield in Lebanon. The report featured on the website now is dated April 3rdh. But if you search Google results for the same article, they display a publication date of March 3rd (some searches show March 4th).
This discrepancy could have many causes. Though I’ve never seen this happen–it’s possible that Google or Arutz 7’s editors somehow introduced the dating error. But what many Israelis believe is that the story was originally published on March 3rd, then taken down by command of the military censor. On April 3rd, when censorship of the story ended, the media outlet republished it the following day.
Haaretz published a story attempting to debunk the claim of censorship, noting that the Wayback Machine doesn’t feature an archived version of the story any earlier than April 3rd. That could be explained if the story was taken down very quickly after initially being published on March 4th, before the Wayback had a chance to crawl the site and add the article to the archive.
But the Haaretz reporter failed to explain how the original March 3rd publication date crept into the Google search results. I have emailed the reporter who wrote the story, but he has not replied. I am in the process of contacting the censor directly and will update this post if I receive an answer.
Why is this significant? If the story was published on March 3rd, that means that Israel already had possession of Baumel’s body then, a month before the announcement was actually made. It would mean that Netanyahu deliberately concealed word about the recovery of his body for a month until just before the election, in order to derive maximum political benefit. It would mean that Russia had colluded in this sham arrangement. It would mean that the photographs of Netanyahu and a Russian general before a flag draped coffin in the Kremlin were staged. There was no body in the casket. It had already been returned to Israel and been examined by the coroner to confirm Baumel’s identity.
Even if the claim that Israel retrieved his body in March is not true, Russia connived with Netanyahu in the entire episode. Putin’s forces recovered the body from Syria and offered it to Netanyahu. They returned it a few days before the election in order to offer the Israeli premier a huge election boost. The Israeli military censor also forbade journalists from reporting the story and Russia’s role in it till Netanyahu and Putin had each had a chance to crow about it and take maximum political credit.
Let’s not forget that the Shin Bet chief, Nadav Argaman warned that a “foreign power” would meddle in the Israeli election. But this is meddling like Russia did on Trump’s behalf in 2016. It’s a foreign power meddling with the blessing of the Israel prime minister. It’s a betrayal not only of election transparency, but of Israeli interests. National security demands that leaders not be beholden to a foreign power. Netanyahu, like Trump, is. Of course, Bibi will argue that it’s a two-way street. He’ll point to the benefit of the relationship with Putin. But what he won’t tell you is what he has to do for Putin to repay him. And you can be sure the cost isn’t insignificant. No doubt, the Russian leader finds his Israeli counterpart a convenient partner for advancing Russia’s interests in the region.