In a disconcerting development, the military censor is regressing to the 1950s. It seems to be totally disconnected from the accelerating pace of change in the media, thus at times rendering its revisions and deletions truly absurd.
Last month, for instance, the military censor struck down a newspaper article that contained a quote from a radio interview. But the audio of this interview is still available to be heard on the Internet for anyone wishing to do so.
Aside from the argument - which is not taking place - over the logic of the ongoing censorship of information from this interview, a fundamental question arises: If the censor's task is to protect national security by preventing the public consumption of information it deems to be a security risk, what is the point of nixing the article if our enemies can simply listen to the interview whenever they wish? It is nearly certain that those who wish us ill and monitor Israeli radio programs have long since heard the interview in question.
In another recent case, the military censor struck out several key segments of a documentary directed by filmmaker Nir Toib. The movie, which is titled "The Secret Kingdom," deals with the case of Brig. Gen. (res. ) Yitzhak "Yatza" Yaakov, a scientist who headed the Israel Defense Forces unit responsible for weapons research and development. Following his discharge, he was appointed chief scientist of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Yaakov was accused of aggravated espionage, but was eventually convicted on a far lesser charge and given a suspended sentence.
Toib's film focused on the conduct of Israel's security agencies, and particularly that of the man in charge of the unit responsible for security in the Defense Ministry. This unit, known by its Hebrew acronym Malmab, is what Toib terms "the secret kingdom," and his film scrutinizes and criticizes it.
The film is not about the secret itself, but the kingdom that has been constructed around it. Thus it neither deals with secrets nor reveals them. Nor does it seek to expose historic facts that have been hidden from public view.
The film is comprised of snippets of information pieced together from open sources that reported the data with approval from the military censor. Yet many clips in the film were deemed unfit for viewing - despite the fact that Toib identified the sources of his information, including media reports and books, during his discussions with the chief military censor, Sima Vaknin-Gil.
The chief censor was not convinced. She vehemently insisted that although the information was reported in the past, the film somehow posed a risk to national security. This is an absurd claim that fails the test of simple logic. If the facts have already been divulged, then the damage to national security has already been done.
The reason for the censor's conduct apparently lies in the fact that large chunks of the film deal with Malmab's activities, and that Toib criticizes the conduct of both the unit and the individual who ran it. It later emerged that the military censor consulted Malmab prior to rendering its decision on Toib's film. This was most certainly inappropriate, as the censor is supposed to be independent and immune to pressure. And given the segments of the film that were cut, it seems as if Malmab exerted considerable, if not decisive, influence over the censor's decision.
In a well-known High Court of Justice ruling from 1988 regarding the military censor's decision to bar publication of an article by journalist Meir Schnitzer that criticized the performance of the head of the Mossad, the presiding justice, Aharon Barak, ruled that the censor can legally veto the publication of material only if it meets the standard of "near certainty of serious harm to the security of the state."
One does not need to be an intelligence expert to understand that neither the censorship of quotes from the radio interview nor the deletion of scenes from Toib's film meet this standard: Simple logic will suffice. One must hope that the High Court, which is scheduled to hear Toib's petition against the military censor, will reinforce the message that it sent just over two decades ago.
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