Blacking Everybody Out

A journalist wishing to criticize the government's policy of silence could quote his colleague, the Syrian columnist Izz al-Din al-Darwish, who wrote in the same newspaper that "the attempts of senior Israeli [officials] to deceive in a policy of feints and distortion, and intentional military censorship."

At a news conference yesterday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni deviated from diplomatic decorum when she stopped her Portuguese counterpart, Luis Adado, who began responding to a question on Syria. Livni argued that she did not believe that any statements on the matter from any side can be productive. Any side? It's bad enough censoring the Europeans, now Livni wants to censor the Syrians too?

The absence of comments from Israel leaves no room for free public discourse. How is it possible to argue with someone if we do not have the facts?

Take for example Dr. Alon Liel, the founder of the lobby in favor of peace with Syria. He would very much like to know what happened, if anything did happen, on the Syrian-Israeli arena. Perhaps this is the time to raise the flag of peace with Syria, or maybe this is the time to lower it to half mast. We simply cannot know.

"I cannot remember such a blatant example of silencing the public, and the media, like this latest one, [an incident] which was or was not," said Liel, who previously served as director general at the Foreign Ministry. "The security conduct in view of the Syrian affair is a blow to democracy, freedom of speech and the basic right of the public to know about the state of its security."

Liel, who conducted talks with the Syrians through the Swiss channel, warns that in the long term, this behavior will undermine the credibility of the government vis a vis its citizens, and the credibility of the state before the rest of the world.

"To date, when I listened to the radio and television, I knew that at least the independent analysts were free to speak their mind," Liel says. "Now I am convinced that we hear puppets speaking. The irony is that the Syrian dictatorship has become the source of information for the Israeli public that is trying to feel its way in the dark."

Yossi Beilin, the Meretz leader, says that he cannot praise or condemn that which he does not know.

"I do not know if this was an important move or a crazy one," the head of the leftist party says. "It's pathetic to say that a stupid thing occurred here, if I am not supposed to know what happened. At the same time, I do not need to understand the substance to conclude that in the absence of a political move between us and Syria, we can expect the situation to deteriorate to violence, and to this I will not be an ally of any government."

Zahava Gal-On of Meretz and Israel Hasson of Yisrael Beitenu shared the same opinion yesterday, when they said on Army Radio that it is the absolute obligation of elected representatives of the public to supervise the political and military leadership of the country.

Gal-On wanted to know which details in the careers of Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak justify granting them blind and unlimited trust.