Archivist Demands State Files Be Kept Separate From Prime Minister’s Office

The state archivist has also called for the archives of the Israel Defense Forces and security agencies to be brought fully under the aegis of the State Archive, rather than under the Defense Ministry, as they are now

Netanyahu and state archivist Dr. Yaacov Lozowick in Jerusalem, 2014
GPO

The state archivist is calling for the State Archive to be separated from the Prime Minister’s Office and established by law as an independent state body. In a report summing up Dr. Yaacov Lozowick’s term as state archivist, which was distributed to State Archive employees and the members of the Archives Council, Lozowick wrote that the archive must be made independent because “it contains secrets and actions that – when the time comes – are made public that were not known in real time.”

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Lozowick announced his intention to step down over a year ago, two years before the end of his term, but no successor has been found yet and so he is remaining at his post for the time being. In the report, which Haaretz has obtained, Lozowick warns that placing the State Archive under the aegis of the PMO is not healthy in a democratic country. He said it reflected “a legal arrangement that was proper 50 years ago, and already outdated 30 years ago.”

Lozowick said his survey of state archives in Western countries showed that this body “is not situated close to the center of government.” For example, in the United States, the state archive is a completely independent government entity, and in other countries it comes under the authority of the justice ministry or the culture ministry.

Lozowick said one of his predecessors had also deliberated over whether the State Archive should come under a ministry other than the PMO, but was turned down and told, “Better to be the tail of a lion and not the head of a fox.” Lozowick said that although he thinks differently, he had not been able to deal with the issue during his term, and was bequeathing the problem to his successor.

He also called for the archives of the Israel Defense Forces and security agencies to be brought fully under the aegis of the State Archive, rather than under the Defense Ministry, as they are now. The IDF archive, he said, considers itself part of the Defense Ministry and warned that it “remains a closed world.”

Lozowick wrote that his greatest success was the digitalization of the archive. Over 100 million pages have so far been scanned – about a quarter of all the paper in the State Archive. But at this time, only about a quarter of these pages – about 24 million – are accessible on the State Archive website.

A new State Archive website has been launched, and the number of its users has already exceeded the number of researchers who looked at archive documents in all the years of the state.

Lozowick also noted his failures in the report. For example, he wrote that he had failed to change the common approach in state agencies that want to limit broad public access to certain archival documents. He said the state takes this approach when there is any doubt whatsoever about the propriety of making a document public. “The material must be open, unless there are clear reasons for keeping it closed, and even then the aspiration should be to limit [its closure].”

Lozowick pointed out in his recent report the shortcomings inherited from his predecessors in the State Archive, which he has warned about in the past. Most significantly, for decades most state agencies did not deposit their documents as required. Among them are the Justice Ministry, the Social Affairs Ministry, the State Comptroller’s Office and the police.

But even among cooperating ministries, materials deposited in the archive are sometimes not consistent. For example, Lozowick says, “They brought documents of ministers and director generals, but what is created below this level is sometimes deposited and sometimes not.”

There is a heavy price to pay for such inconsistency, the chief archivist continues. “The likelihood that researchers will find exactly what they need, rather than something interesting that’s somehow connected, is – how to say this painfully but honestly – medium and changes from ministry to ministry, and from decade to decade.”

Another main problem Lozowick pointed out in the report is the slow pace of registration of documents reaching the State Archive. About a third of the material in the archive has not yet been registered and that “no one knows what’s in about a million files,” he says, adding: “It will take many decades to register the already existing collection. Right now there is a backlog of 3,000 person-years, and it’s constantly growing.”