The possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu may have ordered that documents in the Prime Minister’s Office be illegally shredded before Naftali Bennett assumed office is “unprecedented” and “unsuitable for a democratic state,” Israel’s former chief archivist Yaacov Lozowick has said.
He was responding to reports in Haaretz published late last week. Senior aides to Netanyahu told Haaretz that documents held in the office safes were destroyed on the orders of the outgoing prime minister shortly before the handover.
Lozowick, who was state archivist for seven years, said he had never come across an instance in the country’s history in which the outgoing prime minister had ordered office documents be destroyed.
Responding to reports that “professionals” in the Prime Minister’s Office were expected to examine the claims of shredded documents this week, Lozowick said those officials “did not have the tools to conduct such an examination.” Only Israel State Archives employees could do this properly, and yet even they aren’t accustomed to working with “oppositional elements that want to destroy things.” He added, “How are they going to check what was there and is now gone? They aren’t police detectives who can sit people down in an interrogation chair and extract information from them.”
Lozowick also dismissed the claim by Netanyahu’s office that “every official document, diplomatic or security-related, meeting summaries or conversations are documented and stored digitally.” Lozowick said, “As someone who headed the Israel State Archives and is today researching a lot of material from the PMO in previous decades, I know there are papers that do not have digital versions.”
He explained: “During a meeting, the prime minister or someone else might write all kinds of comments on an official document that has a digital copy. But those additions won’t be digitally stored unless the document is scanned anew. Thus there certainly can be documents with some important information that isn’t digitized.”
Following the Haaretz report last week, the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel contacted the current chief archivist, Ruti Avramovitz, and asked her to investigate the conduct of Netanyahu’s office in this matter. The Israel State Archives, which reports to the Prime Minister’s Office, did not respond to requests for comments.