Once upon a time, before the all-revealing internet, parents wouldn’t discuss “sensitive matters” in front of the children. Whenever someone was about to mention such a topic, a warning alert would sound: “The children!” (“Der kinder!”), and a paralyzing silence would overtake the adults at the table. The principle remains but the sensitivities have changed. When I was a kid, you couldn’t talk about divorce, adultery, sex or death. Now the kids are 60 or 70 and we’re still being careful not to hurt their delicate souls.
Now we don’t talk about the IDF chief of staff being appointed by the prime minister’s wife, for example. Remember David Artzi? He actually did talk about it. Artzi was vice president of Israel Aircraft Industries and eight months ago he reported on a document that made the appointment of the IDF chief of staff and other top officials contingent upon Sara Netanyahu’s approval. (That was just eight months ago? Wow, how time flies!).
And Ruth David? If no one talks about Artzi, then why should they talk about Ruth David? Ruth David was a Tel Aviv district attorney, and seven years ago she was accused of accepting a bribe in return for leaking information to suspects. What has happened to the State Prosecutor’s Office since then? Why is her trial being delayed? Is anyone willing to talk about this?
And Attorney General Mandelblit? Yes, good old Avichai, whom everyone knows by now. No one asks if he just stood by or if he was personally involved in the submarines affair. Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him as cabinet secretary and attorney general while the submarine deal was being put together, and he faithfully served under him. He was the one who decided not to investigate him. This may be fine and it may not be fine, but shouldn’t we be talking about it?
Nor does anyone talk about the arrests of children in the territories, or about soldiers who act abusively (that soldier could be a relative, so best not to bring it up), or about the connection between the army and the settlers. The internet is seething but the government is silent.
Every silence has a reason. There will always be someone who doesn’t want us to know something. Who doesn’t want us to know what happened to the intelligence officer who died in prison, or to know what was redacted from the agreement with Pfizer. Perhaps because if we did know, that person would be embarrassed and possibly also incriminated. And so we’ve learned: Want to save your ass? Hide and delete. The thing that all the answers have in common is that they are known by the people whose salaries we pay.
They wouldn’t be doing us a favor by answering us – it’s their duty and our right. Our right as citizens, in whose name agreements are signed, to know what is written in them, our right to know if an attorney general is involved in a public scandal and our right to know how an officer died in a military prison.
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The answers may be complicated and incomplete, but even those we are not given. We don’t ask, and they don’t answer. We’re not even all that keen to know. We dutifully accept what we are told. (But Likud MK David Amsalem’s curses really get us worked up!) We’ve come to terms with the stigma that we are a “right-wing nation” that won’t spend its days agonizing over moral dilemmas. As the poet Eli Eliahu so aptly put it: “If we are asked about the boy who was set aflame, we have a perfect alibi / Our eyes did not see and our hands spilled no blood.”
The excuse of “security considerations” cannot be stretched far enough to cover all the secrets. According to the Freedom of Information Law, it ends where “it is the right of every citizen to obtain information from a public authority.”
His right? Yeah, sure. Have you ever tried to exercise this right? Do you have any idea how to get answers from the State Prosecutor’s Office, or from the Health Ministry? You think the IDF spokesman will answer you?
Okay, you say, that’s why we have newspapers. They know how and whom to call. But they are also aware that there are things we don’t want to know, or don’t care about knowing. It’s also convenient for them to leave us in the dark about some things, to enhance our dependence on their information.
The not knowing, the groping in the dark, comes with a price. After years of distrust of the authorities, a network of fanciful conspiracy theories has grown: Maybe Pfizer is bribing the health minister? Maybe the intelligence officer was a spy? Maybe Mendelblit was a party to the submarine deal? It’s not that there is no information. On the contrary, we’re drowning in information. Most of it is irrelevant, some is unexamined, unfiltered and unverified.
We have a private journalistic system. Only after we edit, filter and verify the information will we know how much we don’t know. Sources of information are dwindling. Print journalism is dying, online sites are not trustworthy and at the moment television’s main concern is for us to be swept up in the Oknin family soap opera. We’ve created an imaginary world for ourselves as a substitute for reality. We are statistics in the Truman Show.