Opinion |

Keep Israel's State Archives Away From the Government

If the law is followed to the letter, every examination of a document in the State Archives would need the approval of the agency that deposited it there. There’s no need to elaborate on why this is problematic

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Dr. Yaakov Lazovik.
State Archivist Dr. Yaakov LazowickCredit: Michal Fattal

The digital revolution that State Archivist Dr. Yaakov Lazowick has been implementing has awoken some bears from their slumber. These elements preferred the State Archives in its former version, antiquated and irrelevant, a place where the documents on its shelves gather dust and are closed off for decades from the public eye.

Now, as the website of this veteran institution has begun exposing its contents en masse to the public – and not just to the handful of researchers willing to drag themselves to its reading room in Jerusalem – there are those who have been summoned to stop this upheaval. As reported here on Tuesday by Ofer Aderet, a decades-old law that no one ever bothered to enforce has suddenly been resuscitated at the behest of the legal advisers of the Prime Minister’s Office, to which the State Archives is subordinate, as well as a deputy attorney general.

If the law is followed to the letter, every examination of a document in the State Archives would need the approval of the agency that deposited it there. There’s no need to elaborate on why this is problematic, and it ought to concern the entire public and not just the historians who routinely use the Archives’ services. It would be enough to imagine a scenario in which a historian or investigative journalist would find documents linking the interior minister to a case of corruption, embarrassing material on the Agriculture Ministry, or explosive evidence about the work of the Immigration and Absorption Ministry. By law, the State Archives would need the permission of these ministries before it could release the material.

Lazowick injected a new spirit into the archives. While shaking the dust off this archaic institution, he managed to make himself a few enemies, but the bottom line is that he is responsible for the most significant step in the history of the Archives – moving it from its hard-copy version to a digital one. The path is still strewn with obstacles, but anyone who acknowledges reality understands that there’s no future for an archive that can’t make its materials digitally accessible to the general public.

It would be better if all these legal advisers enlisted to help the Archives continue the revolution. They could advise the Archives how to adjust the old-fashioned, problematic regulations under which it operates to accommodate the spirit of the Freedom of Information Law, which champions openness, transparency and accessibility. First, the invalid link between the depositing agency and its material’s exposure must be severed. Then the Archives must also be separated from the Prime Minister’s Office, to which it answers. The State Archives must be kept as far as possible from the politicians, elected officials and decision makers, and be allowed to operate independently and objectively – on behalf of the public, not the government ministries.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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