Editorial

Israel's History Police Doesn't Belong in the 21st Century

Israel Kasztner at Kol Yisrael, early 1950s.
Wikimedia Commons

The High Court of Justice is scheduled to hear a petition Monday morning filed by two Israeli historians, Dr. Nadav Kaplan and Dr. Shay Hazkani, who have reached an impasse in their efforts to complete their research. Dr. Kaplan is studying the murder of Israel Kastner in 1957, while Dr. Hazkani is writing about the riots in Haifa’s Wadi Salib neighborhood two years later. The Shin Bet security service is refusing to allow the two to examine documents in its archives connected to these sensitive, charged events, which were of undeniable public importance.

In the state’s response to both cases, which were merged into one petition, it did not deny that many documents connected to these incidents remain hidden from the public. Moreover, there is so much material, the state fears that having it gone over by state employees before it is released would “divert” so much manpower that ongoing Shin Bet operations could be undermined. And if this wasn’t enough, the state, as it often does, continues to hide behind that eternal excuse of “state security,” which is hard to challenge for one simple reason: The material is classified, so there is no way to prove whether or not its publication would threaten state security.

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But past cases, in which archival material that had been hidden on “state security” grounds was finally released after lengthy struggles, have shown that this claim is often unwarranted. You don’t have to be a senior security official to understand that exposing the possible involvement of the Shin Bet in Kastner’s murder or its surveillance of the leaders of the Mizrahi protests in the 1950s cannot harm state security in 2020. If there is sensitive information in these files about specific Shin Bet agents or the organization’s methods of operation, these can be redacted, without keeping entire documents inaccessible.

The real reason for the sweeping censorship is, apparently, the unwillingness of the state and its security and intelligence agencies to expose unflattering chapters of their past. For example, improper political interference by stalking elected officials or protest leaders, or connections with dubious elements, including Nazi war criminals – as anyone who has thoroughly researched the complex Kastner case knows.

The High Court justices must explain to the state, and through it to the Shin Bet, that in the 21st century they cannot withhold historical information that the public is entitled to, or block researchers from doing their work of writing more accurate history, simply to avoid undermining the prestige of a given organization. The truth will come out in the end. A democratic state is meant to facilitate this, not erect obstacles to it.

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