The mysterious death of an Australian prisoner in Israel has put the spotlight on a military-run censorship system that is finding it harder to black out secret information often only a mouse click away on the Internet.
The case involves a man reported by Australia’s ABC channel on Tuesday to have been a member of Israel’s Mossad spy agency. According to the report, he committed suicide in prison in 2010 in an isolated top-security wing originally built for the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Why the man, identified by ABC as Ben Zygier, an immigrant to Israel, was jailed is still a closely guarded secret, and reports dealing with matters of state security must be submitted to military censors for vetting.
In a highly unusual move within hours of the ABC broadcast, Israeli editors were summoned to an emergency meeting in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office and asked not to publish a story “that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency”, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported.
Israeli news outlets that had carried the report scrambled to remove it from their websites, but that only drew attention to the case. Chatter ran rampant on Twitter and Facebook, offering polyglot Israelis links to foreign news sites.
For decades, journalists in Israel have been required to sign an undertaking to abide by military censorship rules when they apply for accreditation from the government press office. Reporters risk being denied press cards and, in the case of foreigners, work visas if they violate the regulations.
“You either work with us, or you work abroad,” a military censor, cautioning against reporting where Palestinian rockets were landing in Israel, warned a Reuters correspondent during an eight-day Gaza war in November.