Government Censorship in the Middle East’s Only Democracy

Posted on June 4, 2011

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Most people are familiar with the ubiquitous claim of Israel being the Middle East’s only democracy. A New York Times article today on the growing Israeli government opposition to Netanyahu, and his threats of invading Iran, brings up one of the lesser known attributes of Israeli democracy:

Journalists recalled that Mr. Dagan, who had refused contact with the media during his time in office, called a news briefing the last week of his tenure and laid out his concerns about an attack on Iran. But military censorship prevented his words from being reported.

“Dagan wanted to send a message to the Israeli public, but the censors stopped him,” Ronen Bergman of the newspaper Yediot Aharonot said by telephone. “So now that he is out of office he is going over the heads of the censors by speaking publicly.”

Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and blogger, noted in May that it was not Dagan that was censored, as perhaps could be argued would be a reasonable act by government superiors or agencies of an employee, but the publications that had been party to the press conference:

Intelligence correspondent Ronen Bergman wrote in Yedioth today that Dagan said pretty much the same things in a press conference a few months ago, but then the censorship didn’t allow the papers to publish his comments regarding Iran. This time, the former head of the Mossad talked in a large enough forum to get his message out.

It’s rare that American media write about the routine censorship of Israeli press. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, for example, few publications admitted that they had traded their freedom for access, and agreed to the same censorship rules as Israeli press when covering the conflict. In a rare article, the Associated Press ran the following quote from the Chief Military Censor at that time, Sima Vaknin:

“I can, for example, publish an order that no material can be published. I can close a newspaper or shut down a station. I can do almost anything,” Col. Sima Vaknin said Wednesday.

There was hardly, if any, mention of Israeli censorship in the reporting of the Cast Lead attack in Gaza, though with access even more subject to Israeli permission, one assumes that it was an equal if not greater factor.

This is our best friend in the Middle East, who we must support no matter what they do, censoring a press conference from its top intelligence analyst warning against war with Iran.

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