Israeli press stymied by gag on affair reported abroad

Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner says "to continue hiding it seems absurd."

Dalia Dorner (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Dalia Dorner
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli reporters are gnashing their teeth in frustration over a controversial development which they cannot publish even though the story has been reported in detail in foreign outlets including The New York Times, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Independent and blogs, all of which are accessible to Israeli readers on the Internet.
The reason for the uncharacteristic silence in Israel is a gag order on any details pertaining to the story, issued several months ago by Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court Judge Einat Ron at the request of the police.
Details of the story were first reported on March 15 by Seattle blogger Richard Silverstein, who runs a Web site called “Tikkun Olam, Make the World a Better Place.” Silverstein describes himself as an activist for peace between Israel and the Palestinians but is a harsh critic of Israeli policies.
Two weeks after Silverstein’s initial report, Ron Kampeas, Washington bureau chief of the JTA, also wrote about the affair, followed a few days later by Kim Sengupta in The Independent.
In frustration over the inability of the paper to discuss what was being openly reported abroad, the daily Yediot Aharonot published a detailed story by former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, with about half the words blacked out.
Media outlets, including the daily Haaretz, Channel 10 news and the investigative current affairs program Uvda (“Fact”) have appealed the gag order issued by Ron. The hearing is scheduled for April 12.
Former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, now head of the Press Council, spoke out angrily against the gag order, saying that “to continue hiding it seems absurd. This affair saddens me very much because if the whole world knows about it, it is far-fetched to issue a publication ban here. I assume that the court acted for good reasons, but that doesn’t mean to say they were correct.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote on Wednesday to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, asking him to instruct the state prosecution to ask the court to remove the gag order or at least significantly reduce its scope.
In a press communiqué, ACRI legal adviser Dan Yakir said, “It’s unclear to us what aim the ban serves. Whatever the rationale for the order, in light of the widespread publicity on the subject in Israel and abroad, it seems its only purpose is to violate Israel’s right to information, hinder freedom of the press and stymie public debate on the case.”
Kadima MK Nahman Shai wrote to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warning him that “the affair which has been reported in the international press and Internet sites, but which is forbidden to be reported in Israel, is causing damage to Israel’s international status and its image as a democratic country which allows freedom of information. At the same time, it denies the residents of Israel their natural right to know.”
He asked Netanyahu to order the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to withdraw the gag order request.
Meanwhile, Hebrew University and Israel Democracy Institute criminal law expert Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer wrote on the Internet site “The Seventh Eye,” which covers media-related issues, “It is possible that once again the question of the judicial attitude towards publication bans and the procedure which takes place before they are issued is being raised. These bans cause severe harm to the public’s right to know.
“Whoever asks for a gag order and whoever issues it in any matter which is of public interest (and the interest can be aroused by issuing such an order) ought to assume that in a global world, the affair will be published abroad.”
Meanwhile, Silverstein, who has written many reports on the affair since first making it public, charged that the police (who represent the ISA in gag order requests to the court) had purposely chosen to file the request with Ron, because they allegedly knew that she would be sympathetic to the request.
This, he continued, was based on an incident that occurred in 2001, when Ron served as chief military prosecutor. In a special report entitled “Chronicle of a Whitewash,” the human rights group B’Tselem accused her of deliberately lying about the circumstances of the death of 11-year-old Khalil al-Mughrabi, who was shot and killed on July 7, 2001.
B’Tselem charged that although Ron concluded that soldiers had killed the boy and that there was no justification for the shooting, she had deliberately adopted a false version of events according to which the shooting was justified because the soldiers were involved in a war-like situation.
According to B’Tselem, “Ron went even farther than the others involved.In her written opinion, she raised a false alternative without amoment’s hesitation as a plausible one. The fact that she was notafraid to suggest, in writing, possible scenarios that were untruthful,raises serious suspicions that telling a lie is considered legitimatein the military prosecution.”
“Of course,” wrote Silverstein, the Israel Police would want such a judge to hear their case.
Thestate is due on Thursday to ask the court to reduce the gag order,Channel 10 reported Wednesday evening.  The appeals are due to be heardin court on April 12. The state did not say what facts about the caseit would allow to be published.