If there is one thing that the saga of Ben Zygier – the Australian-Israeli who committed suicide in an Israel prison – proves, it is that the Israeli censorship laws are well outdated and just plain wrong.
First, from an effectiveness standpoint, the overzealous censorship measures are outdated and even counter-effective. In these days of free and globalized mass and social media there is no way that such events can (or should) remain hidden behind cloak and (gag) order. In this specific case, instantly, upon the obtainment of a gag order in Israel, the social media was up in arms releasing all information about the case. It seems that the gag order had in fact the reverse effect. It generated even more attention towards the case therefore ensuring an even more rapid and widespread information flow. Now, the issue at hand was not just the merits of the handling of “Prisoner X” from Australia but also the attempted cover-up and concealment by the Israeli government. Whoever advised the Prime Minister to attempt to seek a gag order gave some horrible advice.
Secondly, not only was the gag order a bad tactical mistake, it was as mentioned, just plain wrong. It goes against several basic elements and values of a democracy: that every person deserves a right to their day in court in a fair and public trial, freedom of the press and the right of the public to know. If this prisoner was in fact an enemy of the state (as rumored) then the state should have nothing to hide. Transparency in such a case would be strength, not weakness. Here again, the cover-up just makes it all much worse and gives the impression that the State is trying to hide a mistake, and cannot defend its actions on their merits.
In the past 24 hours a public debate has arisen in the Israeli Knesset surrounding both the merits of the case and the gag order that was obtained. Knesset Members (MKs) from the Israeli Left submitted inquiries into the matter while others claimed their conduct is a danger to the security of Israel. MK Miri Regev in an especially deplorable move asked for the MKs to be prosecuted for treason. This is especially embarrassing since Regev formally served as IDF Spokeswoman and Chief Military Censor, thus calling into question the considerations behind decisions she made in her former duties and responsibilities throughout her career in such sensitive positions.
Brave Israeli MKs should challenge the censorship system and break it, and not fear being tagged as “harming Israeli security” or treasonous. National security is not just an issue of physical defense. Our values upon which we would like to mold Israel are also of the utmost importance to our security.
We cannot pride ourselves in being the only democracy in the Middle East and at the same time comply with rules that are anti-democratic at their very core. It is time to hold ourselves to a higher standard to mature as a nation and truly practice democracy, not just to preach it.