MKs protest ‘suppression of news about jail suicide of Australian’

Israel’s TV news broadcasts all open with sketchy reports of incident, linking it with cases of espionage against Israel over the decades

MK Ahmad Tibi (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
MK Ahmad Tibi (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

A series of Knesset members on Tuesday spoke out in parliament against what they said were efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to suppress publication of a sensitive episode concerning an Australian citizen who had committed suicide in an Israeli jail.

The Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday convened members of a hitherto defunct “Editors’ Committee” to seek their cooperation in the matter, the MKs said.

MK Ahmad Tibi (Ra’am Ta’al) asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to respond to reports that “an Australian citizen who was being held in Israel under an assumed name committed suicide in jail.”

Neeman said the matter was not part of his purview, adding that questions over such matters should be out to the minister of public security. Still, said Neeman, “there is no doubt that if these claims are correct, this has to be checked.”

The acting speaker of the Knesset, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, told MKs that the minister of public security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, would be available in parliament on Wednesday, and that legislators could question him about the affair.

Zahava Gal-on (Meretz) protested what she said was “the undemocratic process by which journalists volunteer to censor information at the request of the authorities.” She said she thought such phenomena had long since disappeared, and that gag orders should be applied only when there was a clear threat to national security. She also protested that editors were given information that was being withheld from members of Knesset.

How could it be, Gal-on asked, that “prisoners held under assumed names commit suicide and nobody knows about them”?

Labor’s Nachman Shai said that the public would find out about the affair anyway sooner or later, and “it would be better to tell the public the truth, within certain security parameters.”

Dov Khenin (Hadash) noted that the information was available from overseas sources on the Internet in any case, and claimed the aim of the suppression was thus not to protect national security but rather “to prevent open public debate” surrounding the affair.

Israel’s main nightly TV news programs opened their broadcasts with the sketchily reported story on Tuesday night, showing footage of the various Knesset members complaining about the story’s suppression. One of the TV stations, Channel 10, making plain that it was hampered by restrictions on what it could report, supplemented its coverage with a report on the history of Israelis who had leaked Israeli secrets to the Soviet Union and others through the decades. Among those it mentioned was Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, who was jailed for treason after selling the so-called secrets of Israel’s nuclear arsenal to London’s Sunday Times in the 1980s.

Even Israel’s most sensitive security hierarchies, this report concluded, have proven not to be immune to espionage.

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