ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Report: Military censor says PM unjustifiably pressing him to clamp down on reporting

Brig. Gen Kobi Mandelblit said to tell other senior officers Netanyahu sought to prevent publication of comments from cabinet in which he came off as hesitant on war effort

IDF censor Brig. Gen. Kobi Mandelblit attends a State Control Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
IDF censor Brig. Gen. Kobi Mandelblit attends a State Control Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Israel’s military censor Brig. Gen. Kobi Mandelblit has complained privately that the prime minister and other senior government officials are pressing him to muzzle some media publications without a valid security justification for doing so, according to a report Wednesday.

Haaretz said Mandelblit vented on the matter to other senior IDF officers in a recent private conversation, during which he made several harsh remarks about the prime minister and told them he fears Netanyahu wants to remove him from his post or deprive the censor of authority.

The Prime Minister’s Office responded in a statement that the censor had in its view harmed national security and endangered soldiers by permitting the publication of some news during the current conflict in the Gaza Strip. It did not provide details. It also denied that Mandelblit’s job had been threatened.

Two senior officers who were present during the conversation told Haaretz that Mandelblit said he had been asked to tighten censorship policy by Netanyahu himself, National Security Adviser Tzahi Hanegbi and by Netanyahu’s military secretary Maj. Gen. Avi Gil.

Mandelbit ostensibly told the gathering that there was no security justification for the requests and that the pressure being applied on him was unusual. According to the report, the other officers present agreed with him.

The sources said that pressure on Mandelblit has increased over the past two weeks and has included remarks that were not made directly to him but were passed on through others.

Mandelblit, a cousin of former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit who indicted Netanyahu on corruption charges, specified that he was asked to clamp down on information from cabinet meetings in which Netanyahu came off as hesitant about the ongoing war with Hamas.

One item that he was requested to withhold, and which was indeed prevented from publication, concerned private matters relating to Netanyahu and his wife, the report said. The censor justified the ban by ruling it was due to security considerations relating to the Netanyahu couple, Haaretz reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen walking in the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 27, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/FLASH90)

Mandelblit refused to comment to Haaretz on its report and demanded that the story itself be first approved by the military censor, but later withdrew the request.

The Prime Minister’s Office told Haaretz in a statement: “Throughout the war, the censor has approved news whose publication harmed the national security of the State of Israel, endangering our soldiers and the safety of the prime minister himself.”

The statement said that any criticism relayed to the censor “is factual,” does not include “threatening messages of impeachment or curtailment of the censor’s powers” and that any report otherwise “is not true.”

There have been increasing complaints from media outlets about Mandelblit’s policies, including that he has unfairly exercised his powers, permitting some outlets to publish stories while banning others from releasing the same information.

The Union of Journalists in Israel sent a letter Tuesday to Mandelblit complaining of differential treatment among outlets.

Last week Channel 12 reported that during a recent security cabinet meeting ministers discussed at length the issue of leaks from the top security forum. Netanyahu said he intended to bring forth a law making it illegal to publish any content from security cabinet meetings. Such a move would circumvent the authority of the military censor.

A draft memo of the planned bill, circulated last week, would also require ministers to undergo regular polygraph tests. However, the move is reportedly opposed by the Shin Bet security agency which would be tasked with carrying out the tests. Ynet reported last week that there is also opposition to the bill in the judiciary and among ministers.

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