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Israel’s Military Censor: ‘There She Goes Again!’ – OpEd

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Israel’s military censor, Col. Ariella Ben Avraham has outdone herself.  After setting her sights on Israeli social media, determining that it fell within her purview, and warning troublesome blogger’s that they must submit their social media material to her for approval–she’s now disappeared an entire story from the Israeli media publication, 7th Eye.  The offense?  The story recounts a riveting episode in the history of Israeli espionage–the exposure of Soviet spy, Marcus Klingberg.  This is a story I’ve reported here.

Ronen Bergman, Israel’s premier investigative journalist on this subject, published his original report (Hebrew pdf) in Yediot in 2008.  In the course of his research, he discovered who “outed” Klingberg.  It was a former Soviet agent who was “turned” by the Shabak and became an Israeli double agent.  His name: Boris Krasny.  Bergman, in his account, never mentioned Krasny.  That was forbidden by the security apparatus.  Instead, he called him “Samaritan” (as in “Good Samaritan,” though Krasny’s motives were anything but pure).

When the original article was presented to the military censor, there was a huge uproar within the security establishment about it.  The then-censor herself (Sima Vaknin-Gil) was thought to be far too liberal in what she was willing to permit Bergman to expose. In the end, she permitted him to reveal very little.  Her rationale was that if she permitted the journalist even to mention Krasny’s actual Shabak code name (it wasn’t “Samaritan”) that this would permit the contemporary Russian intelligence apparatus to detect Krasny’s real name.

The censor compared Krasny to Alexander Litvinenko who, only a few years earlier in 2006, has been poisoned likely on Putin’s orders, for exposing the nation’s intelligence secrets in the UK.  Bergman disagreed, arguing that the Soviet Union for which Krasny originally spied was dead and buried.  The danger of anyone coming after Krasny was nil.  But the censor disagreed and got her way in the argument.  Not even the real code word for Krasny was published.

But the real ugliness began afterward.  Then Bergman’s work colleagues and social acquaintances, including individuals who themselves had worked in Israeli intelligence, were summoned for interrogation.  The Shabak wanted to know who leaked the story to Bergman.  In order to do so, they spread the dragnet wide and trolled through the widest possible circle of Bergman’s social and professional circles.  It didn’t matter that many of them had nothing to do with the story or the leak.  The goal seemed to be to intimidate both Bergman and his sources or, as he put it in the 7th Eye story, “to stick a finger in my eye.”

Bergman opines that a good part of the reason for this witchhunt, which he calls “McCarthyite,” was pressure from Krasny himself.  You’ll recall from my earlier reporting that he has become one of Israel’s leading lobbyists, working for the largest corporations and most powerful figures.  As such, he himself is both wealthy and powerful.  And he’s not afraid to wield that power to the end of protecting his interests, even if it means going toe to toe with his former handlers in Israeli intelligence.

Krasny, who strikes me as a bit of a Sheldon Adelson or even Donald Trump figure, wasn’t even afraid of upbraiding Bergman himself at a gala party at a powerful businessman’s home to which both were invited.  There, in front of hundreds of onlookers, Krasny railed against him and the story he’d written.  This isn’t the act of a man who feared exposure.  It’s the act of a powerful megalomaniac, a sadist who seeks to show his power and force others to be subservient at all costs.

Krasny is known for being one of the best-connected individuals amongst the Israeli elite. He has friends and allies in business, politics and the intelligence apparatus. In a situation like this one, he only has to lift the cellphone and call his pal, Avigdor Lieberman, the new defense minister to get this article squashed like a bug. Oh and did I mention who Lieberman appointed as chair of his Yisrael Beitenu Party in 2015? You guessed it: none other than Boris Krasny.

Bergman also levies fierce criticism of the military censor who forbade publication of Krasny’s name originally, and who continues to refuse to permit it.  What happened to Krasny after he was outed?  Nothing.  Surely, anyone in Russia who wants to know who betrayed Klingberg can find Krasny’s name through a Google search.  The fact that the former spy continues to enjoy living in the lap of luxury should tell the censor something.    But it doesn’t.  A censor doesn’t admit mistakes.

That’s why now, years later, after Krasny himself has been outed here and elsewhere in Israel, the censor has forced 7th Eye to delete even this story about Bergman’s adventure.  It’s yet another tale of failure and dsyfunction in the belly of the beast that is the national security state.  This article wasn’t disappeared because it revealed secret information that would endanger state security.  It was censored because it embarrassed (and criticized) the censor and the censorship regime.  This, it appears, is impermissible.

To further prove this point, Bergman declares that 95% of what the IDF censor redacts shouldn’t be censored.  The reason it is is that it falls under what he calls “the Embarrassment Clause.”  If something may embarrass the powers that be in the IDF or intelligence agencies, then censor it we must.  Even if it causes no harm to state security to reveal it: that is the action of secret police, not a free and open state.

How’s that for Bergman sticking it in the censor’s eye?

He even goes one step further and attacks the censor for prohibiting publication that Israel possesses armed drones used in targets assassinations of Palestinian militants, and which it supplies to foreign militaries.    Bergman claims, with justification, that there is no sensible reason to prohibit this information from reaching the public since it has been published in multiple sites.  I was the first to publish it outside Israel.

For those of you who read Hebrew, the censored article is available here; saved from the maw of the national security state.  You see, Israel disappears people and information and does each seemingly indiscriminately.

This 7th Eye article doesn’t mention Krasny by name either.  But that makes little difference to Col. “Von” Avraham, who is a bit Prussian in her distaste for those who   break the rules as she defines them.

This article was published at Tikun Olam.


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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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