• Moderator
    Tallie Lipkin Shahak
    (”Galei Tzahal”- Army Radio
  • Panelist
    Sima Vaknin-Gil
    Chief IDF Censor
  • Panelist
    Maj. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Gazit
    Head of Military Intelligence
  • Panelist
    Maj. Gen. (ret.) Uri Sagie
    Head of Military Intelligence
  • Panelist
    Aluf Benn
    Editor-in-Chief, "Ha

The public’s obligation to know or demoracie’s right to self defence

Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, the country has been in an almost perpetual state of war. Because of this constant threat of annihilation, security concerns have naturally been paramount. This in turn has caused friction between officials tasked with keeping the public safe and Israeli journalists who work to keep the public informed.  This panel examined this conflict both past and present.

Tallie Lipkin-Shahak, one of Israel’s most prominent journalists and a veteran of Army Radio, hosted the panel. She asked the participants if the public has the right to full disclosure on matters of national security. What’s more, she asked, are journalists obligated to pursue such transparency?

Two of Israel’s former heads of Military Intelligence, Shlomo Gazit and Uri Sagie, were in agreement that security material which would have been censored  decades ago is now routinely reported.“90-95 percent of security issues today are exposed, open, quoted and spoken aboutfrom here until tomorrow,” Gazit claimed. At the same time, he added, “I know of no (published) news article which has caused real (security) damage.”

Sagie offered an example from recent news. “The openness in Israel is growing. Israeli society showed this in the debate over Iran‘s nuclear ambitions. You practically couldn’t even bring such a thing up 20 or 30 years ago”. That said, Sagie argued that there should not be an inherent conflict between the freedom of the press and security concerns. “There are certain things  people don’t just have the right to know, but indeed need to know.”

The panel’s consensus was that while this issue can’t be painted black or white, in Israel there is no real contradiction between security and freedom of speech, with the exception of disclosures that clearly constitute a breach of national security and can cause considerable damage.

“The problem” said Aluf Benn, Editor-in-Chief of ‘Haaretz‘, “is that the media is often perceived as an extension of the government and we are being used to enforce all sorts of policies.” Benn also addressed the double-edged sword of maintaining a good dialogue with officials. “When something is published in an Israeli newspaper which receives its information directly from sources and briefings, it’s as if it came from an official source.”

Finally, Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil offered a rare and compelling look inside the workings of the chief IDF censor’s office. “With some topics,” she said, “we are conflicted as to where to draw the line. I don’t think anyone here believes that the public’s right to know or freedom of speech are absolute. I am the first to admit that censorship and democracy do not mesh.” And yet, Vaknin-Gil added, “I see my job (as chief IDF censor) as protecting freedom of speech.”