A number of Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to share the sensitive information that was the focus of an urgent meeting his office convened earlier in the day with the heads of Israeli media outlets.
The Prime Minister’s Office had called the meeting of the forum known as the Israeli Editors Committee, an informal group comprising the editors and owners of major Israeli media outlets.
The PMO asked members during the meeting to cooperate with the government and withhold publication of information pertaining to an incident that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency.
During a Knesset debate on the matter Tuesday, MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) questioned Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman about “reports that an Australian citizen who was in Israeli custody under a different identity committed suicide in prison,” and asked: “Can you verify the details?”
“I cannot answer these questions because the matter does not fall under the authority of the Justice Minister,” Ne’eman said in response. “But there is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into.”
Meretz Chairwoman Zahava Gal-On earlier in the day decried the media’s cooperation with the Editors Committee meeting, declaring: “The phenomenon of journalists volunteering to censor information at the authorities’ request is patently undemocratic. I had hoped that it had been abandoned dozens of years ago.”
The Editors Committee was established during David Ben-Gurion’s premiership, and was intended to provide an informal framework for sharing confidential information with the media off the record. During Netanyahu’s own tenure as prime minister, the annual committee meeting has become an open press conference.
“In a democracy there is justification for censorship only in matters of security, which is subject to the High Court of Justice that ensures it is justified and that there is a probability of harming state security,” Gal-On added.
Gal-On demanded that the prime minister and public security minister appear before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and report on the affair. “It is unthinkable that information passed on to the Editors Committee in order to conceal it from the public will be kept from Knesset members.”
MK Nachman Shai (Labor), who in 2010 proposed a bill to change the system of gag orders in Israel, said following the meeting that certain information must be shared with the public.
“The prime minister has forgotten than in 2013, the media’s conduct can no longer be dictated, and it does not operate within a national consensus as in the past. The Israeli public will know sooner or later what happened. It is preferable to present the public with the truth within in certain security-related confines and share [the truth] with the public.”
The Australian Embassy in Israel refused to comment on the statements made by Neeman and MKs Gal-On, Hanin and Tibi on Tuesday evening at the Knesset, concerning the mysterious affair. The embassy added that it has been instructed not to answer questions and redirect journalists’ questions to the Foreign Ministry in Canberra.