A recent report found that over the course of the past year, 271 articles were prohibited by Israel’s military censor and an additional 2,358 were partially or fully redacted.
TEL AVIV – In the “only democracy” in the Middle East, military censors are working overtime to control the content of reporting and keep certain stories hidden from the public. According to a recent report by Israeli journalist Haggai Matar for online magazine +972, Israel’s military censor has notably increased the percentage of articles it partially or fully redacted in the Israeli press over the past year, a trend unlikely to decline as Israel prepares for potential war with Gaza, Lebanon and Syria.
The report, which used government figures obtained via freedom of information request, found that over the course of the past year 271 articles were prohibited by the military censor and an additional 2,358 were partially or fully redacted. On average, Israel’s military censor made a redaction in a story once every four hours and completely censored a story an average of five times a week.
Despite promoting its media environment as “lively, pluralistic and generally respectful of press freedom,” the censorship of Israeli press – long a reality in the country – has been steadily growing worse.
Thanks to a permanent state of emergency in effect since Israel’s founding in 1948, newspapers and other traditional news outlets in Israel have long been required to submit all articles which relate to national security and/or foreign relations to the censor of the Israel Defense Forces for review prior to publication. As +972 noted, “Israel is the only [democracy] where journalists and publications are legally required to submit their reporting for review prior to publication, and the only one where censorship can be criminally enforced.” The Israel Defense Forces also have the authority to censor books and other print publications.
In recent years, the censor has sought to bring online publications under its control but has not been entirely successful in doing so. The proliferation of online news in Israel, and internationally, may be in part responsible for another surprising finding of the report, which noted that the number of articles submitted to the censor for review dropped to a seven-year-low in 2017.
The decline in submitted articles is likely due in part to the close relationship between the IDF and Israeli publishers. Indeed, Chief IDF Censor Brig. Gen. Ariela Ben Avraham noted that the military rarely pursues violations of the censorship laws as news publishers in Israel “[show] responsibility when addressing matters of national security.” Such an atmosphere likely leads to self-censorship as publishers and journalists are less likely to write stories that they know will be outright rejected by the military censor.
An uptick in Israeli press censorship is common preceding and during times of war. Instances of censorship jumped noticeably during Israel’s 2014 war against the Gaza strip. Given the high probability of another Israel-Gaza war later this year and Israel’s violent response to Palestinian unrest as it moves to formally annex the West Bank, censorship in the name of Israel’s ‘national security’ is likely to increase even more over the course of 2018.