Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The PrisonerX Scandal and Israeli Censorship

Updated version:

Today (12.02.2013) the Israeli government has placed a gag-order concerning a story, which concerns a mystery person who was imprisoned in Israel, and later committed suicide. Today's unfolding of events has been reported in the Israeli online 972mag

Haaretz Article Censored
The story goes back almost three years ago, when in June 2010, it was reported that an unknown person was being held in the Ayalon prison. Jump up six months later, in December 2010, Ynet reported that an unknown prisoner committed suicide. In both cases, the news reports were immediately removed from the news site, with some speculating that the mystery Prisoner X had in fact been executed by the internal Israeli security

At first, there were rumors that this high security prisoner was an Iranian general, who was kidnapped and taken to Israel; however, news of this did not materialize. The final break in silence came this morning from Australian TV, claiming in an investigative report that the victim was an Australian Jew by the name of Ben Zygier, who later took the name Ben Alon. The immigrant is rumored of being recruited by the Mossad, in addition to his public life as a lawyer, who lived with his wife and two children in Ranaana.  Zygier's death coincided with this incident, as we know his body was flown home for burial just a week after the suicide. To get the full rap, here is a link to the Australian ABC report, "Australian Suspected of Mossad Links Dies in Israeli Jail, and a link to the television investigative report.

After the story was broke on Australian TV, Wallah news site and Haaretz published the story. However, shortly after, Prime Minister Netanyahu called a meeting with a group of editors (not including Haaretz's editor) and declared an immediate gag order concerning the story. Well, as the day progressed the Israeli government’s attempt to silence the truth failed, as social media jumped in and the news spread like a wild fire. In the meantime, Knesset members, Zehava Galon (Meretz), Dov Khenin (Hadash), and Ahmad Tibi (Raam-Taal), took to the podium and to the Knesset TV channel to call on Justice Minister Yaakov Ne’eman to address the story, but to no avail. Haaretz also published a story in their Hebrew edition commenting on how in today’s world of social media such censorship had little ability to prevent the story from becoming public. Furthermore, Hadash and Meretz  both protested the censorship on their websites, facebook and twitter accounts. As you can see, the above mentioned article by Haaretz has been censored. 

This story certainly is not going to go away until the Israeli government stands up and comes clean about a) who the unknown prisoner was b) and explains his death. Above all, real answers are needed concerning transparency of justice, and the public has the right to know why this case has been shrouded in mystery.  Israel should be past the stage of gag-orders and trying to silence the truth. Further, let us not forget that even in the days before the internet, the Israeli government was not able to cover up scandalous actions, such as the Bus 300 incident, kidnapping of Mordecai Vanunu, or even the 1950s Lavon Affair; even if it took almost a decade to come to light. Therefore, it seems almost surreal that they think that in the era of social media, they can block news coming from outside, or for that fact, from inside. 

I imagine that PM Netanyahu will need to do some serious damage control, since if it really was a Mossad agent, held and while being detained committed suicide, or worse, was even killed, he most likely was at the chain of command; or at least informed of the incident. Of course, it will not only be Netanyahu subject to scrutiny, but numerous politicians, such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak. 

Further, this has implications for the greater Jewish world, as the person under discussion was an Australian Jew. Questions need to be answered of what went wrong in the life of an immigrant who moved to Israel out of love for the Land, and was returned in a casket, leaving behind a wife and two children (with his family and friends refusing to comment). 

It seems safe to say that the PrisonerX scandal will be with us for some time, and that in the next few days more details will come to light. 

Update: Censorship is Lifted

                    Yesterday's story is today's news.  Zygier as a soldier in the Israeli army, after immigrating from Australia                                                                                 
This morning (13.02.2013), Israeli authorities lifted the gag-order on foreign reports of "Prisoner X." Immediately, all media outlets are reporting on the story; clearly, the attempts by the Israeli state to censor the story have failed. Knesset Members Avigdor Lieberman and Miri Regev are spewing out their anger at the previously mentioned MKs (Galon, Khenin, and Tibi) who challenged the censor, accusing them of endangering state security. Now we will need to wait and see what new information will arise in Israel, to understand what really happened to the Ben Zygier, why was he arrested (if this is the case) and what led to his death.  


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Monday, February 11, 2013

A Brief look at January: Israeli Elections and Turkish media

Due to a very tiring January writing two policy articles (both will be posted here once published), and a post-election op-ed article (see below), unfortunately I am only now able to submit a post-election update with links to interviews I took part in. 

Israeli Elections covered in Milliyet
In addition to the articles, I also was overwhelmed by the intensive election coverage in Turkey, being interviewed on three Turkish television channels. The evening of the elections, I was interviewed on Cuneyt Ozdemir's 5N1K evening program, the next day on T24, and the following evening, I was on SkyTurk's evening news program with Korcan Karar. In addition, I also gave three newspaper interviews, with the newspapers Milliyet, Agos, and Zaman

In addition to this, I participated in a fascinating symposium on the Israeli elections and its regional's implications, at Kadir Has University, together with professors Salih Bicakci, Ufuk Ulutas (SETA), and Karel Valansi, a columnist at Shalom (Turkish Jewish newspaper) and moderated by Professor Mitat Celikpala.  Due to the fact that we were speaking the morning after the elections, we spent the most time speculating how Yair Lapid's surprise success in elections, raking in 19 seats, would change the political map. Further, we talked about prospects for renewed Turkish-Israeli relations, and the future of the region in the wake of the ongoing war in Syria.  
Sreen shot of my interview on CNN TURK
In the above talk and interviews, I stressed my hope that Israeli will apologize for the Gaza Flotilla incident, which led to the death of nine Turkish citizens, almost three years ago (see Haaretz article below).

All of the attention the Israeli elections was receiving in Turkey led me to the conclusion that what was actually missing was Israeli coverage of how the elections were being covered in Turkey. Therefore, I wrote an article for Haaretz, which was entitled Cheering then Cursing: Israel and Turkey's Volaitle Relations should be a Priority, and focuses on a history of the relations between the two states, especially during the last decade. Further, it looked at the elections as a chance for Israel to patch up its bad relations with Turkey.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Freedom of Speech at Brooklyn College

February 4, 2013

Dear Fellow Brooklyn College Faculty, Students, and CUNY Community Members,

It is with disappointment that I cannot be on campus to take part in this week’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) talk. As a scholar of Ottoman Palestine, and as an activist working for a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I support discussion and dialogue from all camps, and draw a clear line not to support or to give a hand to sides promoting violence. It is certainly the right of the BDS to set their agenda, which promotes reaching their goal through peaceful means, such as sanctions of the Israeli state. 

Attempts by students, faculty, alumni, or other outside factors, to silence opposition to Israeli policy brings me back twenty years when as a student at Haifa University, I received punishment (thirty hours of labor) for exercising my right to free speech (under Israeli law). Despite my punishment, Palestinian students (with Israeli citizenship) were expelled from campus for sometimes more than one semester. Even then we realized that they were punishing the wrong people, as we were promoting peaceful resistance; just two years later the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was shot by a radical right-wing Jewish man.

Now as an assistant professor (on leave) at Brooklyn College, I have learned that there are those trying to silence the BDS talk. This is a shame. During my classes on Israel/Palestine conflict, I encourage all voices, and encourage my students to learn about all sides to the conflict. As we know, there are no easy solutions to the conflict, and if BDS thinks that they offer a genuine way out of this conflict, then more power to them, and let the audience members be the judge of this. Perhaps, more outrageous than trying to silence the voices of the BDS, is silencing Brooklyn College students who invited the speakers, and found departments to support them in organizing their events.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity, to express my support of faculty members, who are ensuring that the students’ wishes are heard. I would also like to express my sincere support of the Political Science Department, and its chair, Professor Paisly Currah, who has had to endure a great amount of pressure. Lastly, Brooklyn College should be proud of the fact that their president, Professor Karen Gould, has stood firm in her support for free speech on campus. She has my unwavering support.

I hope others who support freedom of speech on US campuses will spread the word! 


Louis Fishman