Ronen Bergman on Censorship in Israel

Overcoming censorship required Bergman to compromise, take court action and sometimes give up.
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TRANSCRIPT

Quesetion: How did military censors react to your book “The Secret War with Iran”?Ronen Bergman:  In Israel, just to give a general explanation, according to the law, we have to give everything that you write about military and intelligence issues to the military censorship.  This book was submitted to military censorship.  

When it came back, I counted 750 deletions, and a tedious negotiation started with them and we won and we submitted some appeals to Supreme Courts.  We won in most cases. 

One of them is the case of Nahum Manbar, an Israeli businessman, ex-officer with the IDF [Israeli Defense Force], a hero of the Yom Kippur [October 17 to the war], who became a businessman and cynically, cruelly and viciously sold chemical warfare to Iran.  The fact that this was not caught by Mossad in time and the whole affair were banned by military censorship, I appealed to Supreme Court and won. And there’s a chapter in the book called, “The Termite File” because the whole person was codenamed “The Termite,” describing the operation.  

In some cases, we reached compromise.  One of the most very funny; there’s a chapter called, “The Second Coming of Hezbollah.”  It starts with an interview with a Mossad prominent figure dealing with Hezbollah, in which he says, “In 50 years, when they open the secret files, people in Israel would be amazed to how poor was the human penetration of Israeli intelligence into Hezbollah.  When people would read the secret files, [they] would be shocked and sad to see that Mossad looked far less like James Bond and far more like Inspector Clouseau.”

And then he asked me, “Do you know how many real agents did Israel have in the ranks of Hezbollah?  In the true ranks, not in the sympathizers, not in outside circles?  Hezbollah troops?” And he lift some fingers of his right arm.  

Now, military censorship took everything out.  We appealed against it and the outcome was a compromise in which they permitted to publish everything, and it’s in the book, except for the exact number of fingers that he lifted.  So, if you read it, you’ll see that it’s somewhere between one and five, because it’s only his right arm and no fingers were chopped in previous operations, but there’s no exact number.  Now, I think it’s ridiculous, but yet, we had to reach some sort of compromise. 

I would say this.  The bottom line is 95% of this book is new information and I think that, after all, the knowledge of the reader of what’s going in that clandestine war between Israel and United States in one hand, and Iran on the other, was not severely damaged by this censorship. 

Recorded: Sep 19, 2008