In The Guardian, Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of Haaretz, explains how censorship works in Israel. Interestingly he points out that “censorship has its advantages. Your military and intelligence sources are more open to give you secret information, trusting the censor to play bad cop.”
But the reason censorship operates effectively is because most Israelis do not question its value.
The success of censorship relies not on coercion and legal enforcement, but on public support. The military and intelligence community enjoy sacred status in Israeli society, and “national security” resonates much better than “civil liberties”. Many journalists accept censorship willingly as their national contribution, don’t argue with it, and criticise their peers who break with the official line. They are even proud of knowing the story and withholding it from their audience.
Israel is small and vulnerable and is situated in a dangerous neighborhood, so its national security needs trump all others — or so the narrative goes. Israel is a victim of circumstances.
But think about the mindset this engenders and it is one that is actually anathema to most Americans — a mindset of unquestioning trust in the state.
American mistrust of government can often veer towards the opposite extreme, yet there is such a thing as healthy suspicion of government power.
“National security” — wherever it is invoked — is an issue that almost always serves as a justification for secrecy. It delegitimizes citizenship and infantilizes the people.
For their own good, the people must not know what the government is doing. And when the people acquiesce, they are no longer being served by a representative government. They have instead turned themselves into the foundation of a totalitarian state.
“As long as ‘state security’ is sacred in the public mind, we will have censorship,” writes Benn. And as long as Israel functions as a security state, it cannot claim to be a democracy.