Ali Abunimah Rights and Accountability 4 February 2016
Israeli journalist Yossi Gurvitz says he will defy military censorship order. (Jonathan Klinger)
An Israeli Jewish dissident has been ordered to submit his social media postings to military censorship.
Yossi Gurvitz, who writes in English and Hebrew for a number of publications, is frequently critical of his country’s abuses of Palestinian rights, and of its official ideology, Zionism.
“The military censorship served me with an order today, demanding to pre-vet any post or Facebook status I wrote about the IDF [Israeli army] or the defense ministry system,” Gurvitz wrote in a series of Tweets on Wednesday. “I do not intend to comply with the demand and I am considering my legal options,” he added.
“The demand to pre-censor posts and status basically kills new media in Israel,” Gurvitz stated.
Gurvitz told The Electronic Intifada by phone that he first received a message on Facebook, from an account claiming to be the official military censor.
But the account’s profile page contained little information, leading him at first to believe it could be a hoax.
“I talked to friends and they said if it’s a hoax it’s a hoax, but if it’s real you have to make some response,” Gurvitz said.
“So I sent them [the military censor’s office] an email and a few days later they responded that yes, we did send you this.”
“I informed them that I think their action is unreasonable and I won’t comply with it,” Gurvitz added.
Gurvitz is one of about 30 social media users and bloggers to have received similar orders in recent days, according to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, but he appears to be the only one speaking out loudly about it.
Elad Hen, the editor of Hevra (Society), did confirm to the Israeli publication The Seventh Eye that his leftist journal received a similar notice.
Gurvitz has written for +972 Magazine and blogs for the human rights group Yesh Din.
Gurvitz also tweeted: “After consulting with legal counsel, I decided not to publish the document sent by the military censorship as it expressly forbids it.”
Gurvitz told The Electronic Intifada he was still unclear if the order only relates to his social media postings or includes his personal blog Friends of George.
The military censor’s office has confirmed it sent the orders.
“In the last week such communication was made with several Facebook pages, which define themselves as news and/or newsflash pages,” the censor’s office told Haaretz. “In the communication, there was no specific request to remove any publication. It will be stressed that the profiles involved are not private profiles but only public pages, which define themselves as media and are open to perusal by the public.”
Gurvitz told The Electronic Intifada that when he opened his Facebook account, he had categorized it as “news,” because he did not think any other description fit better.
The censorship orders come at a time when dissidents, human rights defenders and leftists are facing a wave of incitement and police repression in present-day Israel.
The far-right-wing group Im Tirtzu, for which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has personally raised funds, has been behind much of the incitement.
It recently published a video labeling the heads of several Israeli human rights groups as traitors.
Gurvitz is one of the voices who has long been in Im Tirtzu’s crosshairs.
Gurvitz told The Electronic Intifada that the censorship orders may be related to the political atmosphere.
“I can’t say for certain but the timing is very suspicious,” he said. He also noted that no right-wing publication has talked about receiving such orders.
Under the 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations imposed by British colonial rulers in Palestine and maintained by Israel ever since, the military censor has broad powers to block almost any publication.
Israeli repression of the speech rights of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and of Palestinian citizens of Israel, has long been the norm.
Israel frequently prosecutes Palestinians, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem, for what it calls “incitement” on Facebook.
However its violations only tend to attract high-profile international attention and criticism when they begin to target Jews.
At that point, liberal voices begin to worry about the “erosion” of an Israeli democracy that has never functioned as such for Palestinians.
Gurvitz said he does not know what the consequences might be for defying the censorship order.
“Nobody knows,” he said. “In the past 30 years the censor did not prosecute people for not obeying them, unless they also committed a security offense.”
Gurvitz said that he has spoken to lawyers from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
“If the censor insists on its course, we may have no recourse except court action,” he said.
“Everyone should know that this so-called Silicon Wadi, this great land of startups is letting the military censor trample its Facebook users,” Gurvitz said, referring to Israel’s efforts to market itself as a forward-looking and open hi-tech haven.
“I think Facebook may have something to say about this,” he added.