Government officials on Wednesday pointed fingers at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Mossad chief Tamir Pardo over the way they dealt with the “Prisoner X” affair.
Speaking to Channel 10 News, a government minister charged that “Netanyahu is causing a chain of errors which are just as serious as the affair itself.”
The same minister accused Pardo of not being knowledgeable enough in matters relating to the media in the modern world. The Australian reports about the affair caused Pardo to panic and lose his cool, thus causing Netanyahu to panic himself, said the minister.
Israel imposed a gag order on the details of the Prisoner X affair, but reports in the Australian media about it brought about the lifting of the gag order.
Prisoner X is believed to be an Australian citizen named Ben Zygier who allegedly committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010.
On Wednesday, the District Court in Lod removed the gag order on an investigation into the Prisoner X affair.
The story of the so-called Prisoner X first surfaced in May 2010 when Israel's Ynet news ran a story in which it alleged that a prisoner was being held in top-secret conditions, whose identity and crime were not known even to his jailers. The story, however, was quickly taken offline due to the gag order.
A court ruled on Wednesday evening that media outlets may reveal that there was indeed an Israeli citizen, who held foreign citizenship as well, who was held in an Israeli prison under a false name.
The prisoner was given a false name for security reasons. His real name or his false name were not disclosed by Israel, and Zygier has only been identified by name in the foreign media.
The government minister told Channel 10 that the government should seriously discuss the closing of Israel’s censorship institutions, which are in charge of imposing gag orders on such affairs. The minister suggested that instead of these institutions, Israel should impose criminal penalties on journalists who publish sensitive and restricted information, as is the practice in the U.S.
MK Israel Hasson (Kadima), a former deputy head of the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), told Arutz Sheva on Wednesday that he hopes no serious damage was caused by the publication of the affair.
“The damage did not start here in the Knesset but rather in Australia and probably would have come here one way or another,” MK Hasson said when asked if he believed the three MKs who exposed the Prisoner X affair in the Knesset plenum hurt state security.
“Once it is out you have no control over it. You can only make things go faster,” he added, saying he believed the MKs who grilled Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman about the affair, forcing Israel to lift parts of the gag order, should not have done what they did.
“I would expect my colleagues to try to act to minimize the damage,” said Hasson. “MKs (Zehava) Galon and (Dov) Khenin think that not publicizing the information will cause harm, but they are entitled to be wrong and I hope that not too much damage has been caused to the State of Israel.”