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Israeli officials ask news media to kill 'embarrassing' story

February 12, 2013|By Edmund Sanders
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government asked Israeli news organizations not to cover a specific story.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government asked Israeli… (Abir Sultan / European Pressphoto…)

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Tuesday called an emergency meeting of the nation’s top news media editors and owners to ask them to refrain from publishing a story it said would be “very embarrassing to a certain government agency,’’ according to a report in Haaretz newspaper.

The story is believed to involve the mysterious arrest and death in 2010 of a man dubbed by Israeli news outlets as Prisoner X, who was said to have been held in isolation in a prison south of Tel Aviv.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Tuesday identified the man as Jewish Australian citizen Ben Zygier, 34, of Melbourne. The network's report said Zygier, who moved to Israel and used the name Ben Alon, had been recruited by Israel’s spy agency Mossad.

But for unknown reasons, he ran afoul of the agency and was arrested in 2010, according to ABC’s “Foreign Correspondent” program. He was held in solitary confinement in a high-security facility and was found hanged in his cell in December 2010, ABC reported.

The broadcaster’s account identified no sources and could not be verified. Government officials have declined to comment .

Early Tuesday, Haaretz published a story about the case on its website with a link to the ABC report, but it was taken down later in the day.  In the afternoon, the paper reported about the prime minister’s request, without mentioning the details of the case.

Israeli news outlets are required to submit their work to military censors, and according to one report Tuesday, news organizations were cautioned against running the story.

Liberal politicians criticized the prime minister’s attempt to bury the story, saying censorship does not belong in a democracy. The move also seemed to backfire by generating even more coverage about the attempt to squelch the story.

“Sooner or later, the public will learn what happened;  therefore it is better to tell the public the truth, within the confines of security,’’ lawmaker Nahman Shai told Israel’s Ynet Web site.

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