Gag on Yom Kippur War report expires Friday, after 30 years

By Gideon Alon

Haaretz

Shvat 14, 5765

This Friday, the 30-year ban on publishing the report of the commission that examined the Yom Kippur War will expire.

The Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has been debating for the past two weeks how to decide which parts of the report may be published without harming the state's security.

The Agranat Commission, which examined the war's events, decided in 1975 that both its report and the protocols accompanying it would remain secret for 30 years - until January 28, 2005. However, the commission did not say who would decide which parts of the report could be published at the end of that period.

The Archives Law authorizes extending the secrecy rule on material in the archives to 50 years - i.e. until 2025. However, it is doubtful whether this applies to the Agranat Report, because the Archives Law contradicts the commission's decision to release the report after 30 years.

Fearing the release of secret information, the legal advisers of the Defense and Justice ministries have been lobbying for a law to create a special ministerial committee, headed by the justice minister and consisting of the defense, foreign, finance and public security ministers. The proposed committee would decide which parts of the report would not be released for fear of harming the state's security, foreign relations or individuals' privacy.

The Knesset approved the bill several weeks ago in a first reading and sent it to the Constitution Committee for preparation for a second and third reading. Committee chair MK Michael Eitan (Likud) strongly objected to setting up a ministerial committee, sparking stormy debate.

Eitan suggested that the IDF censor decide which parts of the report should remain secret for reasons of state security, and that a special committee headed by a retired judge decide whether to publish parts dealing with foreign affairs or personal privacy.

Tel Aviv University Ethics professor Asa Kasher also objected to a ministerial committee. He said that it was not suited to deal with censorship issues. He suggested setting up a professional committee specializing in state secrets, to examine the issue.

The Defense Ministry's legal adviser, Zvia Gross, disagreed. She said that "this is government material that was presented to the Agranat Commission. The government decides on its classification policy, like foreign affairs or nuclear ambiguity, not the censor. The censor's job is to make sure that things that were declared classified are not published."

Eitan interrupted her. "You're making a very grave statement. You're saying the censor will put a gag order on whatever is opposed to government policy."

Gross said that, "the government decides on the policy. The censor cannot tell it to lay off the subject."

Eitan then said, "What's the matter with you? Think carefully before you recite those words, because I think you're getting a little confused."

Later he said, "The cabinet has a right to preserve any document, subject to the Freedom of Information Act. In this state, we don't publish just what the government wants - heaven forbid if this should happen."

Finally, the Constitution Committee decided to shelve the proposal to set up a ministerial committee. Tomorrow, it will debate a bill to create a public committee headed by a retired judge, including by a public figure - probably a representative of the Press Council - and a cabinet representative.