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High Court Rules for Free Speech, Allows Public Criticism of Mossad

The High Court of Justice ruled Tuesday that the head of Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency, is not immune to criticism by the news media.

In rendering the decision for the court, Justice Aharon Barak said that with a few exceptions, the right to freedom of expression overrides claims of national security.

The High Court upheld an appeal by the Tel Aviv weekly Ha’ir against military censorship. It ruled that a story critical of the Mossad chief whom it said would soon be replaced may be published.

The story, which the military censor had “killed” five times, will appear Friday. The only restriction allowed is that the identity of the head of Mossad cannot be revealed.

The censor contended that public criticism of that official would be detrimental to the functioning of Mossad. Barak rejected the argument, observing that while criticism is unpleasant and sometimes even harmful, its suppression cannot be justified in a democratic society.

The decision was the latest in a series of High Court rulings over the past two years which have eroded the immunity of the secret services.

In 1984, the head of Shin Bet, the internal security service, and several of its operatives were forced to resign for falsifying information on the killing of two Arab bus hijackers by security agents.

More recently, the High Court overturned the conviction of Izzat Nafsu, a Cireassian officer in the Israel Defense Force found guilty by a military court of spying for Syria.

It found that the evidence used to convict him had been fabricated by the Shin Bet.

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