TORONTO (Sep. 18)
A book purporting to expose the activities of Israel’s secret intelligence agency, Mossad, went on sale Tuesday in Canada, after the Israel government dropped legal attempts to have it banned.
Israel decided not to seek renewal of the temporary injunction it obtained Sept. 7 from the Ontario Court of Justice, because the book’s publication in the United States last week rendered the issue moot.
Israel had claimed the revelations contained in the book, however false, would compromise the safety of Mossad agents. Persuaded by that argument, a New York State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan temporarily restrained publication of the book on Sept. 12.
But his order was quashed the following day by the court’s Appellate Division. St. Martin’s Press immediately stepped up publication.
“The harm we were seeking to prevent has already occurred,” Joel Goldenberg, a Canadian lawyer representing Israel in the case, told the Ontario court Monday.
He was referring to publication in the United States of “By Way of Deception: A Devastating Insider’s View of the Mossad,” written by Canadian-born Victor Ostrovsky along with Canadian journalist Claire Hoy.
Ostrovsky, who holds dual Canadian-Israeli citizenship, worked for Mossad from 1984 to 1986. Israeli officials say he was dismissed as “unfit” after 18 months as a trainee.
Israeli officials described the book as a “fiction with a sprinkling of facts.”
But Israel’s image abroad apparently was more seriously damaged by its attempts to suppress the book than by the alleged exposes.
The episode is the subject of a closed-door inquiry by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence, which met Tuesday in Jerusalem, for the second time in two days.
SHAMIR REPORTEDLY AUTHORIZED DECISION
On Monday, the panel heard a report from the chief of Mossad, whose identity is top secret.
The three-member watchdog panel, which oversees Mossad and the Shin Bet internal security agency, wants to know who ordered legal action in the Canadian and U.S. courts, and why they did so.
The panel is also investigating who recruited Ostrovsky for Mossad, who investigated his background and why he was accepted for training, in light of his later dismissal as “unfit.”
According to reports from Jerusalem, the decision to seek court injunctions was taken by the head of Mossad, with the concurrence of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, himself a former Mossad operative.
According to the reports, they knew Israel’s appeal was bound to fail, especially in the United States, where the courts regard prior restraint as a unconstitutional.
But the Mossad leaders, it was reported, wanted to gain time for “damage control” before the book appeared. A campaign was mounted in Israel to discredit Ostrovsky, who was described as a prevaricator motivated by greed and a grudge against Mossad.
(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)