Updated: Aug 3
Wednesday, May 5, 2021, 8:13 The Union of Journalists in Israel has requested to be added as a friend of the court to a petition filed by Honenu to the High Court of Justice on behalf of Elhanan Gruner, a card-carrying member of the Israeli Government Press Office. The request was made in light of aspects of the case which are relevant to the freedom of the press, and in light of the expertise of the Union of Journalists in Israel in this important and unique field, which pertains to the fundamentals of democracy and the method of law in Israel. The petition asks the court to order the State of Israel to justify why Gruner has not been presented with a full copy of the gag order which resulted in the removal of a tweet he posted on Twitter. (See here and here for more details.) The tweet includes a photograph of a policeman from the site of the accident in which Ahuvia Sandak, z”l, was killed in a police car chase. Attorneys Dr. Moran Saborai and Amir Basha, who are representing the Union of Journalists, wrote (translation by Honenu): “The death of Ahuvia Sandak, z”l, and the matter of how the police are handling the case caused turmoil in the Israeli public for several months. One may presume that it will be remembered in the collective Israeli consciousness as one of the issues that emphasizes the factious and painful elements of Israeli society. The question of if and how the police handled the case in the framework of the investigation being carried out and the investigation after the incident is a question of definite newsworthiness, which pertains to the right of the public to know. Publicizing the photograph of a policeman who came to the scene of an investigation is a journalistic action, one that may be countered by similar means, for example by publicizing other photographs and/or by spokesmanship and by explaining the circumstances due to which the policeman arrived on the scene, in one manner or another. Merely posting a photograph on a journalist’s Twitter account with a particular caption does not indicate that the information is correct, exact, and complete, and of course the Israeli Police is permitted and authorized, if they are able, to publicize a clarification or an explanation of the circumstances of the photograph and its intent. If the police had been of the opinion that the information was mendacious or distorted, or not the truth, they could have publicized other information, and they should have done so. “If, and to whatever extent the policemen handling the investigation of a case were or are exposed to a danger, it is possible, proper, correct and justified to provide them with the appropriate protection, including technical protection (bulletproof vests and other body armor), upgraded personal weapons, instructions as to how to handle areas hostile to police operations, and also personal security [a body guard]. “It may be that issuing a gag order and closing the Twitter account of a journalist is the easiest way to prevent the unpleasantness that was caused to the policemen and to protect them from hostilities or attempts to injure. However, when paying attention to values, to interests, and to the rights that are at stake – and at the heart of them the right of the public to know and the freedom of the press, which enables that right – it seems that these solutions are liable to be at the expense of Israeli democracy and the freedom of expression it holds. The result is undesirable and liable to be disastrous, in the final analysis. “The Union of Journalists finds it necessary to express concern that the Attorney General’s office did not find it correct to contact the journalist before issuing the gag order. The Union of Journalists is also concerned by the retroactive implementation of the gag order. It is doubtful that it is legitimate and justified, in general and in this specific case. The Union of Journalists is of the opinion that the conduct of the respondent in this context is liable to have a silencing and damaging effect on the freedom of the press and of the public’s right to know, and therefore – for this reason – the petition should be accepted.” Honenu Attorney Menashe Yado, who is representing Elhanan Gruner: “Since the death of Ahuvia Sandak, z”l, we have witnessed the rights of individuals and the freedom of the public to protest very quickly ending when it comes to protesting against the police. Dozens of protesters have been illegally detained, protests have been illegally prohibited, and currently we have come to a more acute violation, an unprecedented and unparalleled violation of the freedom of the press. “The journalist Kalman Liebskind who publicized an article about the death was summoned to an interrogation under warning. The summons was canceled ex post facto and David Rosen, the Ombudsman of the State Representatives in the Courts, confirmed that the cancellation had been legal whereas the summons had not been legal. The tweet posted by the journalist Elhanan Gruner was removed in an illegitimate way from the Internet, as also the Attorney General’s office admits today. However, as of this day, the Attorney General’s office is refusing to reveal the gag order which was issued in connection to the case. “We are fighting the Attorney General’s office, which took a side in this protest and is acting with increased and excessive identification with the police in stopping the legitimate protest voiced against it, whether at demonstrations or in the media or in additional ways. Hence the petition. We are pleased that the Union of Journalists has joined the petition. This indicates that the injustice which we are experiencing is objectively, in the opinion of the Union of Journalists, who are not suspected of having sectoral biases, an inequity which justifies protection by the High Court of Justice.