The report “These Matters are Unpleasant” examines in depth the activities of the Ministerial Committee on Access to Restricted Archival Material and shows how this body is used to keep countless pages of archival records confidential and hidden from the public, without any legal authority to do so. This practice impairs prospects to engage in a complex, fact-based discussion about history, produces a distorted history of Israel’s early statehood, and harms public and political debate.
The special Ministerial Committee, chaired by the Minister of Justice, is empowered by law to approve decisions made by the Chief State Archivist to block the declassification of archival records whose restricted access period has expired but that the Chief State Archivist believes should be kept closed due to concerns of national security, foreign relations, or privacy. The scope of the Committee’s activities is quite small, however the materials that the Committee has sealed to date (sometimes without legal authority, as the report shows), are materials that do not concern security concerns or foreign relations at all. As the findings of the research conducted by Akevot Institute and presented in the report show, the Ministerial Committee concentrates mainly on preventing the declassification of archival records relating to the Nakba, war crimes committed during Israel’s 1948-9 War of Independence, and Israeli policy regarding its Palestinian citizens.
The report shows how Chief State Archivists have used this mechanism to unburden themselves of some of the onerous responsibility they carry and defer difficult decisions on sealing records to elected officials. These records concern painful, key affairs in Israel’s history – Deir Yasin, the killing of civilians during Operation Yoav and Operation Hiram, the establishment of a Military Government to rule over Palestinian citizens of Israel, and more.
This practice joins two other levels of systemic and institutionalized concealment of archival records in Israel, both of which were covered in previous reports released by Akevot Institute. One practice is the operation of the Director of Security of the Defense Establishment (DSDE, also known by its Hebrew acronym Malmab) without the legal authority to deny public access to certain archival materials stored in non-governmental public archives. This practice was exposed in a report released in July 2019 – SILENCING: DSDE’s Concealment of Documents in Archives. Another more prevalent and more significant practice of concealing records stored in governmental archives is based on the denial of applications for the declassification of archival material – whether under false pretenses (misrepresenting protected interests as precluding the declassification of certain records) or by decisions made by officials without legal authority. This practice was described in detail in the report Point of Access: Barriers for Public Access to Israeli Government Archives, released by Akevot Institute in April 2016.