The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee decided on Tuesday to impose a blackout on an appearance of Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz before the committee, even though Gantz's statements contained no secret information, according to people who were present.
The decision was made in accordance with a new policy that was first reported by Israel Hayom. Under this policy, appearances before the committee by the prime minister, foreign minister and defense minister will be open to the media, while appearances by the heads of the IDF, Military Intelligence Directorate, Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) and Mossad will be closed, with no reports allowed on what they said.
On Tuesday, committee members were ordered to not give any information to the media about Gantz's statements.
The decision, which was approved by new committee head, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, aroused criticism from Knesset reporters, who asked for an urgent meeting with Lieberman and committee adviser Shmuel Letko.
For the past two decades, press briefings have been held following committee meetings, which are held behind closed doors. The new blackout policy coincides with Lieberman's appointment as chair of the powerful Knesset committee. During his term as foreign minister, Lieberman fought tooth-and-nail against leaks from his ministry, and instituted severe penalties on officials who spoke to the media without authorization.
Committee sources said the decision was meant to enable discussions on classified issues. They said the decision was made after Knesset members complained that the committee discussions had turned into press conferences that contained no new information.
A spokesperson for the committee said "the IDF chief of staff provided a periodic in-depth briefing [to the committee]. During the briefing, he referred to a series of operational, intelligence and budgetary issues. A special part of the discussion was devoted to discussing the equal burden issue and the possibility of expanding the absorption of ultra-Orthodox soldiers into the IDF."