The country’s hi-tech surveillance industry is part of its identity – which is why its dark side often goes unexamined
After extraordinary revelations that the Israeli company NSO Group’s mercenary cyber-surveillance tool, Pegasus, was allegedly used to target political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and politicians around the world, Israel should be asking itself a few questions. Does its groundbreaking hi-tech industry have a dark side? Do the actors involved in exporting lucrative surveillance products – including the defence ministry, which must approve such sales, or perhaps the top levels of the previous government – bear responsibility?
While top Israeli officials are taking the revelations seriously, Israelis appear neither shamed nor shaken. The day after the NSO story broke, there was an announcement from another company that would eclipse talk of the rogue use of surveillance spyware. Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would cease the sale of its products in the “occupied Palestinian territories”. By midweek one had to squint to find NSO in the Israeli media, as the ice cream incident was dominating headlines. Persecution of human rights defenders, sabotaging freedom of the press, surveillance of political opposition and possible links to grisly murder all took second place, while a non-violent political protest by a single private company, set to begin a year and a half from now (when Ben and Jerry’s licensing deal runs out), overshadowed everything.