What Is Shin Bet Hiding About Killing of Israeli Accused of ‘Selling His Soul’ to the Nazis?

Nadav Kaplan, 75 – a historian, businessman and colonel in the Israel Air Force reserve – reported on Monday to the High Court of Justice. As did members of the Shin Bet security service, among them “Roni,” the code name for the director of the agency’s heritage department. Before a panel of three justices, headed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, this group tried to go back 63 years, to one of the most turbulent, sensitive and painful affairs in Jewish and Israeli history.

A little after midnight on March 4, 1957, Israel (Rudolf) Kastner – journalist, official in the trade and industry ministry and a member of Mapai, the forerunner of today’s Labor Party – was shot and wounded outside his home in Tel Aviv. Less than two years earlier, the Jerusalem District Court had ruled that Kastner had “sold his soul to the devil,” by collaborating with the Nazis. Kastner was admitted to a hospital in the city, where he died a few days later under still-mysterious circumstances.

Kaplan, who investigated the episode and made some discoveries regarding possible Shin Bet involvement in Kastner’s death, petitioned the High Court to demand the unsealing of still-classified documents held by the Shin Bet and the Israel State Archive.

In its response to the High Court, published here for the first time, the state argues that making the documents public, even decades after the affair, could still endanger national security. There’s another problem, as well. The state admits that a great many documents are involved, and the Shin Bet doesn’t have the resources to review them all before releasing them to the public. According to the state, the material it is concealing about Kastner’s murder is so extensive and complex that dealing with it could “greatly burden the work of the [Shin Bet] in fulfilling its mission and carrying out its roles according to the General Security Services Law.” The state is willing to provide further explanations to the court “behind closed doors ex parte only.” That is, without the presence of the historian seeking to view the materials and understand why they are closed to the public.

Nadav Kaplan in the Tel Aviv street where Kaplan was shot, February 2020. Moti Milrod

On Monday, the High Court asked the state why the Shin Bet fears that publishing the documents will uncover the organization's methods and harm state security, 63 years after the fact. Justices asked whether these same Shin Bet methods, in use when Kastner was murdered over half a century ago, still relevant in 2020? 

At the end of the closed-door hearing, which lasted a little over an hour, Hayut said that the Shin Bet and government representatives had still not provided the judges with a reasonable answer as to why the files must be kept sealed. The Shin Bet, she ruled, now has 60 days to produce a letter justifying their opposition to unsealing the files.   

Kaplan, who was born in Moshav Avihayil in 1945, served as a navigator in the air force and took part in operational flights of Squadron 109, headed former IAF commander Benny Peled’s bureau and headed the IAF planning division. He has called on his background, which made him party to quite a few military secrets, to show that “there is no justification in the world” to use security considerations to prevent historical research into a 63-year-old affair.