Dimi Reider, over at +972Mag, alerts us to some disturbing developments in Israel regarding freedom of the press.
In summary, this is a continuation of the Anat Kamm case. Kamm was convicted in February for passing classified documents on to Ha’aretz reporter, Uri Blau. As Reider explains, it seems that the target of the state’s efforts was not Kamm, primarily, but the reporter, Blau, she passed the material to, and Ha’aretz, the Israeli newspaper which, more than any other media source in Israel, is the reason Israel has a reputation for open media and a vibrant discussion of issues often considered difficult or even taboo in the United States.
I urge my readers to look not only at Reider’s excellent piece at 972, but also Richard Silverstein’s piece from last month regarding Kamm’s plea bargain as well as his original reporting on the Kamm affair. The work they’ve done is outstanding, and I’m not going to cover ground here that they’ve already done so well.
I’ll focus on two main points here. The first is the use to which the Kamm-Blau Affair is being put.
As Reider points out, virtually any reporter, Israeli or otherwise, has probably come into possession of classified documents at some point. We certainly know this to be the case in the United States, and the important uses this can be put to. We can also see not only what might have happened to Daniel Ellsberg and his exposing of the Pentagon Papers, but also the implications today for such groundbreaking incidents as Wikileaks and the Palestine Papers.
Israel is trying to cast a major chill on such investigative reporting. They are trying to put Uri Blau in jail for years for doing his job. The implications for investigative journalism, as well as independent blogging are enormous. Moreover, while the state declined to file any charges against Ha’aretz, it’s very clear that the desire is to send the paper a message about exposing Israeli crimes. The loss to Israel and the world if Ha’aretz is intimidated would be incalculable.
That, to be sure, is a remote fear at this point, though it could well become more serious as the trials of Kamm and Blau proceed. But it is also important to remember that the state got up in arms about this issue because Kamm revealed serious wrongdoings by her boss in the IDF at the time.
Silverstein quoted Yuval Diskin, head of the Shabak (Israel Security Agency) as saying: “My organization supports press freedom and the public right to know. The work the press does in a democratic country has existential importance and is no less important than the work done by the security service and the intelligence community. But I expect that the press will respect the work of the security services and act responsibly when dealing with material of this sort.”
Diskin was speaking of Anat Kamm. And it leads us back to what it was that Kamm revealed.
That was the behavior of Yair Naveh, at the time the head of the GOC Central Command. Naveh, according to the documents leaked by Kamm, ordered an extra-judicial killing and Naveh or other senior commanders even portrayed the operation as a botched arrest attempt. He did this because the order violated not only international law, but an Israeli Supreme Court decision banning such attempts in cases where an arrest is feasible.
In the West Bank, there is no law. There is the military, and there is very little supervision or accountability of that military. Israeli officers and soldiers, as a result, violate international law, and, at times, even Israeli law as a matter of course. We are very familiar with the extant terror Israeli military and political leaders feel about travelling abroad where they might be prosecuted for these crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
The attempt to create an atmosphere where Israeli journalists revealing Israeli crimes is a major felony is, like the Orwellian “anti-de-legitimization campaign” an attempt to allow the IDF to behave as it wants irrespective of the law while maintaining the by-now tattered façade of Israel as a state that respects the rule of law and desires a two-state settlement with the Palestinians.
It is also, quite obviously, yet another step in what is apparently the inexorable Israeli march away from democracy. It shouldn’t escape our notice either that Uri Blau has done work that drew considerable anger from both Avigdor Lieberman and Ehud Barak. There are numerous ways in which this whole episode just stinks like decayed vegetables.