Earlier this afternoon I was at a weekly gathering of some 15-20 friends. A judge, four professors, four mere PhDs (that's me), some attorneys, a few physicians, some highly successful business people. We convene for a Talmud study session led by the judge, but the participants are of varying degrees of religious observance, from not at all to rather strict. Our politics are likewise diverse. The consensus was that Haaretz has broken all the rules; three of those present said they were going to cancel their subscriptions. I can't remember the group ever being so agitated.
The Poles have far greater woes this weekend than the Israelis, as do the Thais. The Anat Kamm story which has us all worked up is not really important, and I hope to stop dealing with it very soon. Yet I do wish to summarize it as it looks after spending a few hours carefully reading Haaretz - where it was by far the main story - and some other papers, where it was major but not exclusive.
The story began when Anat Kamm allegedly stole 2000 classified documents from the office of her commander, CO of the Central Front, Yair Naveh, between 2005-2007. Allegedly, because she hasn't yet been convicted, let us not forget. The documents dealt with many matters, of varying seriousness. The security forces say that once they had figured out what had been stolen they had to make changes to operational procedures and change operations, out of fear their details had leaked. We're a country at war, people get killed in our wars, and this theft interfered. No-one's saying anyone was killed, but as we say in Hebrew, that was more luck than brains. Also: the documents are still out there. They haven't been retrieved yet.
The lesson to be drawn from this part of the story is that the counter-espionage folks better get their act together.
Kamm's upcoming trial may cast light on the matter of her motives. We know (because she has openly said) that she holds seriously Left political opinions. However, she tried to join pilot training when she was 18, and during her military service she tried to be sent to officer training; both would have meant adding time to her service, and neither indicate an anti-Israel position. It sounds like she was a Meretz voter, and those people don't engage in treason anymore than anyone else. I'm not a lawyer, but my sense is that they're doing her a disservice by playing up any ideological motives. Were I in their place I'd portray her as silly, unthinking, and hope for 3 years in jail rather than 20.
Some of Israel's critics are dong everything in their power to portray her as a brave whistle-blower. (Silverstone, Mondowiess). The problem with this story line is that she didn't blow any whistles while she was in a position to do so, and after she left the army it took more than a year before she found anyone willing to look at her documents. (A journalist at Yediot, Israel's most popular paper, seems to have refused to look). My sense is that she tried to show the whole trove, not a specific document in it - but I could be wrong.
Eventually Uri Blau at Haaretz was interested. That was the turning point which changed the story from minor to major, and will probably cost Anat Kamm an extra decade in jail.
Before picking up the Haaretz strand, a reflection on political theory. In democracies, the electorate is sovereign. It expresses its sovereignty by periodically electing legislators who then elect the executive (or the executive is directly elected, in presidential democracies). The executive operates according to the law, as legislated by representatives of the electorate, and within the parameters of the constitution, which is also ultimately subordinate to the electorate. In order to ensure that the sovereign electorate is well informed about what its various elected representatives are doing, in the legislature and the executive, it's important to have freedom of speech, and freedom of information.
I recognize that it's more complicated than that, but those are the outlines.
The press does not have exemptions from the law, though in practice the executive is expected to respect the crucial role played by the media (when it does its job).
Over the weekend I spoke to a number of attorneys, including attorneys trained outside Israel. All were emphatic that journalists are not allowed to break the law. Not in Israel, not elsewhere.
Uri Blau did, when he published a story based on Kamm's stolen documents. Moreover, his editors (stupidly, in retrospect), published full pictures of some of the documents, thus giving the counter-espionage people a starting point for their investigation - which they duly used.
Haaretz republished most of Blau's story over the weekend, to remind us that the real culprits are the generals who are not behaving correctly. In brief, the High Court of Justice ordered that Palestinian terrorists not be assassinated in cases where they can be arrested; Kamm's documents seemed to be saying the generals were disregarding this order. Since Haaretz was so helpful as to re-publish the story, I feel confident in saying it isn't convincing. The documents they cite seem to be saying that the terrorists must be arrested, but if the choice is between letting them get away or killing them, they should be killed. In other words, precisely what the High Court said. There was also mention of the fact that should there be a need to fire at the terrorists, this would be permissible even if there was one single unidentified individual with them - but not two, say, or four. We know that in the invasion of Iraq the Americans were allowed to assassinate identified enemies along with up to 29 civilians - so the documents Kamm stole seem to prove the opposite of what Uri Blau said they proved.
So Kamm wasn't a whistle-blower, and Blau wasn't uncovering an uncomfortable truth the IDF needed to hide.
Much has been made about the fact that the story was submitted to the censor, so it must have been OK. This is dishonest, as the purveyors of the line know perfectly well but their gullible audience may not. It could perhaps have been true back in the 1960s, when the censor had teeth and was active. Ever since then, however, the powers of the censor have been whittled away, by technology, by public pressure, by reality. Nowadays the censor blocks stories with the potential to cause harm to life in clearly identified ways, but that's about it. A story in November 2008 about a discussion between officers in 2006 about an event which has long since passed won't be blocked by the censor.
You don't believe me? Go to the archives of Channel Two radio and see all the stories broken over the years by their fantastic correspondent on military matters, Carmela Menashe. Go to the archives of the newspapers and see the stories of reserve soldiers who reported - in real time, not two years later - that Israel's allies the Lebanese Phalanges were murdering people in Sabra and Chatilla in September 1982. Or go to the websites of Breaking the Silence, or for that matter, to the websites of any of the two dozen left-wing NGOs who regularly tell about all the awful things Israel does (or more accurately, often doesn't do but the stories are there anyway). Then ask yourself what sort of a censor it is who "allows" all these stories to appear, and if the Uri Blau story of November 2008 was so daring.
Since Haaretz had so helpfully shown the stolen documents, the counter-espionage officials came to talk with Blau. Had he been anything other than a journalist, he'd have been summarily arrested and facing many years of jail. But since he's a journalist, and democracy needs journalists to be able to act freely, he wasn't arrested. A deal was cut with him and he agreed to give back the stolen documents, so that they'd never reach someone more dangerous than Haaretz.
Blau returned 50 documents. When the investigators found Kamm independently of him, she told them there had been 2000 documents, not 50. The went back to Blau and his newspaper to retrieve the other 1950 documents, but he absconded, and his lawyers - who are the lawyers of Haaretz - have refused to return the documents.
All the attorneys I talked to over the weekend agree this is illegal. It's also stupid, I'd think. If I were in the Iranian intelligence services I'd be frantically looking for Uri Blau about now, obviously. Our counter espionage forces say this fear is what lead them to insist on that gag order until after they got the documents back, which makes sense but was probably a bad decision for other reasons. Yet if that's how it happened, Haaretz carries some responsibility for the gag order, too.
So far, Haaretz comes out of the story badly. Their Friday (weekend) edition made things much worse. The editor in chief collected his entire staff and told each and every one of them to write a story based on their particular areas of expertise, but the common line was to be that the State if Israel is wrong. It's laws are outdated. It's system of classification of military documents is designed to protect the generals, not to serve the security of the state. Uri Blau wrote about how he's the protector of our democratic freedoms. And so on and so on and so on. Importantly, the attack was not against the Netanyahu government: it was against the State of Israel, its laws and its institutions. All of the articles were translated to English, of course, and put on the paper's website:
Ze'ev Segal, the editorial, Anshel Pfeffer, Amos Harel, Uri Blau, Ron Leshem, Aluf Benn, Gideon Levy, Reuven Pedatzur, Akiva Eldar. Avi Issacharoff wasn't pulled into the morass, perhaps because no-one could figure out an angle to use his Palestinian sources to besmirch the country in this context.
For many years Haaretz used to advertise itself as "The newspaper for thinking people". This was an edition indistinguishable from Pravda. Every single one of the articles trotted out the party line; not a single journalist dared let out a peep of dissent. There was chattering galore about the freedom of press which is somehow under siege, and the sanctity of the High Court which was allegedly tainted, but not a single word about the bald fact that Haaretz has been and still is engaged in brazenly illegal actions. Silence, nada, nothing. Brezhnev would have been proud.