Wednesday, April 28, 2010

After a brief sojourn into Wadi al-Mousa and Petra the other day, just 10 hours in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, plus an interesting moment at the Yitzhak Rabin border crossing on the way back involving an expired visa, there has not been much time to quote-unquote report. Time is always of the essence and it is a limited commodity.

Anat Kamm has disappeared again, this time from virtually all media accounts; the lens moved onto things like Icelandic disruptions of European travel plans, much more significant for geological and economical reasons; or onto the crisis in relations between Bibi and Bama—more precisely, the ideological crisis within Israel and its uber-Zionistic counterparts in the States. And the overwhelming silence of the moderates.

Take Ms. Kamm (below) as a case study. Since April 8 until the end of the month, the soldier/espionage case/cause celebre was a nonperson due to a gag order that would be lifted after enormous criticism and is now under house arrest awaiting trial. Let us get the facts in order before we can look at the broader implications. First we must seek out the hitna’alut, the way things were managed.

Uri Blau is (was?) a reporter for Ha’aretz, the premier Israeli daily. While traveling abroad, he received a reported 2,000 documents from a 23-year-old in the Zahal (IDF) named Anat Kamm. They are digital files of secret military reports on goings on in the West Bank. Kamm believed they document law-breaking in the officer ranks surrounding the controversial practice of targeted assassinations. The matter is found out and she’s under arrest. News media are told there had been a security breach; the GOC issued an order that nothing be said about it. (Shepherd Smith was shocked.) It is not known if Blau can return to his country.

The Forward weighed in on April 18, writing in its lead editorial (“Behind the Kamm Affair”), “Tempting as it is to turn Kamm and Blau into martyrs, their stories are not fully known, and what is known in complicated.” They ask why she copied (transferred to a flash drive probably, as Joel Katz speculated in a personal communication with this reporter) “so many documents, some of which allegedly contain sensitive information that could put at risk future military operations?” Those very documents were in Blau’s possession, and when his newspaper published them it had passed muster with the military censor. The allegation is not possible. Looking at the media analysis part of the equation, the Forward editorial dichotomizes reality: if you’re “on the left,” the Kamm-Blau affair “is but the most recent example of Israel’s dangerous march toward suppression of civil liberties and dissent in the name of security” and, if you’re “on the right,” these two “are grievously at fault for flouting the rule of law and abusing freedom of the press”—none of this was helped by the gag order, they write.

Richard Silverstein, a blogger, first broke the story for the Anglosphere in late March. He reported that “Anat Kam herself and others on the Israeli left have urged those who have published to remove their material” on her arrest, information the Shin Bet had blacked out. Further, “an Israeli peace activist told me that Kam was negotiating with the Shin Bet and hoped if little was made of this affair that she might get off with no jail time.” Silverstein concluded with a bit of equivocation: “I would hope her actions were based on a citizen’s disgust with the army’s brazen disregard for the rule of law. But it occurs to me, and I freely concede and even hope I am wrong, that the leak may’ve been motivated by an aspiring journalist who found herself in a position to advance her career by making such material public through Israel’s leading daily newspaper, Haaretz, and a respected investigative journalist, Uri Blau.” He did not know more at that time.

Yet by April 1, Silverstein noted that the story had reached the British press. He wrote, “The next time someone tells you journalism is all about the scoop, tell ‘em they’re wrong. For some reason, some scoops are too hot to handle.” In the London Times (April 3), James Hider reported that even the tabloid Ma’ariv sardonically commented, “Due to a gag order we cannot tell you what we know. Due to laziness, apathy and blind faith in the defence establishment we know nothing at all.”

Hider quotes from a 2008 report that surfaced which showed how “in March 2007 Major-General Yair Naveh…the senior Israeli commander in the West Bank at the time, allowed his men to shoot three leading Palestinian militants even though they did not pose a clear threat. The order was judged to be illegal by experts interviewed by the Haaretz journalist Uri Blau.” Kamm was working in Naveh’s office; she passed the allegedly incriminating evidence to Blau. “She faces up to 14 years in jail” if not a heavier sentence.

Looking at the media analysis part of the equation, the Forward editorial dichotomizes reality: if you’re “on the left,” the Kamm-Blau affair “is but the most recent example of Israel’s dangerous march toward suppression of civil liberties and dissent in the name of security” and, if you’re “on the right,” these two “are grievously at fault for flouting the rule of law and abusing freedom of the press”—none of this was helped by the gag order, they add.

Investigative reporter Max Blumenthal pointed out (“The Strange Disappearance of Anat Kam,” April 7) the dissonance of a democratic state doing something so blatantly anti-democratic. Yet first he also lays out the facts. The exact documents in question, which Kamm had swiped and sent off on CDs, “revealed that in 2007, [IDF] forces assassinated a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member in direct contravention of a Supreme Court order that banned the killing of wanted militants if there was a reasonable chance to arrest them first.” Blumenthal also points to Maj. Gen. Yavneh as one of the key culprits. He also mentions that the articles published under Blau’s byline about the story were approved by the military censor. “According to multiple sources, Blau is terrified to return to Israel.” It is also revealed that the gag order was “issued in January,” which means it lasted for about two months.

Blumenthal also wrote that “some Israeli bloggers have taken down their posts, fearing that they could harm Kam’s defense — and possibly place themselves in danger — by provoking the Shin Bet and reactionary political elements.”

In the London Guardian on April 8, the day the order was finally lifted, Rory McCarthy observed that 700 of the alleged “2,000” documents were classified as state secrets. The same day Yossi Melman, in Tablet, reminded readers that Kamm is “by no means a member of the anti-Zionist left.” Melman continues,

Kamm, who admired Blau’s writing, told him she had stolen copies of secret documents during her military service at the office of the head of the IDF’s Central Command. Sometime later she gave Blau some of the documents, which she had been holding for 18 months. (A first attempt to hand off documents to Yossi Yehoshu, a reporter for Yediot Aharonot, failed.) Haaretz published articles based on a few of them not long after, in November 2008.

…Blau revealed that in March and April 2007, while Kamm was working at the office of the IDF’s head of Central Command, the army’s highest ranking officers knowingly planned to violate a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that forbade the assassination of Palestinian militants when their arrest was possible. In April 2007, the IDF’s Central Command received permission to assassinate an Islamic Jihad leader named Ziad Malaisha. The assassination, Kamm’s documents reveal, was planned and approved in meetings with the head of the IDF’s Operations Directorate, Brig. Gen. Sami Turjeman, and the IDF’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

Summaries of the meetings reveal that the officers were aware of the Supreme Court ruling they would soon violate. The assassination, which was postponed because of the April 2007 visit of U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, took place in June 2007, the month Kamm left the army. Israel’s military censors approved Blau’s article, finding that its publication would not damage Israel’s national security.

That leaves Uri Blau, who explained himself by saying, “The Kafkaesque situation I found myself in forces me to return to basics. I am a journalist and my aim is to provide the reader as much information as possible and in the best way, with maximum objectivity. It’s not a personal agenda, or a matter of Left or Right.”

“Every journalist knows that exposes cannot be released without evidence — but no Israeli journalist has known until now that such exposes could have him declared an enemy of the state and find himself in jail,” he concluded.

Notices appeared in the April 7 and 14 issues of Ha’aretz that bear worth mentioning: first, former High Court justice Dalia Dorner “lashed out” against the gag order, saying it was “baseless” to do so given that “Israeli blogs and Web sites, along with foreign media outlets…have been discussing the affair in detail over the past several weeks” (Gili Izikovich).

A week later several other “prominent journalists” rallied to Blau’s defense, including Channel 1 newscaster Geula Even and Army Radio’s Razi Barkai, as well as “Israel Radio military correspondent Carmela Menashe, Yedioth Ahronoth researcher Ronen Bergman, and Channel 10 political correspondent Chico Menashe” (Ofra Edelman). The day before the blackout was lifted, Ze’ev Segal commented that the ruling “makes a mockery of Israeli democracy” (“The case we’re not allowed to report on”). All the while, the entire world knew what had happened.

In the December 1982 issue of Mother Jones Eric Nadler, writing about the growing influence of Kahanism, quoted Yossi Dayan, “Kach’s No. 3 man,” as saying, “you will soon see that our positions, which some call extremist or fanaticist, will be taken over—adopted by groups which consider themselves to be more mainstream than us. Wait and see.”

Amos Elon, writing in Life magazine (6 February 1970): “Israel was, after all, predicated upon a radiant dream of tranquility, of peace and justice for all men. It now finds itself in the morally disturbing position of a conqueror suppressing an alien population. Under present circumstances it cannot withdraw from the occupied areas without jeopardizing its basic security. But the spiraling effect of terror and repression, if the occupation continues, is bound to affect the moral fiber of society.”

1 comment:

Erez J Ofer said...

Hey Alex, I think that you will make a wonderful journalist. You are able to keep track of minute yet complex details and weave together a compelling story in which many paths converge.