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Haaretz Reporter in Self-Imposed Exile Over Top-Secret IDF Leaks

Uri Blau: Israeli intelligence attempting to criminalize journalism?

Yesterday, I reported that Haaretz journalist Uri Blau is in self-imposed exile as a likely result of his publishing top secret IDF documents allegedly provided to him by Anat Kam.  Today, another reporter I was speaking to noticed that Blau has been publishing reports for Haaretz with a London dateline.  Though that is not the country a different source identified as where Blau now resides.  Wherever he is, we do know that he is a reporter in exile from his own country’s intelligence apparatus which appears to want to prosecute him for doing what good journalists do in virtually every democratic nation.

Blau left in December for a trip to Hong Kong with his girl friend.  An informant tells me that while there the authorities seized his computer (apparently after arresting Anat Kam) seeking evidence of involvement with her.  This may’ve been what caused him not to return.

When I began writing about this story I thought I was writing about a young do-gooder who leaked secret documents about IDF misbehavior out of a sense of duty to her country and its democratic values.  Now, I think this may be a story about an intelligence apparatus run amok who wants to criminalize the practice of journalism when it afflicts the military/intelligence elite.  It is bad enough that the Shin Bet secretly arrested Anat Kam and held her incommunicado for as long as it did.  But in the effort to take down Uri Blau we may have an even more disturbing story.

If anyone ever wants to understand the problem with a country not having a constitution with enumerated rights, this case illustrates it perfectly.  Israel has no freedom of the press in the sense that we do.  Journalists are not a protected class.  That’s why there can be military censorship (which operates under some supposed constraints established by the Supreme Court).  That’s why they can go after Uri Blau.  That is not to say that the Israeli press are docile and obsequious.  They can be quite probing.  But the fact that no Israeli publication has broken the Anat Kam gag order, despite the fact that The Independent’s Israel-based correspondent, Donald McIntyre, bravely reported this story yesterday, indicates how cowed the Israeli press can be regarding national security matters.

I remain concerned about the role that Anat Kam may be asked to play in this.  I fear that she is the little fish that the authorities will attempt to use to catch the big fish.

In a comment earlier today, Shraga Elam speculates that one of the things the police may wish to question Blau about is whether he actively encouraged Kam to steal the IDF documents.  My source tells me that Kam stole the documents without having any immediate media outlet for them.  It was only after she had the documents that she coordinated an arrangement with Blau.  Apparently, the two had already known each other before this incident occurred though I don’t know under what circumstance.

While I see Anat Kam as an individual having mixed motives, I am more sympathetic when I read how she is being trashed in the far-right Israeli online community.  At the right-wing internet forum, Rotter, phrases used to describe her were “spy,” “traitor,” “lock her up and throw away the key,” “to prison like Vanunu.”  It seems that extreme Israeli nationalism is ascendant and nothing can stand in its path in the current political climate.

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  • shockentchick March 31, 2010, 12:16 AM

    It’s certainly interesting to follow your speculations from here. Let’s say today’s post is much more accurate than your past week’s ramblings.
    Still, a few observations:
    1. Blau is in London alright. I don’t know who your “informant” is, but Haaretz wouldn’t run a false byline. Blau interviewed several people in London in the past week, in face-to-face meetings, so it was easy to conclude he’s really there.
    2. Israeli journalists are much more protected than their US counterparts. The Supreme Court has recognized protection of sources as a priviledge (a landmark ruling by supreme Meir Shamgar), while in the US, no less than 3 reporters are currently in jail because they refused to reveal their sources.
    3. That is not to say that your theory about a security apparatus running amok is unbased.
    4. Your earlier claim that Haaretz denied Anat Kam was a source is unbased. As reported in several media reports, Haaretz refused to discuss on sources (re-read the JTA report carefully and see for yourself).
    5. You imply that the gag order should be break down because the state tried to impose it. That is not true. The defense asked for it, and as reported everywhere, the court will decided next month if it accepts the motion from Haaretz and Channel 10 to lift it.

    • Richard Silverstein March 31, 2010, 1:05 AM

      Thanks for your addition to the discussion. It’s good to hear from someone closer to the sources than I am.

      We’ll have to disagree on the comparative protections enjoyed by journalists here and in Israel. We have a little something called freedom of the press written into our constitution via the Bill of Rights. You have a ruling by a Supreme Court justice and we all know through the IDF memos in Kam case itself how the military/intelligence services can ignore such rulings when it suits them. I would like nothing more than to see that Blau is afforded these protections. If he believes in them as much as you I assume he’d be back in Israel fighting for them. Though I make clear that I do not in any way blame him for not being willing to be a sacrifice on the altar of press freedom.

      I did not know the defense sought the gag order. I never read that reported anywhere & thank you for clarifying. In light of that I have even less sympathy for their case than I did before. Yuck is all I can say.

      • yaman March 31, 2010, 10:08 AM

        I have to agree with the original. I think military and government censorship are anathema to the concept of a free press but it is not one that a written constitution would necessarily resolve. How much of our constitutional law is actually written in the constitution in the United States anyway?

        I think looking at constitutions and court systems is the wrong way to approach this, especially if you are making a comparative judgment. It is better in that case to look at media practices — and then you can see how the law may have an effect, but it is not necessarily the most important aspect. For example, how many stories of major government scandals, illegal wiretapping and the like, has the press voluntarily withheld due to its voluntary collaboration with the government? From my perspective a voluntary self-censorship is worse than government repression, because it reflects a harmful press culture and relationship.

    • Richard Silverstein March 31, 2010, 9:51 AM

      Your earlier claim that Haaretz denied Anat Kam was a source is unbased. As reported in several media reports, Haaretz refused to discuss on sources (re-read the JTA report carefully and see for yourself).

      OK, here’s what Dov Alfon said to JTA:

      Dof [sic] Alfon, the editor in chief of Haaretz, said the linkage between Kam’s arrest and the 2008 article, made in a number of blogs, is “absurd.” He implied that the investigative reporter, Uri Blau, had obtained the information without assistance from Kam

      I find it really hard to parse this based on what you’ve written above. It is true that in his comment above he isn’t denying Kam was a source. He’s merely denying her arrest has anything to do with the Blau article. But what is all this supposed to mean?

      I’d be eager to talk to you privately if you’re willing to do so. I’ve sent an e mail to the address you used in yr comment, but I don’t know whether you used a real address or not.

    • Richard Silverstein March 31, 2010, 10:55 AM

      On 2nd thought, yr claim about the gag order doesn’t make any sense. I have direct information that the IDF is enforcing the gag order & not the defence. So it appears that some of yr information is not so accurate either. If you have any support for yr claim I’d be very interested in hearing it.

  • Tina March 31, 2010, 2:52 AM

    I can hardly understand your lack of symapatrhy to
    Anat. I’m asking sincerely: what do you have against her? Have you tried to talk to her in order to understand her motivation, or you just assume without considering the consequences? By doing that you are no better than the guys in Rotter. Making speculations which more and more people read evey day, and some even copy from your blog, is a terrible injustice.

    Allow me to correct the person above: Anat’s lawyers did not ask for the gag order. The prosecution did that because of the secrecy of the documents and in order to keep the identity of the Shabak people secret. The defence lawyers did not ask for the removal of the gag order, and they have every right to do so.

    First of all, as you know, in democratic countries a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. However, the streets have no mercy and people can physically attack her for being public enemy. It may come as a surprise to you, but people do that in Israel. Secondly, if the gag order can help Anat lessen the accusations gainst her, then it is more that understandable why she doesn’t want the story to go public. She must think about herself before thinking about democracy, freedom of press and all the other supreme principles you are so concerned about.

    I know Anat did what she did because she couldn’t see what the IDF was doing in the occupied territories and ignore it. I salute her for doing that. But it doesn’t mean that on behalf of her ideology she should go to prison for 20 years. Please do not judge her.

    • Richard Silverstein March 31, 2010, 9:44 AM

      If you’ve read everything I’ve written here about the case you’d know that I’ve said more or less what you just said above. I can understand the predicament of a 23 yr old who does something for what she thinks is a good reason & then realizes she’s gotten herself in a whole heap of trouble. But the best response if her motives were as you claim would be to make this as public as possible & to fight against the gag order. That’s what someone would do who did what she did out of principle.

      Further, Anat when she has commented publicly on the case has written very harshly & derisively of those who have spoken out about it. Again, this isn’t the approach I would think someone would take who acts out of moral conscience. If I’m to feel sympathy for her I need a reason to do so. And all you’re offering is blind faith that Anat acts out of pure motives. I need more than blind faith in order to trust her motives. I need more information to make such a judgment.

  • Kalea April 1, 2010, 12:50 AM

    I think it’s very ironic that Israel doesn’t have a Constitution. The reason for this I believe is because Zionism is contrary to human rights and principles that guide all democracies in general.

    A Constitution is the foundation upon which a nation rests and prospers. The foundation of Israel is Zionism. The reason that Zionism excludes the creation of a Constitution is because Zionism is a fragile, paranoia-based ideology that needs to be protected above and beyond the rights of the individual and the rule of law.

    Zionism is based on maintaining the Jewish identity of the state first and foremost and is founded on a premise of injustice against Palestinians.

    It’s on these bases, that racists, like Yaakov Katz and others, get to have seats in the Knesset and also how “Rabbi” Yitzhak Shapira receives funding from the state so he can educate settlers on the King’s Torah which basically justifies violence against all Palestinians because unfortunately for them they are the designated, modern-day “Amalek”.

    Zionism is an ideology that trumps the law, in this case a law supposed to protect the basic human rights even of the “enemy” and journalists who try to defend such established law. Zionism is an ideology built on the pretext of “security and survival”, but really it is a fear-based ideology and victory cannot exist with fear, because fear is ultimately a self-destructive force.

    Israelis must summon the courage to be guided by their conscience over fear if they wish to see the State of Israel survive.

    Here’s just another “great” excuse in a list of hundreds that will be used to circumvent the law:

    http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Article.aspx?id=172123

    In a fear-based society, the law and the rights of individuals will always be secondary. Until recently, it didn’t really matter, because only the Palestinians were subjected to this reality, but now that Israeli citizens are becoming the victims of such injustice, suddenly it touches a sensitive nerve and the outrage is starting to be taken seriously, but Palestinians have been enduring this outrage for decades and no one cared or bothered to defend them with the courage of their conviction, except perhaps a few enlightened individuals who paved the way, like: Rachel Corrie, James Miller, Thomas Hurndall and the countless innocent Palestinian victims who died in the midst of this injustice, who were barely mere statistics ignored by the mainstream media and everyone else, because only Israeli victims had names, faces, families and lives that were precious enough to be identified.

    Finally, some Israelis (Kam, Blau, Chazan..) understand what Martin Luther King meant by: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” because they’re realizing they too are the victims of this inherent injustice.

    • Richard Silverstein April 1, 2010, 9:01 AM

      Historically you’re wrong or at least I would explain the reasons differently than you. Israel has no Constitution because the State found no way to reconcile the religious dimension with secular democracy. So Ben Gurion & others didn’t feel they could reconcile the political conflict bet. these 2 factions.

  • David April 8, 2010, 2:00 PM

    Can we just try changing the names and see what we think? Let’s say some army secretary of a US General walks out of his office with all of our intelligence and operations information on the Taliban, Airport Security, or insurgents in Iraq, including US operatives and their informants, most classified at various levels, and then turns it over to the press. In the right hands, this information has the potential to undermine our operations, maybe even raise the count of body bags. Leaving aside the obvious immediate court-martial, there is a legitimate security concern that at some point trumps freedom of the press, especially when there are other legal channels to address any military wrong-doings, such as a turn-over of materials to the very sympathetic state prosecutor with an agreement for exclusive access, or the publication of certain documents properly redacted so that the potential accused could have a fair trial.

    • Richard Silverstein April 8, 2010, 7:28 PM

      Bullcrap. Here’s the relevant analogy. Let’s say Pres. Obama approves murdering an American citizen in cold blood & a Pentagon file clerk takes umbrage & leaks the documents to Seymour Hersh. Oops, I guess we’re already planning to do that with Aywlaki. But the pt. is the documents in NO WAY harmed Israeli security. Rather, they proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the IDF top brass were violating Israeli law & killing people in cold blood & lying in covering it up. Now try to defend THAT.

      You either don’t have a clue what was truly involved in this case (in which you should read before revealing yr ignorance) or you’re a true blue defender of Israeli security goons.

      turn-over of materials to the very sympathetic state prosecutor

      This isn’t Washington DC buddy. This is Israel. There are NO sympathetic state prosecutors in cases like this. Even the Supreme Court wasn’t taking the top brass to task for these murders. Would you expect a state prosecutor to take on the case when the highest court in the land was allowing the generals to get away literally w. murder.