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Anat Kamm: the Story That Dare Not Speak Her Name

anat kam

Anat Kam in more carefree days

If you’re an Israeli editor or reporter, you know what thousands of other Israelis know.  That Anat Kam is under house arrest for allegedly leaking up to 1,000 top secret IDF documents to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who’s been writing some of the most hard-hitting exposes about army and defense ministry malfeasance over the past year or so.  You also know that Blau is in self-imposed exile in London aware that the police want him for questioning in the case and that Haaretz’s lawyers are negotiating for his return.

You know that there is a prosecution-requested gag order on the fact that she was arrested and the reason for her arrest, which makes her the most widely known “disappeared” person possibly in the world.  You know that Kam faces an espionage charge, and up to 14 years in prison.  You know that her lawyers are also negotiating a plea bargain and that she is hoping for no jail time or a reduced sentence.  You’d also know that Kam and her lawyer have lobbied hard and largely successfully for Hebrew blogs, Hebrew Wikipedia and other online sites to take down material about her arguing it will improve her chances of getting a less severe sentence.

That’s what you’d know.  And also what you can’t breathe a word of to your readers.  So what can you do?  You can write eloquent, oblique columns decrying military censorship, secret detentions, gag orders, the over-cozy relationship between the military, intelligence agencies and the judiciary.  You can even tell your readers there’s a really big story about which you can’t tell them.

It’s all very strange when you read such material.  It reminds you of a blind man feeling his way across the back of a camel and trying to guess what it is, all while you’re seeing it right before your own eyes.  You feel sorry for these poor souls who know many things but can’t convey them to the rest of their countrymen and women.  But after feeling sorry, you begin to feel angry that none of them takes the bull by the horns and does a Peter Finch, yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” and then spilling the beans.

While it’s true that Israeli media outlets could face severe sanction for breaking a gag order–their reporters could lose their licenses, government lawyers could tie them up in court for years, they could lose access to government news sources–it seems to me that if Israel is a democracy and if there is a press worthy of the name that someone has to step up and defy the bastards.  So far, no one has (though some brave Israeli journalists like Mya Guarnieri have reported the story for foreign papers).

Not so Israeli bloggers though.  They have stepped up to the plate.  They are reporting this story.  They are naming names.  They are not intimidated.  Blogs like Nimby, Philosophical Outlook, and Human Communication have done what blogs should do when all others around them have lost their nerve or their balls–they told it like it is.  There may be other blogs I’m overlooking and I’d love to hear about them.  I also invite those interested in learning more about this to join the bi-lingual Facebook group, We Want the Truth About Anat Kam, where I’m learning much of this.

Since I began this blog in 2003 I’ve felt a strong need to link my work to Israelis (and Palestinians) including bloggers.  It is important to share important political developments and create a sense of community between us and I’ve tried to do that.  Bloggers unfortunately don’t like being organized or told what to do or what’s important.  So my efforts have been fitful.  Sometimes like at the J Street bloggers panel they work and other times not.

Given the language gap it’s also proven hard to share out respective work.  You can’t easily reprint the best work of Hebrew language blogs unless you can translate it and that takes time and energy.  And vice versa.  All of this meant that bloggers in Israel and bloggers outside Israel were more or less like ships passing in the night.

But this story has changed that.  Now in their hour of need many Israelis see the benefits of foreign media including blogs.  That’s the only way they currently can stay up to date on what their government doesn’t want them to know.  This blog has more visibility inside Israel than perhaps it has ever had before.  What I hope is that this will not change after the Kam story does.  We need each other.

In one of the more ironic developments in a case loaded with irony, it seems that Anat Kam wrote a 2009 story for Walla while she worked there, covering a conference on the use and abuse of military gag orders.  The money quote and most poignantly ironic passage is this one from a senior Israeli police officer participating on the panel who, after reminding the audience of the supposedly welcome fact that the police request only 60 such gag orders per year, says:

Clearly I prefer to conduct investigations in secret, but I’m aware of the limitations on the police in a democratic society.  Sometimes, we seek to prevent publicizing an investigation in order that law-breakers won’t benefit from exposure of the information.

If the results of the Kam case weren’t so troubling, I’d almost call this irony delicious.  As it is, it makes me feel outrage.

How’s this for another irony: Wikipedia, which exists to disseminate knowledge and information irregardless of the whims of government authority decided in the case of Anat Kam to remove its article from Hebrew Wikipedia at Kam’s request.  You’d think the editors would’ve understood that self-censorship by Wikipedia itself is a terribly problematic development.  The article remains down.

I read another Israeli on Facebook pose an interesting argument defending Kam’s act of leaking top secret military documents.  He said that she could argue that though she was breaking the law in doing so, her leak was designed to uncover a far worse crime, that of targeted killings committed by the highest echelons of the military in violation of the law as determined by the Supreme Court.  This argument might work better in a constitutional democracy in which Court rulings are viewed as legal precedent.  In Israel that isn’t so.  But I still think it’s an appealing argument.

Finally, Ran Cohen of Nimby e-mailed me today that there is one benefit, either intended or unintended, for the IDF and intelligence apparatus in this gag order: it focuses attention on the plight of a young women while diverting attention from where it should be–on the rampant, unaccountable, illegal acts of the IDF high command.  It allows us to lose sight of the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court, faced with Haaretz reports that the army’s most senior officers were giving the judiciary the middle finger regarding complying with its 2006 ruling on targeted assassinations–did nothing.  The IDF enjoys virtual impunity in Israeli society and the Court does little or nothing to prevent it.  Uri Blau’s story reveals that for some in Israel the rule of law is little more than an inconvenient theory honored in the breach, if at all.

Anat Kam’s is the tragedy of an individual, while the documents she leaked reveal the tragedy of an entire nation whose democracy has been eviscerated.

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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Kalea April 5, 2010, 9:15 AM

    There are several attacks on Democracy going on with this case:

    1. The military and intelligences services are above the law.

    2. The military and intelligence services can order the courts to block and censor the press.

    3. The courts, the military/intelligence services AND the press/media are ALL complicit in subverting a true democratic system.

    The courts and the press are pillars responsible for ensuring the integrity of a Democracy, but they are reverting to the authority of the military rather than defending Democracy. It appears that no one really cares, since they are all complicit, and this is because there is no formal Constitution, and the problem can be narrowed down to two questions: What prevents Israel from having a Constitution? Is Zionism incompatible with Democracy?

    (The worst part is that Israel has also become the 5th column in the U.S. via Aipac. I know there will be some who question this statement, but the Lobby’s influence in Congress has really become more than obvious, making it impossible to exert a positive influence and impose measures to correct the direction of Israel’s misguided foreign policy.)

    • Gene Schulman April 5, 2010, 12:23 PM

      One could cite even more attacks on democracy in the US. Yes, the Israel Lobby has a lot of influence over the US congress, but so do the other military-industrial-complex lobbies have influence. And they are working in collusion. It is very convenient for Israel and the US to maintain this reciprocity in attempting to control the world, or at least the Middle East. Criticize not only AIPAC, look toward Obama and his controllers, too.

  • elad-vav April 5, 2010, 10:09 AM

    Thank you for reporting on this disturbing case. Your blog is where I first learned most of the details about this.

    One comment, though. You write: “which makes her the most widely known “disappeared” person possibly in the world”

    Well, not really. I know of at least two disappeared persons that are far more famous than her, and I assume there are more.

    One of these is Gao Zhisheng.

    Another is Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the eleventh Panchen Lama.

    Incidentally, these two were really “disappeared”, while Kamm could be better described as “banished” or “silenced”. Which teaches us that the Israeli regime has more to aspire to, and that the collapse of democracy in Israel can (and I believe will) continue quite a while more.

  • Tal Yaron April 5, 2010, 1:16 PM

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks for the good words (I am from the “Philosophical Outlook”). They help in such times :-)

    On what kind of colaboration did you thought of?


  • Donald April 5, 2010, 6:54 PM

    Are there some good Israeli blogs or for that matter Palestinian blogs published in English? I hadn’t really thought of this before–I read human rights websites sometimes (B’Tselem and one or two Palestinian ones occasionally, along with AI and HRW), but the blogs I read on this subject are written in America (or England, maybe, in the case of JSF).

  • americangoy April 7, 2010, 8:01 PM

    My god she is beautiful.

    Such a contrast to the, er, “judge” woman.

    I am always amazed that many beautiful women do not rely on the genetic luck of their looks and instead do much more with their lives than I ever did.

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