Each day brings a new outrage in the Kamm-Blau case riveting Israel and much of the world. The National reports that the Shin Bet said it would “take the gloves off” in dealing with self-exiled Haaretz reporter Uri Blau and even consider kidnapping him to forcibly return him to Israel. Someone ought to tell this numbskull that the Shin Bet isn’t allowed to kidnap Israeli citizens on foreign soil. And considering the hot water into which the Mossad has fallen in England these days, it’s hardly likely they’d like to mount a kidnapping operation in London.
It’s true that they did kidnap Adoph Eichmann in Argentina and Mordechai Vanunu in Rome (they would’ve kidnpapped him in London but if would’ve meant offending Margaret Thatcher), but the acts of which they were charged were of a considerably different level of magnitude. Though I realize that for a Shin Betnik, used to always getting his man, such comparisons are meaningless.
The Shabak also said they would ask Britain to extradite him. I have an excellent idea, why doesn’t Britain offer to trade the Mossad agents who used fraudulent British passports in assassinating Mahmoud al-Mabouh in Dubai in exchange for Blau; or better yet, exchange a wanted Israeli general for Blau?
If I were David Milliband, Britain’s foreign minister I’d let the Israeli government know in no uncertain terms that such an act, were one even considered let alone attempted, would meet with a crushingly hostile response from Her Majesty’s government.
But seriously, this is getting ridiculous. What does the Shin Bet take Britain and the rest of the world for? Their offshore subsidiary? I just hope that Amos Schocken has hired a very good security agency to guard Uri. Maybe even a few ex-Mossad or CIA agents whose loyalty can be vouched for.
We do have to take all this with a grain of salt since it was published in the right wing Maariv which has been known to publish utter Likudist rubbish. On the other hand, given the Israeli security agency’s penchant for skullduggery, we shouldn’t rule out even the most outrageous Israeli behavior.
We should ask ourselves why the Shin Bet has practically put a price on Blau’s head. Really, this episode is nothing out of the ordinary for Israel. As numerous reports in the Israel press have pointed out, scores of IDF officers, secret agents and policitians have leaked top secret material to reporters before. Even Uri Blau published an IDF document given to him by another IDF soldier. When discovered her punished was 35 days confinement to base.
What makes this case different from all other previous Israeli leak cases? As several Israel bloggers have provocatively pointed out (among them Roy Arad here)–Uri Blau is really in a category all his own when it comes to Israeli investigative reporters. He goes where other reporters fear to tread. He gets the stories no one else can. He embarrasses the high and mighty and does so with astonishing regularity. In short, the man has a target painted on his back as far as the Israeli military-intelligence elite is concerned.
Let’s review some of the stories he’s published just in the past year: he revealed the embarrassing, racist, genocidal IDF T-shirts worn by veterans of Operation Cast Lead (Huffington Post rejected without explanation my own submission of this story); he reported that Gaby Ashkenazi and Ehud Barak engaged in numerous business deals before they returned to government and the IDF respectively and neither reported the transactions as required; he wrote that after Barak became defense minister and claimed his personal company would become inactive, nearly $2-million poured into it and the latter refused to explain where the money came from or what the company did to earn it; Blau exposed a similar mysterious consulting business run by Avigdor Lieberman’s daughter which received millions of shekels from overseas sources (Israeli police have questioned Lieberman multiple times and are rumored to be preparing an indictment).
Any number of powerful Israelis want Uri Blau dead or alive. And beyond prosecuting him, those he has angered want to so tarnish his repuation that no future source could ever trust him. Imagine if Nixon went after Woodward and Bernstein and threw the entire weight of the government against them to destroy them and their journalistic reputation. Powerful Israelis want Blau (in the coinage of the old Hollywood mogul’s threat) “never to work in this town again.”
And not just those in the political/military/intelligence establishment hate Blau. The story of this case is also the story of the utter failure of the Israeli press to do its job. The cowardice, the apathy, the laziness, the jealousy, the sycophancy. Yes, some Israeli friends have pointed out to me that an Israeli paper risks far more than an American if it defies a censor of the Shin Bet. In fact, it may risk all as Hadashot did in the Kav 300 episode.
But what they need to remember is that guarantees of a free press didn’t come naturally in this country either. If you don’t remember your American history, look up John Peter Zenger. There’s a publisher who Israeli media moguls ought to study. Any Israeli newspaper on its own could not be expected to do the impossible. But a united press could, and that’s what’s utterly lacking in Israel.
Uri Blau’s fellow newspapermen hate him, as this Haaretz op-ed by human rights lawyer Yuval Elbashan notes, because he does the kind of job they all should be doing but aren’t:
They were supposed to be the vanguard that protects Haaretz reporter Uri Blau on his journalistic mission. They were supposed to be at the forefront of the army protecting the freedom of expression, which also includes the journalistic liberty to possess leaked documents, whatever their origin.
As such, they were supposed to be the first to condemn the heavy-handed behavior of the Israeli security services…Their experience should have taught them that a journalist’s role is…to protect the fundamental values of the journalistic method and process.
But the leading military “reporters” and “analysts” in Israel chose not to carry out their duty. Even worse, not only did they fail to defend Blau, they opted to side with the assault on their colleague…
An outsider scrutinizing their conduct in this affair will not be able to avoid feeling shame. Of all people, they are the ones who took on the role of spokesmen for the establishment, as if they were still conscripts. With enthusiasm they reiterated the claim that the material held by Blau has the potential to cause harm…And they are the ones who volunteered the claim that the quantity of documents held by Blau is what makes him qualitatively different from them and their documents, and hence justifies his persecution.
The writer further notes that the IDF didn’t even have to break a sweat in laying out their talking points for the media because their dutiful stenographers, the military correspondents, did it for them:
…The Israel Defense Forces spokesmen and the media advisers of the premier, ministers and senior military commanders have remained virtually silent, and justifiably so. The military “reporters” did the talking in their stead, as if they were trying to show their loyalty to the system as the lowliest of its servants.
And here is the money quote which clearly portrays the difference between the way Blau saw his work as a journalist and the way they see theirs. And this goes to why they see him as such a threat:
…The way he perceived his work as an investigative reporter, which included writing about the defense establishment, is what is threatening them. Unlike many of these people calling themselves military analysts or correspondents, Blau was never among those who read the official beeper messages the IDF sends out to reporters. The fact is that most of his colleagues get a beeper message, call up one or two officers – the source of the original message – to verify its accuracy, and immediately run off to report the message.
Moreover, part of the routine of that elite group of military correspondents includes coordinated visits to our forces – geared up in flak jackets, eyes bright. From what they describe as “the field,” they parrot what the establishment was all too glad to make known: a planned operation, an advanced weapons system, the way the forces are advancing. That kind of journalism is more like serving as a spokesman than working as a reporter.
Even from his days at Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha’ir…Blau was different. He attacked the defense establishment, didn’t get chummy with its leaders (despite the temptation to have the sort of leaks that no one would dare investigate), tried to pry into its every dark corner and accepted nothing as self-evident. That is how he made major discoveries, but that also appears to be how he became an enemy of the establishment. Not the defense establishment (which would be understandable and reasonable in a democratic system of checks and balances), but the journalistic establishment.
In this sense the Blau affair is indeed a “glaring warning sign”…not because of the work he did but because of the work that others didn’t do, the ones who still dare to call themselves journalists.
Roy Arad has also written convincingly of the utter dysfunction of the Israeli press as a whole in the face of this threat:
Why aren’t Israeli journalists screaming bloody murder that the normal process in democratic countries of leaking a document to the press has been turned in Israel into betrayal of one’s country and grave espionage? Why is there no unified voice taking Israel’s secret police to task? Why are Israeli journalists so lacking in a sense of collegiality and solidarity with one of their own? Has newspaper competition and the bad blood between different papers (especially the deep detestation between Haaretz and Maariv) become more important than freedom of the press overall? Wouldn’t it be more fitting for the entire Israeli press corps to unite to protect itself in the face of this assault by the secret police on faltering Israeli democracy? The way in which some journalists have reacted to this case has been a black mark on the profession.
In the current case, Yuval Diskin, the Shin Bet director recently reappointed by Barak to his job, may be doing the bidding of his boss (or as Arad said, “Diskin is Barak’s poodle”) in pursuing Blau with a vengeance. Arad notes that Diskin’s term was extended for a fifth year just around the time the Kamm case broke. And in case anyone doubts this as a motive, during the Pentagon Papers case Attorney General John Mitchell offered the FBI director’s job to the judge in the case if he “took care” of Daniel Ellsberg. The Jerusalem Post reports today that Ashkenazi was especially angered by Blau’s reports on illegal IDF targeted killings and wanted the reporter targeted.
To me, the current Kamm-Blau case is “overdetermined” to use Freudian terms. The wrath of the authorities simply doesn’t fit the crime. That’s why many Israelis who’ve confided in me over the past month about this mysterious affair have said there must be a bigger hidden narrative. I agree with them. Personally, I think it’s very possible that the hidden hand may be that of Barak or someone doing his bidding. After all, Ehud Olmert was brought down and now faces trial on numerous similar counts that involved even less money than the $6.5-million shekels that Blau discovered in the Barak story.
H/t Rupa Shah.
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