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Latest Shin Bet Outrage: Threatening Eichmann-like Abduction of Blau

yuval diskin

Yuval Diskin: will kidnap Blau to bring him to justice

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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  • Kalea April 12, 2010, 10:48 PM

    Didn’t I read earlier that Kamm is urging Blau to return to Israel? I find this very strange.

    Is it possible that she’s being used to lure Blau into a trap?

    • Richard Silverstein April 12, 2010, 11:13 PM

      Funny you should mention a “trap” as Feldman, Kamm’s attorney specifically says he feels certain that Blau will not be “tricked” if he returns. All that’s ironic in that Kamm was unmasked & arrested precisely because the Shin Bet violated a written agreement with Haaretz NOT to further investigate the source of Blau’s leaks if he returned the documents he promised & witnessed the destruction of his computer. All of which he did, no sooner than which they turned around & arrested Kamm. Remember the lyrics to that Who song: “We won’t be fooled again!” That’s precisely what Blau’s probably listening to right about now on his iPod.

      What I understand that Kamm did is that she released him from his journalisitic commitment to maintain her anonymity. And she did ask him to return though I’m not sure why. This in turn may enable him to confront the authorities as it did Judy Miller in the Scooter Libby case. But I still don’t see why it’s in his interests to return at this point.

      • Kalea April 13, 2010, 12:15 PM

        How can he return? Who can trust Shin Bet when they failed to honor their agreement with Blau? I can only imagine what they’ll do to him if he does return.

        If he has proof of “war crimes”, he should inform the International Crimes Court and see if somehow he can get protection under International Law.

        I hope his lawyer is investigating all avenues to protect him from Shin Bet who could care less about Israeli Law or International Law.

        Perhaps this will advance the Goldstone Report to prosecution by the International Criminal Court, but maybe it’s just my wishful thinking.

  • bar_kochba132 April 13, 2010, 7:23 AM

    Interestingly enough, Yossi Beilin, in a column in Israel HaYom, says Kamm should be prosecuted and put in prison.
    It has been pointed out that if she was aware of malfeasance in the IDF she should have gone to someone like Yossi Sarid who is on the Left, yet has a long history of involvement in security matters, and he has had high-level security clearances. It is speculated that had she decided to do it the way she did because by going to a politician she would have missed on the her 15 minutes of fame that leaking it to a journalist has brought her.

    • Richard Silverstein April 13, 2010, 9:34 AM

      I’d rather read what Yossi Beilin wrote before passing judgement on him. But there is much that Beilin does & says w. which I disagree. This may be yet another subject where that is the case. I’d like Yossi Beilin to take a lie detector test & be asked whether he has ever passed top secret gov’t documents to a journalist. Undoubtedly the answer would be yes. And then I’d like him to face what Anat Kamm is facing & see whether he’s still singing the same tune.

      she should have gone to someone like Yossi Sarid who is on the Left

      What makes you think she didn’t? How do you know who she approached & who she didn’t? YOu don’t. So don’t waste our time w. baseless speculation.

      It is speculated

      More worthless speculation fr. unknown sources who don’t know their asses fr. their elbows. Anat Kamm has said to the Shin Bet that she did what she did to reveal possible IDF war crimes. I’m not prepared to entertain cynical rightist conspiracy theories that place Kamm in the worst light possible unless you can prove that she actually said or did something specifically that supports this claim. If you can’t do this, keep it to yrself & go publish it at Rotter. They love such speculation.

      • Aryeh April 13, 2010, 4:09 PM

        Richard – I am sorry to see you are deeming the “cynical theories” (which are hardly conspiracies – no-one claims Kamm conspired with others on the issue) to be “rightist”.

        The facts we have point at least equivocally if not stronger to the personal motives than to the “whistleblower” motives. I fail to see why leftists cannot consider this option in understanding the story.

  • fiddler April 13, 2010, 8:32 AM

    Vanunu was actually kidnapped in Rome, after having been lured there from London by a female agent.

    What I don’t understand is the Shin Bet’s insistence on Blau returning the documents. From their POV, how would they know Blau hadn’t made another set of copies? And from Blau’s POV, wouldn’t he have to be afraid of being held hostage forever by the Shin Bet, who might blame any subsequent leak of any document from the time frame of Kamm’s army service (whether or not the specific document was among those copied by Kamm) on him? For an investigative journalist such a deal would be professional suicide, wouldn’t it?

  • fiddler April 13, 2010, 8:37 AM

    Is being moderated the consequence of any dastardly deed on my part, or is it just that I have dynamic IP? (I’ve always had the latter.)

    • Richard Silverstein April 13, 2010, 9:30 AM

      Yes, first time commenters are moderated via their IP. Sorry about that. It has nothing to do w. you. It’s more a protection from abusive first time trolls and commenters who spew venom. Usually, if I can catch them the first time they don’t return. So it’s the dynamic IP that’s the issue for you.

  • Medawar April 13, 2010, 10:57 AM

    They might try to abduct someone in London.

    What is less clear, is whether or not they would succeed.
    The most probable outcome of a Dubai-style operation in London would be twenty to thirty Shin Bet operatives in custody facing a full process of law that tends to grind regardless of political pressure, and certainly grinds away regardless of threats and intimidation.

    And there are many hitherto unsolved crimes on the books that might be solved by an influx of Israeli agents into the UK’s DNA database, as shared with most of the free world.

    How dumb do you think they are, Richard?

  • DICKERSON3870 April 13, 2010, 12:35 PM

    RE: “It’s true that they did kidnap Adoph Eichmann in Argentina and Mordechai Vanunu in London…” – R.S.

    MY COMMENT: Technically, they kidnapped Vanunu in Italy (according to Wikipedia).

    FROM WIKIPEDIA: Mordechai Vanunu (Hebrew: מרדכי ואנונו‎, born in Marrakech, Morocco, on 14 October 1954) is an Israeli former nuclear technician who, citing his opposition to weapons of mass destruction, revealed details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the British press in 1986.[1][2] He was subsequently lured to Italy by a Mossad spy, where he was drugged and kidnapped by Israeli intelligence operatives.[1]…

    • DICKERSON3870 April 13, 2010, 12:56 PM

      WIKIPEDIA CONTINUED:
      …Vanunu states in his letters that he intended to share the money received from the newspaper (for the information) with the Anglican Church of Australia. Apparently, frustrated by the delay while Hounam was completing his research, Vanunu approached a rival newspaper, the tabloid Sunday Mirror, whose owner was Robert Maxwell. In 1991, a self-described former Mossad officer or government translator named Ari Ben-Menashe alleged that Maxwell had tipped off the Mossad, possibly through British secret services, about Vanunu. It is also possible that they were alerted by enquiries made to Israelis or to the Israeli Embassy in London by Sunday Mirror journalists.
      The Israeli government decided to detain Vanunu, but determined to avoid harming its good relationship with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher*, and wanting to not risk confrontation with British Intelligence, determined Vanunu should be persuaded to leave UK territory under his own volition. Masquerading as an American tourist called “Cindy”, Israeli Mossad agent Cheryl Bentov befriended Vanunu, and on 30 September persuaded him to fly to Rome with her on a holiday.[23] Once in Rome, Mossad agents drugged him and carried him to Israel on a freighter,[23] beginning what was to be more than a decade of solitary confinement in Israeli prisons…..

      *P.S. I believe I have read that Thatcher was nonetheless quite perturbed about Vanunu’s abduction.

      FROM SouceWatch: …The Israeli government had promised Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that they would not conduct operations on British soil; therefore it was important to get Vanunu out of the country under his own volition…

  • DICKERSON3870 April 13, 2010, 1:23 PM

    RE: 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. – R.S.
    MY COMMENT: Since Israel insists that it is The Jewish Nation, wouldn’t its “enforcers” have a right to go after “Jews” wherever they might be? Is the jurisdiction of The Jewish Nation confined to the geographic boundaries of Israel? Analogize to the Bush/Cheney concept of The Global War on Terror™ and its amorphous “battlefield” that stretched to all corners of the globe (and perhaps even beyond our own universe).

  • Yakov April 13, 2010, 4:54 PM

    I’m not sure why do you interpret “taking the gloves off” as a threat to take measures outside of the legal domain. Sure, Blau is “uncomfortable” for some politicians and army officers. That, however, doesn’t imply that any illegal means might be taken against Blau.

    Yes, government oversight of the IDF and Of Shin Bet is weak but it’s not THAT weak. This case is being closely watched by the public and every move by both sides is scrutinized. I doubt very much the Shin Bet has the nerve to kidnap an Israeli journalist, not widely recognized as guilty (as opposed to Vaanunu or Eichman). Let alone, the means.

    Not ever in Israel’s history had security forces attacked (by any means beside legal) the press or any of it’s members.

    Judicial means were used against newspapers in Israel twice. Once in the Al ard case and another time in Hadashot’s case. Yet both times, threats were made or acted upon against members of these newspapers.

    It’s your interpretation to infuse “taking the gloves off” with physical threats yet you have no precedent to rely on. Yet, for some reason, you choose “taking the gloves off” to mean the worst possible outcome.

    As I understand it, “taking the gloves off” have the much more reasonable (and historically consistent!) meaning of not settling this out of court with some sort of an agreement.

    An example of historical consistency would be Elhanan Tenenbaum’s case, when he exchanged immunity for his cooperation to fully inform the Shin Bet what secrets had he revealed in captivity, if any. Had he refused, there was plenty to charge him with: Drug dealing, contact with enemy agents and what not.

    • Richard Silverstein April 13, 2010, 9:21 PM

      why do you interpret “taking the gloves off” as a threat to take measures outside of the legal domain

      You mean kidnapping Blau is not outside the legal domain? You’re an Israeli & you don’t recognize that this phrase means taking any measure necessary (& I mean ANY) to achieve the Shin Bet’s objective. And given the history of cold blooded murder of detainees it doesn’t like you think this phrase means a strict adherence to law? Be real, would you.

      it’s not THAT weak

      This simply is not credible & not even the avg. Israeli would believe it & certainly no one here does. Precisely what oversight do either face?

      I doubt very much the Shin Bet has the nerve to kidnap an Israeli journalist,

      The pt isn’t whether or not they have the nerve to do it. It’s that they would even publicly threaten to do so. It speaks volumes about the impunity of the secret police (as Roy Arad calls them).

      Not ever in Israel’s history had security forces attacked (by any means beside legal) the press or any of it’s members.

      Except for the thugs who nearly killed Uri Avnery in the 1950s. But no one could ever prove they were Shin Bet goons though Avnery if I recall correctly firmly believes the gov’t was involved.

      • Yakov April 13, 2010, 10:56 PM

        ofcourse kidnapping blau is outside the legal domain. It’s unclear that “taking the gloves off” equals kidnapping blau.

        As an Israeli, I absolutely disagree with the automatic equality between “taking the gloves off” and “taking any measure necessary” that you claim.

        The oversight over the Shin Bet *in this case* is that of the public. Uri Blau is a public persona and his wellbeing and whereabouts are being closly watched.

        Be fair yourself. While I do not, in any way, condone excutions of detainees without due process (or at all), you might see there’s a difference between captured terrorists and a fleeing journalist. You can’t seriously claim these two are the same.

        As to the public threat of kidnap, you assume what you wish to prove. It’s only a public threat of kidnap if the public understands the meaning. It’s not clear the Israeli public thinks that “taking the gloves off” is kidnapping blau.

        It’s fine that Avneri believes the government was involved. That hardly makes it a fact. However, the facts I offered (Al Ard, Hadashot and Tenenbaum) you seem to disregard somehow.

        • Richard Silverstein April 13, 2010, 11:27 PM

          The oversight over the Shin Bet *in this case* is that of the public.

          How can the public oversee the Shin Bet when most of what it does happens in the dark (including the putative Kamm gag). Do you know it’s budget for example? I bet not.

          there’s a difference between captured terrorists and a fleeing journalist. You can’t seriously claim these two are the same.

          Yes, one is Palestinian and the other Israeli. So they have to treat Blau minimally better. But would they kidnap him if they thought they could get away w. it (in terms of political cost)? Absolutely.

  • Bessan April 14, 2010, 9:08 AM

    Perhaps Salman Rushdie has a flat to sublet.

    quaint comparison: Rushdie is still alive and free.
    Vanunu?

  • shula April 14, 2010, 10:00 AM

    The Jewish Press has a different take on this story:
    [URL removed per comment rules]

    • Richard Silverstein April 14, 2010, 11:47 PM

      You ARE kidding aren’t you? You try to link to the NY Kahane Shmateh here, of all places? And why should I surprised when someone with the last name “Levinger,” as in Moshe Levinger, attempts to slip in a link the Meir Kahane’s favorite shmateh? That’s quite some yichus you have there.