Haaretz’ Uri Blau, one of Israel’s finest investigative journalists, faces seven years in prison for doing nothing more than practicing his craft in a country that upholds the values of a national security state above those of press freedom. Blau has published some of the most hard-hitting exposes involving the IDF and human rights violations over the past few years. Among them was the two reports he wrote based on top-secret documents leaked to him by Anat Kamm. These were memos from the headquarters of IDF general Yair Naveh, revealing that he approved assassinations of unarmed Palestinian suspects in contravention of Israeli Supreme Court rulings. Of course, when given a chance to support these ruling in practice, the Court refused to do so as is often the case with security matters in which it is loath to second guess the military-intelligence apparatus.
Reporters Without Borders recently wrote in protest to the Israeli Attorney General demanding that it drop the prosecution. It pointed out that the law under which Blau was being prosecuted had never been used against a journalist in the past 50 years:
…Ms. Kam[‘s]…four and a half year…sentence…[is a] very severe punishment [that] constitutes a clear warning to all journalists who use confidential documents as a basis for their reporting. It sends a disturbing signal for media freedom in Israel.
…All journalists receive and use classified documents. It is the basis of investigative reporting. Countless scandals and revelations of impropriety have come to light thanks to documents obtained without permission. In this case, only one question matters: was the information obtained in this manner of general interest? If it was, then media freedom takes precedence and the justice system must recognize the nature of the journalist’s work and refrain from prosecuting him.
In this case, the documents involved shed a vital light on the way the IDF was operating and, in particular, its targeted killings of Palestinian militants who could have been arrested. This violated a Supreme Court order…
This is not about endangering the country’s security. It is just a question of exercising one’s right to information about a state entity. Journalists are not above the law and army generals are not, either.
Reporters Without Borders would like to point out that article 113-c of the criminal code, under which Mr. Blau is charged, has never previously been used against a journalist at any time during the past 50 years. Convicting Mr. Blau would have very negative consequences for the image of Israel and would result in its being added to the list of countries that imprison journalists just for doing their work.
We therefore urge you to withdraw the charges against Mr. Blau. Investigative journalists are the cornerstone of transparency, which is essential if a society is to function in a democratic manner. They provide a vital service. Convicting him would do grave harm to the free flow of news and information.
I regret to have to add the addendum that in many cases Israeli generals are indeed above the law. The fact that the Supreme Court refused to disqualify Naveh from a promotion to deputy chief of staff confirms this sad fact.
I call upon the Israeli press to publicize this travesty and American Jewish organizations to let the Israeli government know that this trial is a travesty and impermissible as far as Jews are concerned who live in Diaspora nations with a truly free press and who hold that Israeli democracy is a sacred value.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.