Sol Salbe has translated this op-ed by Israeli novelist, lawyer and poet, Alon Hilu:
We need to talk about Anat Kamm. We need to do so mainly in view of last week’s announcement that Uri Blau, the journalist to whom she handed over classified documents, will not be sent to prison but will undertake community service instead [ed., he was actually sentenced to a four month prison term, which was commuted to community service].
We need to talk about Anat Kamm. She has been enthusiastically tagged as a traitor and as someone who has been convicted of espionage against the state. Her ordeal was accompanied by the associated fanfare of a comprehensive [campaign of] suppression, two years house arrest and a four-and-a-half-year jail sentence. Her case demonstrates more than any other the authorities’ ability to stick with all their might anyone who embarrasses them.
The democratic experience teaches us that almost every occasion of revelation of serious wrongdoings connected to the public discourse involves the breaking of rules. A “Deep Throat” (be it a minister, government official or conscripted soldier) who leaks the covert exploits of the powers that be can only do so for the simple reason that the authorities trust her and have put their faith in her. Otherwise, the whistleblower would not have been able to get anywhere near the incriminating evidence in the first place.
This is how public discourse works. And in the final analysis, its beneficiary is the general public. Just look at the way Wikileaks recently exposed the west’s hypocrisy in relation to the murderous Assad regime. More than that, in a democracy we are often willing to tolerate an individual’s breach of the rules if it exposes a bigger breach of the rules by the authorities.
In this sense, Anat Kamm joins a long line of whistleblowers in the media – not traitors, not spies — who for ideological reasons, and without an ounce of greed, were willing to risk their personal freedom in order to expose the establishment’s nakedness. In her case, it was exposing the way the security forces secretly acted in violation of the guidelines set by the judicial authority (High Court of Justice).
In a hypothetical country, in which the authorities favoured the fundamentals over the procedural niceties, whistleblowers like Anat Kamm would be presented with the Defender-of-Democracy medal. In the long run, the knowledge that their wrongdoings could one day be exposed by some Deep Throat character, would motivate the authorities to stick to the rules beforehand.
And lo and behold, what do the authorities do when their disgrace is exposed? What do they do when it becomes evident without a shadow of doubt, that clandestinely and sinisterly, they are acting improperly? Who do they rush to protect – the public, the state’s security? No, they protect themselves, first and foremost. Because, in contrast to the individual, the authorities have a monopoly on the use of force. They operate prisons and can make the life of an ordinary citizen quite miserable. This is true for every democratic regime (or in the case of Israel, a democratic regime based on demographic considerations, whose democratic character has been frighteningly been gnawed away in recent years.)
And this is precisely what happened to Anat Kamm. The powers that be rushed to smear her name in public. They convicted her of a charge disproportional to her actual deeds and sentenced her to a long jail term, the kind usually reserved for real criminals.
But now that the excitement has died down, now that the mountain of the Blau affair has turned out to be a molehill in the shape of community service, the time has come to say that she has suffered an injustice. She has been tagged with an account of her action and a label that do not match her deeds. There is no proportionality between her punishment and that meted out to the other character in the story.
In more practical terms the time has come to reduce her sentence or give her a pardon, in order to let the authorities climb down from the high horse they chose to mount.
Published in Yedioth Achronot 10 July 2012 (hard copy only)
Translated by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne, Australia