Before beginning this post, I want to note that there is a great deal we don’t know about this case thanks to the Israeli police’s pressure on the victim to maintain silence. But here, I’ll say what I know and then speculate about what I don’t know when I think there’s enough independent evidence to do so.
We know that an anonymous Israeli blogger calling himself Eishton (“Newsman” or “Paperman;” perhaps also a play on “Bibiton,” a derisive reference to Yisrael HaYom) was “invited” by the Israeli military police for interrogation, at which he was presented with unspecified “violations” of the law he’s alleged to have committed. At the end of his first interrogation there was debate among the authorities about whether to continue his remand or release him. He was released, but not before he was forced to sign a statement promising not to divulge the content or nature of his interrogation or the charges against him.
For that reason, he has been unable to comment in any detail on what happened to him. Haaretz’s Barak Ravid has written about this. Since Ravid is usually a conduit for the Israeli political establishment, I’m guessing he was leaked this story by someone in the PM’s office or the like:
…I am now under investigation by the Military Police and the Israel Police. In the past two days, several posts have been written about this in the blogosphere, and now in Haaretz too, with speculations about my situation.
1. I’m not in custody. I was detained for questioning, at the end of which the policemen had an argument about whether or not to release me. I was released with an “invitation” for another interrogation and…
2. I was made [ed., or “forced”] to sign [an agreement] prohibiting me from speaking about the content of the interrogation. If I violate this (illegal) demand, the list of things I am accused of at the moment will have another offense added, and in addition (it says on the page I signed) the state will confiscate money/property from me, and that is something that I cannot afford at the moment (this, in addition to the financial damage that has already been caused to me, and about which I also cannot talk.)
2. I wish to apologize if what I said left too large an opening for interpretations (beyond the sock that’s currently shoved in my mouth). Beyond several humiliations, the financial damage, and the stress, I have not been physically hurt and I am not currently in custody. I thank everyone for their concern, and the two journalists who set up free initial consultation with Jacques [or Jack] Chen for me, and I want to thank him for the this initial direction. (To journalists – there’s no point in pestering him. This was only an initial consultation and he does not represent me. Beyond that, there’s attorney’s privilege, and beyond that – he also doesn’t know whom he was advising.)
My anonymity is important to me. In the past it was also important to me in order to prevent what I’m going through right now, but our State is light on the trigger with orders – and the [web host] companies providing us with services do not fight to protect our information. But other than that reason, which has become a thing of the past, there are other reasons that make me prefer anonymity.
The blog tends to update every few days. If this pace of updating is not interrupted, I ask that you do not investigate further nor try – at the moment – to understand the nature of the investigation, because I do not want the police to use this opportunity (on purpose or by chance) to leak or expose my name, especially as I have not yet been charged and there is not, in fact, any public interest in doing that. If and when this becomes possible, I will explain the subject of the investigation myself. Even so, if their demand for a gag has any foundation (and we’re arguing about that right now), even if someone does investigate the subject, they will not be able to write about it in the media (and if the police sees fit to leak information while gagging me, I will see that as a signal that there is no foundation for the gag and it will not remain unilateral.)
The police want something more. They will not get it from me. Excessive exposure will only make it harder for me to do so [tell them what they want], and beyond hurting me (more interest in the matter might turn the barks into bites), it would substantially harm others.
Thanks again for the interest and concern, but my intention was solely to set up an insurance policy in the event I’d be arrested or the site shut down, and not to try – at the moment – to open the subject. This is not the first time Eishton has been detained, and interrogations – stressful as they may be – are something I know how to handle.
I will try to resume writing…tomorrow.
(translation: Dena Shunra/Richard Silverstein)
An initial review of the material in Eishton’s blog and Facebook page reveals much that would annoy the police. One of his fortes is selecting quotations from Nazi era figures about Jews and comparing them to latter-day Kahanist rhetoric against African refugees in Israel. If one were to look for a possible legal violation, one might say this could be viewed as incitement using Holocaust-era rhetoric, which is against Israeli law.
I’m troubled by the fact that the military police and civilian police have taken up this case. It means that the charge likely involves the IDF in some way. In his blog, Eishton has published an exposé (Hebrew) graphically noting the high number of suicides yearly in the IDF and the fact that the IDF is deliberately lied about much of this information. Here is what Eishton wrote in an interview he gave Haggai Matar in an Israeli publication a few months ago, which would tend to confirm that this is probably the reason he was arrested:
An IDF soldier passed me information that ranges from confidential to problematic. From that moment, maybe because of how much of a novice I am in this field, I experienced several hours of anxiety. I was holding documents with the names of IDF soldiers that died in the last year and the reasons for their deaths. As part of the investigation, I revealed to the IDF Spokesperson and the Defense Ministry that I was holding these documents, which contradict their official positions. I was sure I would get a knock on my door.
It appears that holding information that reveals the defense ministry is a bunch of liars who wish to conceal that soldiers are offing themselves in the line of duty, will get you arrested. I’m also concerned that the military police have arrested an Israeli civilian who is not under the jurisdiction of the IDF in an attempt to pressure him into revealing which soldier had the courage to reveal his or her bosses were liars and hypocrites. Or as Barak Ravid, not known for being a champion of the underdog or those bucking the establishment, writes (Hebrew):
Because this is not a security matter, it’s troubling that the IDF, using the Israeli [civilian] police is trying to identify soldiers who leaked sensitive information that’s embarrassing to the military authorities and exposes their failings. The military and civilian police hope that their “invitation” to the blogger will exert the necessary pressure to make him disclose his sources. This troubles me and I hope you too.
What does whistleblowing get you in Israel? Thrown in jail.
A just-published Haaretz story (only in Hebrew and not online yet) reveals that the military police have leaked a defense of their actions. They claim that families of the suicide victims have complained about publication of personal details concerning their loved ones on the internet. It was this “complaint” that caused them to open an investigation.
I can certainly understand the pain of a family who’s already suffered knowing their child killed himself, having to read about it in a public forum. This just amplifies their suffering. But we have to weigh their suffering against the cover-up of the defense ministry, which tried to prevent the public knowing the extent of this serious public health issue. The IDF is the national army in which most of the nation serves. The fact that so many kill themselves is a deep stain the ministry preferred to hide rather than address and acknowledge.
Thanks to Dvorit Shargel for making me aware of the intricacies of this aspect of the story. She notes that there may have been ways for Eishton to publish his story while doing a better job of protecting the privacy of the victims. Though this is a fine line since he would want to publish enough personal information that the army couldn’t accuse him of lying or making his evidence up.
This is somewhat similar to what Haaretz did by publishing some of the actual secret documents Kamm gave Uri Blau. The physical memos proved that Haaretz had what it claimed. But they also helped a former Shin Bet agent to identify the office from which they came, which led back to Kamm.
At least in Eishton’s case he hasn’t exposed the identity of his own IDF source as Haaretz indirectly did regarding Kamm.
The accompanying graphic is a highly charged representation of this serious social and public health issue. He has criticized the IDF for refusing to release the names of those who’ve taken their lives during military service. Eishton apparently has them and is publishing them.
Is that enough for the military police to go to war with a blogger? Frankly, I don’t know. If this weren’t Israel, I’d say No. But it is, so who knows how petty and insular they could get in such matters?
The IDF’s treatment of Eishton is a shandeh. S/he is a journalist and demands the same respect any journalist receives from State authorities. No one can compel him to reveal his sources. In fact, the Knesset is considering a law to strengthen such protections. It would be laughable for the security services to take away with one hand what the other hand is offering.
Israel wishes to be considered a democratic state. Yet we can see that freedom of the press is a value that receives scant respect. Journalist Anat Kamm is in jail for leaking IDF secrets to another journalist, Uri Blau. The latter copped a plea that forced him to accept a four-month sentence and guilt for a crime of which he was not guilty. Such is the status of democratic values in latter-day Israel.
Note above, that the Israeli blogger’s blog host (or ISP) divulged his personal information, allowing the police to identify him. Can someone tell me what duty if any does an Israeli web host or ISP owe to a client in the event of a police request. Can they proffer the information without informing the customer they are doing so?
NOTE: This post originally hosted an image by Gideon Rimmer, an Israeli student at Israel’s Bezalel Academy. I saw his powerful image featuring suicide notes of IDF victims at Eishton’s blog. He has taken issue with my interpretation of his image and demanded that I remove the image. This is the second time an Israeli has demanded that I remove such images for political reasons. This again seems to be part of Israelis’ limited conception of artistic and political freedoms.
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.