Friday, April 9, 2010

The story of Anat Kamm, and what it says about Israel's "democracy."

This story has a number of components:
1- An Israeli woman, Anat Kamm, has been under a SECRET house arrest, accompanied by a gag order to the Israeli media, since December 2009.
Here is the NYTimes coverage:
2- The story that she's allegedly leaked to Ha'aretz correspondent Uri Blau in 2008, implicating top military staff, including Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi, in defying Supreme court (2006) ruling restricting targeted assassinations. The Ha'aretz story, in Hebrew, can be found at
3- The story of Israel's obedient media, and the Internet role in bringing it to the light. To read one version of how things went, see Gila Svirsky's article below.
In reality, the internet response was more complicated. We at JPN considered running a story published by Richard Silverstein on his blog (Tikkun Olam)a few months back, but - like many other news services - decided to avoid doing so because we were told that Anat Kamm and her lawyer asked to keep the story under raps, hoping it'll help her negotiate a deal with the Shin Bet (Israel's secret service).
4- The story exploded on the scene in the last few days, and as of today, the gag order was lifted (see below).

It's the next day, and it's probably fair to say that in the meantime all hell broke loose.
Here are a number of additional links, most of them provided by Rela Mazali.

Last update - 12:26 09/04/2010

This isn't just a war for my freedom but for Israel's image

By Uri Blau

"When you're warned 'they know much more than you think,' and are told that your telephone line, e-mail and computer have been monitored for a long time and still are, then someone up there doesn't really understand what democracy is all about, and the importance of freedom of the press in preserving it."

Last update - 04:10 09/04/2010

In Israel, reality hides under a 'top secret' stamp

By Akiva Eldar

"The label "highly classified" does not automatically turn a document into a security concern, the leaking of which constitutes espionage or treason. In most cases, the designation is intended simply to ensure that the file's contents do not reach the public's view. … To manage an occupation, a nation must raise obedient soldiers and officers [and, my addition: the obedient public that keeps on producing these soldiers and officers, Rela] - the kind who sit quietly while ideas are floated on how to circumvent the rulings of the supposedly leftist High Court, how to keep prying journalists at bay and how to deceive the meddlesome state comptroller."

Legal Analysis / Key charge against Kam carries life sentence

By Ze'ev Segal

"The stringent statutes [being applied to this case, Rela] are essentially carbon copies of criminal laws enacted during the pre-state British Mandate in 1936. While the current laws were adopted for Israeli jurisprudence, this was done with minimal alterations. The current statute does not explicitly recognize the defense claim - that revealing classified information is permitted in cases where the data is of vital public interest. …
Passing classified information to a media entity is considered "espionage," despite the fact that this term is only applied to cases where information is passed on to an enemy."

How I was almost accused of espionage

By Reuven Pedatzur

"there isn't a single military correspondent who doesn't commit this crime of espionage on a daily basis. … We can assume that the senior member of the defense establishment who wanted to use Section 113 against me did not really think that I was a spy, but intended to scare me and to convince me that I had better not continue to publish criticism of the body that he headed. … [Uri Blau] is being singled out because the article he published in Haaretz, which is what first brought the entire affair to light, was critical and exposed improper behavior on the part of senior officials in the defense establishment."
An article, in Hebrew, by Yossi Gurvitz.

Here is a partial translation by "The Magnes Zionist":

1. It's not espionage. Anat Kamm has been accused of spying, no less. But Shabak Chief Yuval Diskin does not claim that the Uri Blau Haaretz articles damaged Israeli security. (He can't, can he? After all, it passed military censorship) So he can only refer to the "thousands of documents" that Kamm has confessed to stealing, and which she passed to Uri Blau (according to Diskin). And what is the argument? "Those documents are full of security and operational secrets that would endanger the lives of soldiers were they to fall into enemy hands." But they haven't fallen into enemy hands, so this is not espionage, nor is there intent. They were leaked to a journalist who has them in his possession (according to the Shabak). So whatever Kamm did, it was not espionage.

2. The Shabak's history of exaggerated accusations. Gurvitz points out that Diskin in his briefing said that the media should not compare Kamm to Tali Fahima. And why not? Because in several well-publicized cases, the Shabak and the media initially painted the accused as endangering the security of the state -- only to see that accusation wither away. Tali Fahima was accused of being an enemy agent, and planning terrorists attacks. When the trial began, the prosecution said (generously) that they would not seek the death penalty. Pretty good move, since she ended up getting a few years in jail. And let's not forget Sheikh Raad Saalah who was arrested in a big public way for contacting foreign agents, and ended up being convicted of some minor money crimes. In other words, the tactic scare the accused to death, then get a plea bargain. Gurvitz asks how credible is the charge that Blau has in his possession documents that will damage IDF soldiers, and he is refusing to return them? It
seems more likely that he has potentially damaging documents to the IDF brass.

3. Discrimination based on rank. Gurvitz points out that other IDF brass have removed documents from bases, and in one case, Elazar Stern, the head of the Education Corps leaked classified documents to Yair Lapid, a columnist. Some of these people were disciplined; Stern had to pay damages to the soldier whom he had ratted on; but nobody has been brought up on charges of espionage. Many other lower ranks of soldiers have "informed" against their superiors to human rights organizations, and their military careers have ended as a result (Gurvitz did that himself during the first intifada.) But none of these were considered more than minor offenses.

Racheli Gai.

Israel pulls gag order on Kamm case
April 8, 2010
WASHINGTON (JTA ) -- Israel's defense establishment agreed to lift a months-long gag order over an Israeli journalist's secret house arrest.

Representatives of the Israel Defense Forces, the Shin Bet internal security service and the State Prosecutor's Office on Thursday asked Tel Aviv District Court for a partial removal of the gag order that has been in place for the last three-and-a-half months,.The request was granted.

The gag order revolves around Anat Kamm, 23, a journalist who was arrested last December and charged under Israel's espionage and treason for allegedly photocopying and leaking sensitive documents during her time in the IDF. The far-reaching gag order applies not only to the details of Kamm's arrest but to news of the arrest itself. Israeli media only have been able to refer to the incident as a "security-related affair."

The documents alleged to have been leaked by Kamm formed the basis for a 2008 Haaretz story implicating top military staff, including Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the military chief of staff, in defying Supreme Court rulings restricting targeted killings.

Though Israeli media was banned from reporting the story, foreign media and blogs not under Israeli jurisdiction have published details of the case. JTA reported the story on March 27. Reportedly, the Supreme Court sent messages to the State Prosecutor's Office and the presiding judge, Ze'ev Hammer, hinting that situation was untenable.

"If the entire world knows about it, issuing a gag order is baseless," said Press Council President Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court justice. "Gag orders impinge on the freedom of the press, and this is allowed if publication is highly likely to cause grave damage to state security. But if the whole world knows, this alone constitutes a reason to withdraw the injunction."

Gila Svirsky's account:

This story is a testament to the Internet. And to Anat Kam, the whistleblower, who is widely regarded in Israeli security circles as a traitor and will probably soon be charged with treason.

Anat (I'll use her first name, though I don't know her) is a 23-year old journalist who wrote for the popular Israeli portal Walla. Some months ago, Anat did the unthinkable: she passed on information that was decidedly newsworthy, but that the Shin Bet – Israel's security services – did not want outsiders to have. It was a"hit list" – the names of Palestinians living in the West Bank who were on the Shin Bet's "wanted" list. And it was a copy of the Shin Bet protocol stating that if these "wanted" figures are identified during the course of a military action, permission is granted to carry out "an interception". Nice language for execution without trial. Reports are that Anat photocopied this classified information while serving in the IDF.

Anat allegedly passed on this classified information to Uri Blau, a journalist, who published it months ago as a major scoop in Ha'aretz. Now Ha'aretz has whisked Uri away to London to protect him from the Israeli authorities, who would love to interrogate him about his informant. Meanwhile, Anat has been under house arrest and held incommunicado for at least three months.

This is a big story, but until today no Israeli newspapers could publish it because a judge issued a gag order at the Shin Bet's request. But go ask Henry Miller about banned books. Thanks to the ban and Israel's inability to control cyberspace, the story has taken on vastly greater proportions. Every news outlet in Israel – newspapers, radio, TV, news portals – has front-paged the story now that the gag order was lifted. It would never have received such widespread attention had the Israeli authorities not tried to hide it in the first place. And had the Internet not cloned the story through every webpage eager to expose state secrets.

This is not the first time the Israeli authorities have arrested suspects and held them incommunicado for extended periods. It happens to Palestinians all the time. The best known case of an Israeli is Mordechai Vanunu, who blew the whistle on Israel's nuclear warfare capabilities 24 years ago and was tried behind closed doors. More recently, Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Yaakov, an Israeli citizen now living in the U.S., was arrested on a visit to Israel in 2002, and a gag order placed on news of his month-long detention and interrogation. Yaakov, a key scientist in the development of Israel's nuclear weapons program, was suspected of divulging some of Israel's secrets, but eventually released without charge.

So Israel has managed to draw widespread international attention to a story it wanted to hush up. But why conceal the fact that the Shin Bet has a "hit list" and gives license to its commando units to carry out field executions? After all, doesn't the U.S. do the same thing in its own so-called war against terror?

Israel, in my view, wanted to hide this information to avoid the legal and diplomatic ramifications of disclosures that its soldiers were once again breaking international law. Israel has been playing defense ever since the Gaza Campaign, trying to keep its senior politicians and officers out of European courts on charges of war crimes. Most recently (December 2009), opposition leader Zipi Livni cancelled a trip to London out of fear she would be arrested, thanks to universal jurisdiction of human rights violations. Similar arrest orders were deflected by other senior Israelis (Barak, Mofaz, and Almog). Publicity about a hit list and hit squads could only add fuel to the growing criticism of Israel and the fear among its leaders of being arrested on a visit to Europe. Not to mention the fact that Israel's own Supreme Court outlawed such unprovoked assassinations just months ago.

But really, isn't Israel still the "only democracy in the Middle East"? Concealing someone's arrest and the charges against her are clearly pages from the annals of dark regimes. And the broader context is the growing McCarthyite culture inside Israel – the silencing of its critics, the squirreling away of its whistleblowers. We see this in the hate campaign against Israeli human rights organizations, which has now reached a new peak – a bill before the Knesset that would severely hamper these organizations from receiving funds from foreign states, one of their only sources of support as the Israeli government is not about to fund human rights activity.

What's not to love about secrecy, lies, and human rights violations? Praise the whistleblowers and all those who turned on the Internet lights, making it impossible for the authorities to turn them off again.

Gila Svirsky
Jerusalem / Nahariya

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1 comment:

vlad said...

you substitute one fact by another and then discuss your own invented fact as a violation of democracy and freedom of speech. The original fact is the illegal stealing of classified documents by IDF soldier Anat Kamm - not by journalist Anat Kamm. She must be imprisoned. Current judge decision to put her under house arrest is only demonstrate Israeli democracy(may be redundant in this case).