Friday, 16 April 2010

Even for Jews Israeli Democracy is Disappearing

Public Calls for the Execution of Journalists Anat Kamm and Uri Blau

Gideon Levy, with Amira Hass, is one of the few decent Israeli journalists left and Ha'aretz is a beleaguered paper that is widely reviled in Israel . Haaretz is widely termed a ‘liberal’ paper but that is wrong. Economically it remains firmly on the Right politically, but on other issues it is more socially liberal, not least in respect of the Palestinians. In Israel left and right do not relate to economic issues but one’s attitude to the central dividing line – Jews v Arabs (both within and without the state). Levy’s article is chilling because it bears out everything I wrote a few days ago about how the repression of the Palestinians, both inside and outside Israel, is reducing the democratic rights even of Israeli Jews. Because of course freedom and human rights are indivisible.

Far from being the Middle East’s ‘only democracy’ the Kamm & Blau Affair demonstrate, with crystal clarity, that Israel’s ‘democracy’ is a thin layer of ice, melting all the time, covering the ugly sea of deportations, naked state racism, segregation, expulsion and massacre. Because that is what this affair is about. Can anyone seriously suggest, even in terms of Israel’s normal paranoia, that the actions of Blau and Kamm, who have acted as most investigative journalists do, is about threats to national security in any meaningful sense? Did Kamm & Blau conspire to pass secrets of say Israeli anti-aircraft missile sites to the Syrians or Hezbollah? No they copied and wrote articles dealing with an assassination program of Israel’s military aimed at Palestinians under occupation. A program which the army had notified the courts had been ended. Secret assassinations are nothing less than extra-judicial executions.

Oh and a lot is being made about ‘stolen’ army top secret documents. Well that was much the charge that was made, at New Labour’s behest, against Damian Green. Receipt of stolen documents. His arrest was treated with widespread derision.

And for revealing what everyone knows anyway, we are told that if it were up to the people, then Anat Kamm would be executed. Kamm and Blau's real crime is letting the world in what Israel does.

As Jonathan Cook shows, “several Hebrew websites show pictures of Ms Kamm behind bars or next to a hangman’s noose.” Think back to say the allegations of an assassination programme by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the SAS in Northern Ireland. The problem was motivating people enough to be interested in what was happening. There was no hue and cry because of the activities of journalists who uncovered these stories. When Thatcher launched her own campaign against Granada TV reporters who uncovered the truth about an SAS operation in Gibraltar when 3 members of the IRA were murdered in cold blood, there were no calls for the heads of journalists. On the contrary, when Thatcher banned members of Sinn Fein being interviewed on television, she called it the ‘oxygen of publicity’ Gerry Adam’s and Martin McGuinness’s voices were simply mimed by TV, thus adding interest to what they were saying, since it was always explained beforehand that the following interview contained actors’ voices.

I have no illusions, far from it, in western or British democracy. However it is also clear that the Israeli State is not, despite its pretensions, an extension of even bourgeois democracy as found in the West. Despite the pretensions of its founders, Israel remains true to its purpose, a watchdog of the West in the Middle East. Zionism was founded on a denial of freedom and it has never therefore adopted even the most basic norms of democratic states. Its reasons for not having a Constitution was that the pledges made in the Declaration of Independence about equality before the law, regardless of origin, could not be incorporated in the Constitution if Israel was to be a Jewish state. Likewise, whereas most western states have at least made some attempts to ensure equality between their citizens, via. the European Council’s Framework and similar Directives, no similar initiative is possible in Israel whilst programmes of Judaification and much else besides are integral to the functioning of a Jewish state.

What this affair does reveal, is the fact that the majority, a large majority, of Israeli Jews now support solutions to Zionism’s 'demographic problem' and how to deal with Palestinian opposition to their rule in the West Bank and Gaza, which include the murder of journalists. And the other unpalatable fact is that apart from a few, brave and outspoken souls, the vast majority of journalists in Israel are nothing more than yellow journalists, willing to parrot the line of the state and its security services.

Tony Greenstein

If it were up to the people, Anat Kamm would be executed

By Gideon Levy

The whole country is seething over the Anat Kamm affair, and only one man will decide how it can end: the director of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin. If Diskin determines that Kamm and Haaretz journalist Uri Blau should be punished severely, that is what will happen. If he decides they should be forgiven - so it will be.

The prosecution and the courts will accept his decision in a frighteningly automatic manner, the government and the opposition won't open their mouths, the media will cheer, and public opinion will either have nothing to say or roar belligerently. That's the way it is in a Shin Bet state, that's how things go in Diskinland.

At first, Diskin handled the case "with silk gloves," as he defined it; then he decided "to take off the gloves." It's a matter of mood. When he was in good humor and still wore silk, Diskin suggested that Blau return all the documents and not be prosecuted. When he threatened to take the gloves off, nobody asked what he meant.

Was he thinking of abducting Blau in London? Perhaps he intended to have him assassinated? The head of the Shin Bet threatens a journalist, and it's business as usual, nobody says a word.

Nobody got into a tizzy after these brutal words were uttered, nobody even asked what exactly Diskin was getting at. Nobody even bothered to ask if it was in fact the Shin Bet that broke into Blau's apartment and ransacked it.

Does the Shin Bet burglarize journalists' residences? Hello! What kind of country are we talking about here? Have we returned to the days of Isser Harel, who at David Ben-Gurion's behest kept politicians and journalists under surveillance?

And what about the disclosure by Aluf Benn in yesterday's Haaretz that President Shimon Peres, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, had in the past instructed the Shin Bet to do the same to members of the Progressive List for Peace? Should we forget how this same organization behaved in the Bus 300 affair? How its members smashed in the skulls of captive terrorists and then had the audacity to try to pin the blame on Yitzhak Mordechai, a highly respected officer at the time.

But let's leave Diskin and the shadowy spy agencies out of it. They are responsible for security, and perhaps they even have the right to do what they do. Where are the checks and balances that are supposed to prevent the Shin Bet from acting arbitrarily?

When Diskin gave the signal, the prosecution stood to attention. The prosecution toes the line by condoning and obeying; it came up with an indictment charging Kamm with aggravated espionage, with the possibility of life imprisonment, nothing less.

The court zealously toed the Shin Bet line as well, imposing a protracted and ridiculous blanket gag order. The media, too, immediately aligned with the Shin Bet, almost to a man.

That's the way the incitement campaign began against Kamm, Blau and Haaretz - you document thieves and endangerers of security, you traitors you. But the real betrayal has been that of the journalists, who have betrayed their profession - journalists who take sides with the security apparatus against colleagues who are doing their job bringing light to the dark. The outcome has been fraught with disaster: A democracy as fragile as ours, with such a limited and distorted grasp of the role of the media, is a fertile breeding ground for a general systemic breakdown.

"the real betrayal has been that of the journalists, who have betrayed their profession - journalists who take sides with the security apparatus against colleagues who are doing their job bringing light to the dark."
If it depended on public opinion, Kamm and Blau would be executed and Haaretz would be shut down on the spot. The general who gave the assassination orders revealed by Kamm and Blau has come out of the affair unscathed, while the journalist and his source are enemies of the people.

"If it depended on public opinion, Kamm and Blau would be executed and Haaretz would be shut down on the spot"
This turbid wave has been greeted by a thundering silence. The prime minister, who calls himself a democrat, has said nothing about the affair, and neither has the defense minister. Not a word from ministers Dan Meridor or Benny Begin, also democrats in their own eyes.

The opposition? Don't make Tzipi Livni laugh. Former Supreme Court presidents Aharon Barak and Meir Shamgar? They and their colleagues, who mobilized the struggle against what they perceived as justice minister Daniel Friedmann's threat to democracy, have not said a word against the threats posed by the Shin Bet.

Only the president of the Press Council, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, has stood up on her own.

Now we can only hope that Diskin will back down and that this unfortunate affair will end with a whimper.

But if his aggressive impulses overcome him and he decides to carry on without his famous silk gloves - the ones he wore when he was the tough regional director of the Shin Bet in Nablus known as "Captain Yunis" - then Kamm and Blau can expect a bad and bitter fate. In Diskinland, the only democracy in the Middle East, all that's left to do is to pray that Diskin finally comes around.

Whistleblowing Israeli Journalist Treated as "Fugitive Felon"

Mossad Operation Threatened Against Reporter


in Nazareth.

An Israeli journalist who went into hiding after writing a series of reports showing lawbreaking approved by Israeli army commanders faces a lengthy jail term for espionage if caught, as Israeli security services warned at the weekend they would “remove the gloves” to track him down.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, said it was treating Uri Blau, a reporter with the liberal Haaretz daily newspaper who has gone underground in London, as a “fugitive felon” and that a warrant for his arrest had been issued.

Options being considered are an extradition request to the British authorities or, if that fails, a secret operation by Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, to smuggle him back, according to Maariv, a right-wing newspaper.

It was revealed yesterday that Mr Blau’s informant, Anat Kamm, 23, a former conscript soldier who copied hundreds of classified documents during her military service, had confessed shortly after her arrest in December to doing so to expose “war crimes”.

The Shin Bet claims that Mr Blau is holding hundreds of classified documents, including some reported to relate to Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s attack on Gaza in winter 2008 in which the army is widely believed to have violated the rules of war.

Other documents, the basis of a Haaretz investigation published in 2008, concern a meeting between the head of the army, Gabi Ashkenazi, and the Shin Bet in which it was agreed to ignore a court ruling and continue carrying out executions of Palestinian leaders in the occupied territories.

Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet, who has said his organisation was previously “too sensitive with the investigation”, is now demanding that Mr Blau reveal his entire document archive and take a lie-detector test on his return to identify his sources, according to Haaretz. The newspaper and its lawyers have recommended that he remain in hiding to protect his informants.

Haaretz has also revealed that, in a highly unusual move shortly before Israel’s attack on Gaza, it agreed to pull a printed edition after the army demanded at the last minute that one of Mr Blau’s stories not be published. His report had already passed the military censor, which checks that articles do not endanger national security.

Lawyers and human rights groups fear that the army and Shin Bet are trying to silence investigative journalists and send a warning to other correspondents not to follow in Mr Blau’s path.

“We have a dangerous precedent here, whereby the handing over of material to an Israeli newspaper … is seen by the prosecutor’s office as equivalent to contact with a foreign agent,” said Eitan Lehman, Ms Kamm’s lawyer. “The very notion of presenting information to the Israeli public alone is taken as an intention to hurt national security.”

The Shin Bet’s determination to arrest Mr Blau was revealed after a blanket gag order was lifted late last week on Ms Kamm’s case. She has been under house arrest since December. She has admitted copying hundreds of classified documents while serving in the office of Brig Gen Yair Naveh, in charge of operations in the West Bank, between 2005 and 2007.

Under an agreement with the Shin Bet last year, Haaretz and Mr Blau handed over 50 documents and agreed to the destruction of Mr Blau’s computer.

Both sides accuse the other of subsequently reneging on the deal: the Shin Bet says Mr Blau secretly kept other documents copied by Ms Kamm that could be useful to Israel’s enemies; while Mr Blau says the Shin Bet used the returned documents to track down Ms Kamm, his source, after assurances that they would not do so.

Haaretz said Mr Blau fears that they will try to identify his other informants if he hands over his archive.

Mr Blau learnt of his predicament in December, while out of the country on holiday. He said a friend called to warn that the Shin Bet had broken into his home and ransacked it. He later learnt they had been monitoring his telephone, e-mail and computer for many months.

In a move that has baffled many observers, the Shin Bet revealed last week that Mr Blau was hiding in London, despite the threat that it would make him an easier target for other countries’ intelligence agencies.

Amir Mizroch, an analyst with the right-wing Jerusalem Post newspaper, noted that it was as if Israel’s security services were “saying to Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Hizbullah and Iranian intelligence agents in London: ‘Yalla, be our guests, go get Uri Blau’.” He added that the real goal might be to flush out Mr Blau so that he would seek sanctuary at the Israeli embassy.

Ms Kamm is charged with espionage with intent to harm national security, the harshest indictment possible and one that could land in her jail for 25 years. Yesterday another of her lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, appealed to Mr Blau to return to Israel and give back the documents to help “minimise the affair”.

“The real question is whether this exceptionally heavy-handed approach is designed only to get back Kamm’s documents or go after Blau and his other sources,” said Jeff Halper, an Israeli analyst. “It may be that Kamm is the excuse the security services need to identify Blau’s circle of informants.”

Mr Blau has already published several stories, apparently based on Ms Kamm’s documents, showing that the army command approved policies that not only broke international law but also violated the rulings of Israel’s courts.

His reports have included revelations that senior commanders approved extra-judicial assassinations in the occupied territories that were almost certain to kill Palestinian bystanders; that, in violation of a commitment to the high court, the army issued orders to execute wanted Palestinians even if they could be safely captured; and that the defence ministry compiled a secret report showing that the great majority of settlements in the West Bank were illegal even under Israeli law.

Although the original stories date to 2008, the army issued a statement belatedly this week that Mr Blau’s reports were “outrageous and misleading”. No senior commanders have been charged over the army’s lawbreaking activities.

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, said its research had shown that “in many cases soldiers have been conducting themselves in the territories as if they were on a hit mission, as opposed to arrest operations”.

It added that the authorities had “rushed to investigate the leak and chose to ignore the severe suspicions of blatant wrongdoings depicted in those documents”.

A group of senior journalists established a petition this week calling for Mr Blau to be spared a trial: “So far, the authorities have not prosecuted journalists for holding secret information, which most of us have had in one form or another. This policy by the prosecution reflects, in our view, an imbalance between journalistic freedom, the freedom of expression and the need for security.”

However, media coverage of the case in Israel has been largely hostile. Yuval Elbashan, a lawyer, wrote in Haaretz yesterday that Mr Blau’s fellow military reporters and analysts had in the past few days abandoned their colleague and proven “their loyalty to the [security] system as the lowliest of its servants”.

One, Yossi Yehoshua, a military correspondent with the country’s largest-circulation newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth, who is said to have been approached by Ms Kamm before she turned to Mr Blau, is due to testify against her in her trial due next month.

Chat forums and talkback columns also suggest little sympathy among the Israeli public for either Ms Kamm or Mr Blau. Several Hebrew websites show pictures of Ms Kamm behind bars or next to a hangman’s noose.

A report on Israel National News, a news service for settlers, alleged that Ms Kamm had been under the influence of “rabidly left-wing“ professors at Tel Aviv University when she handed over the documents to the Haaretz reporter.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is

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