Skewed priorities in the Anat Kamm affair

Haaretz would do well to remind itself what is at stake if the security of the Jewish state is needlessly endangered.

April 12, 2010 12:44
4 minute read.
Anat Kam in court.

anat kam 311. (photo credit: Channel 2)


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Perhaps the highest calling of a free press is to serve as society’s watchdog through conscientious muckraking. In that spirit, Haaretz chose to publish articles based on classified documents that raised questions about the IDF’s targeted-killings policy against Islamic Jihad terrorists.

Anat Kamm stole those documents, and many, many more, during her  army service from 2005 to 2007 in the office of the commander of the Central Command. The very fact that these documents had been stolen, and the indiscriminate nature of her theft, might have given the newspaper pause, but it acted properly within the framework of military censorship by getting approval from the censor before publishing specific articles based on particular documents.

It argued that this material fell firmly within the definition of public interest. And it gave the IDF advance notice of the articles, to enable the IDF to respond.

From this point onward, however, Haaretz’s behavior deviates from acceptable journalistic practice. Most troubling is the paper’s willingness to back reporter Uri Blau, presently in self-imposed exile in Britain, if, as is alleged by the state, he is holding on to what may be some 2,000 sensitive documents, 700 of which are judged by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to be of a confidential or highly confidential nature.

Security sources say the documents contain top-secret information concerning General Staff orders, personnel numbers in the Central Command, intelligence information, information on IDF doctrine and data on sensitive military exercises, weaponry and military platforms. The files also allegedly contain details on what the Central Command does in the event of a major escalation – how it deploys forces to the West Bank and where it stations them there.

Far less comprehensible than Kamm’s alleged ideologically motivated decision to steal so many documents is Blau’s refusal to hand them back. He’s had the documents since at least October 2008, when he began publishing reports based on them.

Damage control  is possible only after the Shin Bet verifies precisely which classified documents were taken by Kamm and who received them. The public interest in such damage control, given the sensitivity of the material, should be obvious to Blau and to Haaretz. This is a matter of life-and-death national security.

According to Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, Blau reneged on an agreement to hand over the documents – under which he would nonetheless still have had the opportunity to write articles based on them – running off first to China, and then to Britain. His refusal to return the papers, and to return himself, implies he has something to hide.

The argument that Blau’s refusal to hand over the documents lies in his desire to protect Kamm, furthermore, is no match for the wider national security interest, but it is also contradicted by the fact that Haaretz published potentially incriminating photocopies of documents taken by Kamm before she was arrested in December 2009.

THE KAMM drama touches on fundamental ethical dilemmas that face the State of Israel as it strives to maintain freedom of press while fighting adversaries that couldn’t care less about such an ideal. The success of Zionism is emphatically about nurturing the Middle East’s only true democracy and ensuring freedom of expression as well as about providing for the physical protection of the Jewish people.

These two goals are not contradictory, they are mutually dependent: The knowledge that Israel fights its wars in accordance with ethical directives provides Israel’s citizens with the conviction of the justness of its cause. A free, inquisitive press helps ensure that the IDF maintains those ethical standards. If the targeted-killings policy, or any other IDF policy for that matter, is out of line with the rulings of the Israeli judiciary, this requires our attention.

Regrettably, however, the unwillingness of Blau and his newspaper to meet the Shin Bet’s demand to return stolen documents whose content would aid our enemies and render our people more vulnerable raises grave questions about the paper’s priorities.

Has Haaretz adopted the radical agenda of some of its writers, who focus obsessively in its pages on Israel’s purported brutality while ignoring Palestinian terror, violence and incitement? Or is the paper truly interested in strengthening Israeli democracy via constructive criticism? The way to clear up the doubt would be to return the stolen documents to the Shin Bet as quickly as possible.

As the Jewish people gathers to commemorate the memory of the six million, this is an opportune time to recall the events that led to the creation of the State of Israel. The Jews returned to their land not out of a desire to wage war with the Palestinian people, but out of a realization that they could rely on no one but themselves to survive.

Six decades and countless battles later, Haaretz would do well to remind itself what is at stake if the security of the Jewish state is needlessly endangered.

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