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.

anat kam 311 (photo credit: Channel 2)
anat kam 311
(photo credit: Channel 2)
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 deviatesfrom acceptable journalistic practice. Most troubling is the paper’swillingness to back reporter Uri Blau, presently in self-imposed exilein Britain, if, as is alleged by the state, he is holding on to whatmay be some 2,000 sensitive documents, 700 of which are judged by theShin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to be of a confidential or highlyconfidential nature.
Security sources say thedocuments contain top-secret information concerning General Stafforders, personnel numbers in the Central Command, intelligenceinformation, information on IDF doctrine and data on sensitive militaryexercises, weaponry and military platforms. The files also allegedlycontain details on what the Central Command does in the event of amajor escalation – how it deploys forces to the West Bank and where itstations them there.
Far less comprehensiblethan Kamm’s alleged ideologically motivated decision to steal so manydocuments is Blau’s refusal to hand them back. He’s had the documentssince at least October 2008, when he began publishing reports based onthem.
Damage control  is possible only afterthe Shin Bet verifies precisely which classified documents were takenby Kamm and who received them. The public interest in such damagecontrol, given the sensitivity of the material, should be obvious toBlau and to Haaretz. This is a matter of life-and-death nationalsecurity.
According to Shin Bet chief YuvalDiskin, Blau reneged on an agreement to hand over the documents – underwhich he would nonetheless still have had the opportunity to writearticles based on them – running off first to China, and then toBritain. His refusal to return the papers, and to return himself,implies he has something to hide.
The argumentthat Blau’s refusal to hand over the documents lies in his desire toprotect Kamm, furthermore, is no match for the wider national securityinterest, but it is also contradicted by the fact that Haaretz publishedpotentially incriminating photocopies of documents taken by Kamm beforeshe was arrested in December 2009.
THE KAMMdrama touches on fundamental ethical dilemmas that face the State ofIsrael as it strives to maintain freedom of press while fightingadversaries that couldn’t care less about such an ideal. The success ofZionism is emphatically about nurturing the Middle East’s only truedemocracy and ensuring freedom of expression as well as about providingfor the physical protection of the Jewish people.
These two goals are not contradictory, they are mutuallydependent: The knowledge that Israel fights its wars in accordance withethical directives provides Israel’s citizens with the conviction ofthe justness of its cause. A free, inquisitive press helps ensure thatthe IDF maintains those ethical standards. If the targeted-killingspolicy, or any other IDF policy for that matter, is out of line withthe rulings of the Israeli judiciary, this requires ourattention.
Regrettably, however, theunwillingness of Blau and his newspaper to meet the Shin Bet’s demandto return stolen documents whose content would aid our enemies andrender our people more vulnerable raises grave questions about thepaper’s priorities.
Has Haaretz adoptedthe radical agenda of some of its writers, whofocus obsessively in its pages on Israel’s purported brutality whileignoring Palestinian terror, violence and incitement? Or is the papertruly interested in strengthening Israeli democracy via constructivecriticism? The way to clear up the doubt would be to return the stolendocuments to the Shin Bet as quickly as possible.
As the Jewish people gathers to commemorate the memory of the sixmillion, this is an opportune time to recall the events that led to thecreation of the State of Israel. The Jews returned to their land notout of a desire to wage war with the Palestinian people, but out of arealization that they could rely on no one but themselves to survive.

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