Richard Silverstein has been getting a lot of deserved publicity lately for his blogging on the Anat Kamm (or Kam) case. Not only did he force the State of Israel to drop its request for a gag order, but it seems, from what has been published today, that he has helped indirectly in the defense of Uri Blau, the Haaretz reporter, and Anat Kamm, the whistle-blower.
How so? I will explain. But first, those of you who read Hebrew should read the excellent post by Yossi Gurvitz here.
And if you don't have the time, here are Gurvitz's main points:
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.
So where does Silverstein's blogging come in? When asked why the Shabak decided to drop the request for the gag order now, Diskin said that negotiations with Haaretz and Blau had broken down. He did not mention anything about the worldwide publicity, and the embarrassment caused to Israel.
This indicates to me already the weakness of the "espionage" case against Kamm. After months of a house arrest (where Kam had full access to the internet, apparently) the police had still not been able to get everything they wanted from Kamm and Haaretz. By breaking the story early, Silverstein apparently broke the Shabak's ability, at least for the time being, to force Kamm into a plea bargain. They are now going to trial earlier than they wanted, if they go to trial at all. In the meantime, the gag order has turned the focus to what was leaked and not who leaked it. What the IDF didn't want was a public debate over the content of the documents.
Already, her lawyer, Eitan Lehmann, has spoken up:
"At the end of the day, we have a dangerous precedent here, whereby the handing over of material to an Israeli newspaper with the censor's approval is seen by the Prosecutor's Office as equivalent to contact with a foreign agent," Lehman said. "The very notion of presenting information to the Israeli public alone is taken as an intention to hurt national security."
"This very argument is dangerous to anyone who believes in Israeli democracy and in the freedom of the press," he said. "Anat is not part of an extremist political group of any kind…she's Israeli, Zionist, and objects to conscientious objection."
It is clear now that the purpose of the gag order was to stop public discussion so as to force Kamm and Haaretz to cut a deal with the prosecution. It had nothing to do with Israel's security.
If Anat Kamm is ultimately convicted of anything it should be of improper use of classified documents. She should then pay the penalty that a decent, liberal democratic society exacts from those who blow the whistle on governmental lies and cover-ups.
Anat Kamm. Daniel Ellsberg. Donald Woods. What do they have in common?