Israeli journalist Uri Blau to be indicted for holding classified information
Richard Silverstein, 27 March 2011
Yet another nail in the coffin of Israeli democracy will be hammered by the nation’s attorney general, who announced that the State will prosecute one of Israel’s most distinguished investigative journalists, Uri Blau, for his reporting in Haaretz about the top-secret IDF documents leaked to him by Anat Kamm. Never, as far as I know, has a journalist been charged with a crime for publishing such leaked documents. There will be Israeli advocates who will attempt to use arguments of strict legalism saying Blau violated a law and therefore must be prosecuted, etc., etc. But by the attorney general’s own admission this case is one of revenge against a reporter who’s gored the ox of the intelligence apparatus one too many times with his sharp, incisive and damaging reporting of stories of outrages perpetrated by the generals and intelligence agents.
In a startling admission apparently made with the approval of the attorney general, a senior government lawyer told a right-wing columnist why the government was pursuing Blau, but not Haaretz itself or it’s publisher, Amos Schocken:
“…I [Mati Golan] got a phone call from [deputy Attorney General] Raz Nezri. He said he was calling me because I’ve written before about the problematics of not having Haaretz and Shocken put on trial. Alongside the decision to try Blau, Nezri said, the Attorney General decided not to prosecute Haaretz. Why? Nezri confirmed “Haaretz acted inappropriately when it backed and sponsored Blau’s stay abroad”, but “we thought it was more correct to go for the precedent-setting move of prosecuting a journalist for retaining stolen documents, and not a move against Haaretz for obstruction of justice…
Uzi Benziman goes even farther in the online media criticism journal, 7th Eye:
The announcement [of Blau’s prosecution] derives from [the State’s] anger that he has insulted Shabak investigators because earlier in the case he agreed to return secret documents to the Shabak, but did not return all of them. Shabak cannot stand lies.
Except its own. It’s darkly ironic that Shabak take such umbrage at Blau’s impudence in lying to it when this agency lies both to detainees, lawyers and the public with equal impudence. How does the Shabak or government make a serious claim regarding Blau’s ethical lapses when they violate such norms regularly?
I’ve written about Yuval Diskin’s public comments that Blau “stuck his finger in his agency’s eye and twisted it” when he not only published a top-secret IDF document, but a photograph of the document itself. This effrontery the agency could not stomach. Though he continued by claiming there was no motive of vengeance or settling scores, as Benziman notes, this is precisely what the attorney general’s prosecution reveals.
Can you imagine that there is an Israeli journalist who advocates that the publisher of a competitor be thrown in prison because he published a story based on top-secret IDF documents? Israeli defense reporters do this virtually every day. They are leaked top-secret documents and information that the generals WANT the public to know. But when a reporter writes about such a document that IDF doesn’t want the public to know about, only then does it become a criminal offense.
Make no mistake, this is the criminalization of investigative reporting. This is the State saying you may report what we wish you to report and nothing more. It’s not quite there yet. But I note the absolute cowing of the Israeli media in the face of the Dirar Abusisi story, which I offered almost a score of Israeli and foreign journalists before it broke widely. To this day, there are major aspects of the case not yet reported within Israel. Why? Because journalists are patriots? That’s what Yossi Melman once argued to me. But I don’t buy it. And even if it’s true, this means journalists are subordinating their obligation to their profession to their obligation to the State. An unwelcome state of affairs in any so-called democracy.
Not to mention that very few Israeli journalists have come to Blau’s defense. You’d think there would be thundering editorials in all but the most right-wing publications. There are none. You’d think columnists would rally to Blau’s defense. With only rare exceptions, they haven’t. Partly, this stems from jealousy at the audacity of Blau’s stories; partly it stems from a desire for self-preservation. Only the protruding nail gets clobbered by the hammer. Those journalists who keep their heads down and don’t threaten the established order or consensus will continue to have access to their cherished intelligence sources who dole out leaks to them at their pleasure.
One might easily argue that this is a case of legal double jeopardy since Blau has already signed a plea deal through which he returned all top-secret documents in his possession (not just those offered him by Kamm) in exchange for being allowed to come back to Israel and not be charged. Now the State has changed its mind and thrown the plea deal out the window and decided to go full steam ahead with a prosecution that makes a mockery of due process and fair dealing, not to mention commits a grievous violation of press freedom. It does so based, according to Dimi Reider, on the unsupported claim that Blau hasn’t returned ALL the documents in his possession.
Let us be clear, Uri Blau is no ordinary reporter and turning him into a convicted felon is no ordinary undertaking. Blau has unearthed some of the most damaging stories involving generals, politicians and their feudal dynasties that were published in Israel in the past decade. This would be the equivalent of the Justice Department trying Seymour Hersh for his reporting. Many have likened him to Julian Assange in terms of his breathtaking access to whistleblowers inside the belly of the beast. From the authorities point of view, if they can knock off Blau they will have struck a major blow for defanging the Israeli media. While there are other good reporters in Israel, ones who are courageous and principled, Blau has been in a class by himself. His downfall would be a tragedy of major proportions for Israeli democracy and the public’s right to know.
Benziman notes the critical importance of leaks to all democracies:
Israeli media serve their social purpose successfully only when journalists are able to obtain and publish leaks. And such leaks sometimes take the form of secret documents.
This prosecution reveals once again the inadequacy of the Israeli political system in the absence of a constitution or Bill of Rights, which clearly define the obligations and rights of citizens under the law.