Wednesday 7 April 2010

Israeli Justice? - The strange case of Anat Kam and the dog that didn’t bark

Anat Kam? Most people will probably never have heard of her. She is an Israeli journalist who has for the past four months or so been under house arrest in Tel-Aviv for allegedly leaking secret Israeli defense ministry documents. The journalist who probably received the leaked papers has now fled Israel and is currently living in London, fearful for his safety if he returned to Israel.

So far there is nothing too special about this story. After all if you leak secret papers you might well be liable for arrest. What however makes this story not just interesting but scandalous is the reaction of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) and the Israeli government. For they have secured a gag order on the media which forbids journalists and bloggers in Israel not only from reporting on the details of Kam’s prosecution, but from even acknowledging that she had been detained.

Thus this is not just an everyday story of leaking damaging secrets, but the attempts of an almighty state to control what its own citizens can know. In other words this whole incident raises serious questions about the nature of Israeli society. An Israel which likes to boast that it is the only democracy in the Middle East. An Israel which is a bastion of “Western” values. And an army which is “the most moral army in the world”. Luckily for us, every so often we get to see behind the carefully constructed smoke screens and the truth about Israel emerges. And it is not a pretty picture.

First of all the quasi omnipotence of the IDF and its security apparatus - Shin Bet - is laid bare. Not only can they easily obtain a gagging order on the whole of Israel’s media, they can even keep this secret from top politicians. Apparently the Speaker of the Knesset was kept in the dark about this. Is this the kind of “Western” values that Israel upholds?

Secondly we can see the essential subservience of the Israeli media. Willingly or unwillingly, virtually all of Israel’s media has complied with this gagging order with the exception of a few Hebrew language bloggers. So much for a free press. And so much for standing up to unjust actions by the overweening authorities. If all or at least the majority of Israeli newspapers and media had defied the order, what would have happened? Would the IDF storm every newspaper office? The complicity of the overwhelming majority of the Israeli media is more akin to life in a military dictatorship than to life in a ‘Western’ democracy.

Linked to the inaction of the Israeli media is the even more scandalous reaction of the mainstream media in the West itself. Or rather the lack of reaction. For this is a classic example of the Dog that Didn’t Bark. It is not as if they don’t know. Newspapers and TV channels with offices in Israel will have been aware of this story every since it began, but chose to remain silent. The rest of the world, or at least the English speaking world became aware of the story in early March. That was when US blogger Richard Silverstein first revealed the story in his blog Tikun Olam. He has kept up with the developing story on a regular basis ever since. Other English language bloggers have also picked up on the story. Yet with the odd exception - the Guardian and Independent in the UK, the Huffington Post and to-day, the New York Times, in the US - our mainstream media has chosen to remain silent. Why? Whatever terrible things Shin Bet and the IDF may be able to do to journalists in Israel, our brave reporters in London, New York and elsewhere are pretty safe. Or are they? Perhaps the reach of the IDF does extend as far as threatening the lives of journalists in the UK and the USA. Most unlikely all the same. So what dose explain the continuing silence here in the West - the home of the free press and investigative journalism?

Let us imagine for a moment that Anat Kam was an Iranian whistle blower and that she is under house arrest in Teheran and subject to a gagging order which only a few brave Iranian bloggers had managed to expose. And that another Iranian journalist was in hiding in London fearful for his life. Can you imagine the mainstream media remaining silent about this. All hell would break loose about the depravity of the Iranian regime. In fact if this story had happened in any other country in the world it would have made headlines. So perhaps another lesson from all this is the willing complicity of our own media in covering up the true nature of Israeli society. Not only the media but our politicians too. Given the extent to which the USA in particular underwrites Israel, you would have thought some US politician would dare to speak out about this scandalous treatment of the media. Just how far does the reach of the pro-Israel Lobby go?

The other key aspect of this story is the substance of the secret papers that Anat Kam has allegedly leaked. For these papers reveal the fact that senior officers in the Israeli Army, including Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, knowingly violated Israel Supreme Court orders as well as international laws by ordering the assassination of Palestinians even when it was possible to capture the suspects alive. This is what the IDF are so desperate to cover up. Just to be sure about all this. Senior officers in the IDF have ordered the unlawful killing of Palestinians. This is of course a war crime or indeed a crime against humanity. Now the IDF might not care too much about international law, but their actions were also in contravention of Israel’s own Supreme Court. The IDF and its cronies in the government obviously believe they are above the law. So much for the ‘most moral army in the world’.

As Israeli blogger Noam Sheizaf puts it in his Promised Land blog: “If this was indeed the liberal democracy some people believe Israel to be, these officers would have been forced to resign and prosecuted. There is no chance of this happening.” Israel has however long ceased to be a Liberal Democracy and the sooner our media and politicians wake up to this fact the better. What Israel has become is a 21st century version of Prussia - a deeply militarised society with a light gloss of democracy - for Jews only - to cover the blemishes. You can read a previous post on this topic here.

The gagging orders on the media show the extent to which the IDF and the Israeli state are terrified of the truth. At all costs not just us in the West, but Israeli citizens themselves must be shielded from the truth. This particular story is only unusual in the severity of the gagging order. However attempts by Israeli authorities to hide the truth are commonplace. Some recent examples.

Jared Malsin, a Jewish American graduate of Yale University, was until recently English language editor of the Palestinian news service Ma’an News. That is until he was deported by the orders of the Israeli security services on the grounds that he had published damaging reports about Israeli military conduct in the Occupied Territories. Clearly the Israelis will go to almost any length to avoid the truth.

Two international activists, Ariadna Jove Marti (Spain) and Bridgette Chappell (Australia), who were living in Bir Zeit in the West Bank were arrested by the IDF last month and threatened with deportation. Their case is currently with the Israel Supreme Court. What makes this case particularly indicative of current trends in Israel is that the main charge against the activists had nothing to do with national security, but with the ideas they expressed. The “crime” involved words, not actions. The arrest by the army, not the police, took place within part of the West Bank that is supposed to be under Palestinian control. Yet Israel clearly ignores this and its so called security forces act with impunity all over the occupied West Bank. This is akin to a US military force crossing the Canadian border to arrest a UK citizen living in Vancouver, taking them to the US and threatening them with deportation. What kind of state does this? You can read more about this case here.

An even stranger case is the fate of the delegation of young Swedish citizens with Jewish and Palestinian roots who had come to Israel to participate in educational sessions with Israelis and Palestinians. The trip was funded by the Olof Palme Foundation in Stockholm. The three Swedish citizens of Palestinian origin were denied entry into Israel and deported back to Sweden. The four with Jewish roots were allowed to stay. One of them though was asked to sign a declaration that he would not enter Palestinian territory. What was this all about? Are the Israeli authorities so terrified of the prospect of Jews and Palestinians living in harmony? You can read more about this here.

I end this post with the final two paragraphs from Max Blumenthal’s account of the Anat Kam case. The full post can be found on his blog here. “While the media blackout casts the darkest shadow over Israel’s already withered democratic institutions, the fact that Kam is being charged with treason is nearly as disturbing. While she may be guilty of leaking confidential documents, she is only accused of malfeasance for exposing a much greater crime, an illegal assassination that appeared to have been authorized at the highest levels of the IDF general command. She is a whisteblower in the tradition of Mark Felt and Daniel Ellsberg. In Netanyahu’s Israel, however, she is being treated as an enemy of the state.

If reporters can be prosecuted or intimidated by the state for exposing acts that the Israeli Supreme Court has declared illegal, then the court holds nothing more than symbolic authority. By voiding the rulings of the court without a second thought, Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus has demonstrated the preeminence of its power. At the same time, its reliance on gag orders has revealed a growing sense of desperation. What else is the IDF hiding?”

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