Leaking for Leaking’s Sake


Published December 01, 2010, issue of December 10, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The cascade of diplomatic cables unleashed by WikiLeaks and published by some of the world’s most respected news organizations has left us ambivalent and uncomfortable — as Jews, as journalists, as citizens.

It’s impossible to say whether the predictions of the most dire consequences of this enormous dump of scattered information will come true, whether lives indeed will be lost, careers shattered and the “world order” maintained by patient diplomacy cracked. Some have appreciated one comforting aspect of these revelations: They show the skill and strength of the U.S. diplomatic corps, and the absence, so far, of any glaring malfeasance.

But while the indiscriminate release of years of private conversations, reports and insights may be a historian’s dream, we have deep concerns about the effect on the trusting relationships so essential in the diplomatic world. Successful diplomacy, remember, can be an antidote to armed conflict; it produces alliances and treaties, regulates tensions, tames the rough edges of national hubris. Just as most of us would likely change our behavior if our private, unedited e-mails were strewn across the world’s front pages, diplomats will surely be forced to do the same. And for what?

If these documents revealed horrific crimes, lies of consequence or abuses of power, then the damage to privacy would be outweighed by the public good of exposure. That was the justification for publication of the Pentagon Papers nearly four decades ago; this latest WikiLeaks release so far does not meet that standard. Piercing government secrecy is a journalist’s goal, but that goal requires a broader civic purpose to prevent it from descending into destructive nihilism.

The initial cables were also greeted with triumphal justification in Israel, serving as confirmation that many Arab leaders, too, recognized the serious threat posed by Iran and were eager to see its nuclear ambitions thwarted. But, as our Gal Beckerman reports on our front page this week, this also is a mixed blessing of yet uncertain consequence. The WikiLeaks revelation of this heretofore “open secret” could spur a strong alliance between Israel and the Sunni Arab nations deeply concerned about Iranian hegemony. Or it may have the opposite effect, of chilling talk and forcing Arab leaders into a defensive posture to contain domestic resentment that could, at least in the short term, harm the prospect of a coordinated response.

That’s the ultimate problem with spilling secrets: Information has its own power, difficult to monitor and control. A free society depends on the free flow of information, of course, and citizens deserve every tool to be able to hold their governments accountable. But privacy and promises still must count for something in this world, if trust and mutual respect are ever to govern the relationships of peoples and nations.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.