Jerusalem — In Israel’s highly polarized public square, the ideological lines dividing the country’s major media outlets are clear to all. Among daily newspapers, Haaretz stands on the left, Yediot Aharanot in the center, Ma’ariv on the center-right and Israel Hayom, owned by American casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, on Israel’s nationalist right.
But the government’s recent decision to prosecute a prominent investigative journalist for what the prosecutor is publicly calling “espionage” has provoked a rare consensus among seven of the country’s highly competitive defense correspondents from these and other media outlets.
The indictment of Haaretz investigative reporter Uri Blau, the journalists declared in a May 30 public statement, represents “the crossing of a red line that constitutes a dangerous precedent for press freedom in Israel.”
Notable among the signatories was Yoav Limor of Israel Hayom. Haaretz’s own defense correspondent, Amos Harel, was not a signatory. The newspaper itself has declined to comment on the issue, as has Blau.
Channel 10 TV’s senior defense correspondent, Alon Ben-David, who signed the statement, told the Forward that he sees Blau’s indictment for possession of military documents as an affront to his profession, which brings accountability to the defense establishment by keeping the public informed about its work. “That’s what I do for a living — I collect what we call secret information,” he told the Forward.
It was on May 30 that Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced that he would soon indict Blau, who published a series of stories that purported to expose wrongdoing — including an alleged wrongful assassination — by Israeli security forces, based partly on a cache of more 1,500 classified documents. Blau obtained copies of the documents from Anat Kamm, a woman then serving as a soldier in the Central Command. Kamm has said she was motivated by what she viewed as shocking military misconduct.
Kamm, who passed hundreds of classified military documents to Blau during her army service, is now serving a prison term of four and a half years for her actions, under the well-established principle that the person who actually purloins a classified document in violation of her security clearance is the one exposed to legal risk.
Blau’s possession of these documents was also a violation of Israeli law, but one that has been, until now, routinely accepted by the state under the unwritten rules of jounalists’ privilege.
On June 3, a crowd of about 50 protesters, including many journalists, gathered outside the Justice Ministry with placards warning that press freedom was in danger. “Am I also a spy?” asked one of the placards a journalist carried.
Though Weinstein’s office announced that Blau would be indicted on “espionage” charges, it is not claiming that he intended to harm state security or spied for a foreign government. The prosecutor claimed instead that the case is serious because the “potential for damage” from Blau holding the documents was “enormous.”
The attorney general’s office declined to comment to the Forward, but its statement on the indictment said that it had taken account of the importance of “preserving the character of the press in Israel as a free press.”
Kamm gave Blau her stash of documents in the summer of 2008, but the army didn’t know about them until November of that year, when Blau published a story that angered top military brass. Citing and even reproducing documents to support his story, Blau suggested that Israel had violated strict guidelines issued two years earlier by the Supreme Court by assassinating Palestinian militants in so-called “targeted killings” — for example, by killing even when the target did not pose an immediate security threat. He also published some other stories via the documents.