The partial lifting of the gag order on the Anat Kam espionage affair, which had already been exposed to the world media in March by Judith Miller, is stirring up a storm in Israel. The charge sheet accuses Kam of “divulging secret information with the intent to harm the security of the state,” which falls under “serious espionage” and carries a maximum life term. Haaretz, Israel’s left-wing daily, is at the center of the storm — and tying itself in knots to defend Kam, its journalist Uri Blau, and itself.
First, to recap: Kam, born in Jerusalem in 1987 and a gifted student, served as an office clerk under the then head of Central Command, Yair Naveh, from 2005 to 2007. She’s charged with illicitly copying about 2000 computer documents — 700 of them classified secret or top secret — and taking them with her when she left the army. The charge sheet says the documents contained, among other things, “plans of military operations, summaries of discussions within the IDF, deployment and order of battle … of IDF forces … , IDF situation estimates, IDF targets, and so on.” Security sources say they could have cost soldiers’ lives and posed a grave danger.
In 2008 Kam, then a student at Tel Aviv University and a journalist for the Walla news site, delivered a large amount of the documents to Blau. He, in turn, published in Haaretz some stories based on them that were cleared with the military censor. The stories involved assassinations of terrorists in the West Bank who, allegedly, could have been arrested; the Israeli Supreme Court had ruled that in such cases, the terrorist has to be arrested rather than killed. (Meanwhile, on Sunday the IDF spokesperson said Blau’s claims in these articles were “upsetting and distorted.”)
When sources in the defense establishment saw the stories, they worried about where they could have come from. The Israel Security Agency, better known as Shin Bet, eventually worked out a deal with Blau where he returned his documents and was promised they wouldn’t be used to incriminate him or his sources. A few months later, in December 2009, the Shin Bet identified Kam as the source of the documents — but the problem was that she admitted to giving Blau far more documents than he had turned over.
Kam was put under house arrest; Blau fled the country and is now in London. The Shin Bet negotiated with Blau’s lawyers in an attempt to retrieve the documents. It was when they concluded this was futile that the gag order was lifted.
As things now stand, Kam has been indicted and the trial is supposed to begin in May; the head of the Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, has warned that Blau is endangering himself and the country by holding onto his documents in a foreign location, but Blau still has not agreed to return to Israel and give them up.
Haaretz is rattled, and a sense of shock is said to hang over its editorial offices. It’s not only that Kam acted out of what the charge sheet called “ideological motivations” arising from the extreme left — an outlook given much voice in Haaretz (what she was doing in such a sensitive post, and how she could have gotten away with so much, is another unhappy dimension to this story). It’s also that Haaretz’s own journalist, Blau, is involved — and people are good and mad.
Yisrael Hasson, a former deputy head of the Shin Bet and a Knesset member from the center-left Kadima Party, called on people to cancel Haaretz subscriptions until Blau is fired and returns all the documents. Ronit Tirosh, also of Kadima, said: “It is infuriating that on the eve of Holocaust Day [Sunday evening and Monday] we find that displays of anti-Semitism exist even in our midst. Justice must be meted out to all those involved in this story, and the media and especially Haaretz must take careful stock.”
And yet, amid the storm, Haaretz is sticking to its guns and to its reporter. On Sunday it published a piece called “Haaretz Answers Four Key Questions on the Anat Kam Case” that shows how low Israel’s security actually ranks in its priorities. “Haaretz,” the article states, “believes that it cannot pass on all the documents Blau has to the defense establishment because its senior officials may use them to trace his sources.” The article also accuses the Shin Bet of “reneging” on its agreement with Blau — even though it was Blau who hoodwinked the Shin Bet by handing over only a fraction of his contraband. Yet Haaretz admits that it “decided to instruct Blau to remain abroad” despite the danger entailed. (It’s even speculated that Diskin, out of desperation, sought to scare Blau into returning.)
Also on Sunday Haaretz ran an op-ed by its columnist Yossi Sarid, a former leftist politician, arguing that what Kam did was fine because the institutions and country whose laws she violated aren’t worth much anyway. “Let every Israeli mother decide,” Sarid intoned,
if she has entrusted her sons to an army and government worthy of her trust. … Let the parents judge whether exposing the debates in the General Command is more dangerous than the corruption and hedonism in high places. Perhaps the rift between Israel’s prime minister and the U.S. president is a greater threat to state security, because it disrupts, among other things, the effort to eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat.
Ergo, why not steal top-secret documents from the army? But even this remarkable inanity was surpassed by yet another op-ed that Haaretz ran on Sunday. This one, by its notorious radical-left commentator Gideon Levy, portrays Kam and Blau as little less than heroes, claiming: “These two youngsters, each in his own way, wanted to contribute to the state. They saw evils and would not keep silent. This should be described and portrayed as patriotism and love of one’s country.”
With such patriots, Israel won’t need many enemies.
By Monday Kam had waived her journalistic immunity, and her lawyer was trying to convince Blau to return to Israel and hand over the documents on the understanding that he wouldn’t be charged. But even if such a deal is reached, Haaretz, for the bulk of the Israeli public, won’t smell like roses in this affair.
Indeed, the Israeli left as a whole has fallen on hard times lately. In the 2009 elections the two parties that most embody it, Labor and Meretz, won a total of 16 seats out of 120. Last February it was revealed that the New Israel Fund, a major and wide-ranging left-wing NGO, had supplied most of the false information enabling the Goldstone Report — recognized as an anti-Israeli calumny across the Israeli spectrum, that is, except for the far left.
The Kam affair, with the role played in it by Haaretz, the Israeli left’s main journalistic bastion and, through its English website, an endless source of fodder for Israel-bashers and haters the world over, already has the makings of another severe blow to the left. And that, for all the harm done and yet to be done, is the silver lining.