Today’s New York Times features a story by reporter Scott Shane on the long known but usually unspoken fact that our FBI secretly wiretaps the phone at the embassy of our major ally in the Middle East, Israel. It reveals that Shamai K. Leibowitz, a former FBI translator, was sentenced to 20 months in prison for leaking classified information to a blogger. Even Judge Alexander Williams, Jr., of the U.S. District Court in Maryland, did not know what Leibowitz had given the blogger.
What he passed on, Shane reveals, were transcripts of conversations caught on Bureau wiretaps of the Israeli embassy, including conversations with U.S. supporters of Israel and at least one member of Congress.
Shane’s story is based on the first interview with the blogger, whom he reveals to be one Richard Silverstein. Shane writes that Silverstein publishes a blog called Tikun Olam, which, he writes, “gives a liberal perspective on Israel and Israeli-American relations.” (my emphasis) Silverstein’s motive in talking to the press, he reports, was to show that Leibowitz, who was guilty of violating the Espionage Age, “was acting out of noble motives.”
Looking at the above sentence, what strikes informed readers immediately is the characterization of blogger Silverstein as one with a “liberal perspective.” In fact, Silverstein is, one might charitably say, far to the left of Noam Chomsky — a certified member of the fringe nutcase left-wing. What is it about Silverstein’s views that allows a Times reporter to so blatantly mischaracterize the man’s political views? Is it, perhaps, to be totally opposed to Israel and its very existence? Is this what the reporter sees as a “liberal viewpoint”?
For those interested, the website CIF Watch provides a thorough vetting of this Silverstein’s views. Silverstein says that his own blog is devoted to making the world a “better place.” CIF Watch comments that “his image of a ‘better place’ is more in line with Norman Finkelstein’s vision rather than Anne Frank’s.” They add this:
Though Silverstein repeatedly claims to be a Zionist, his writings feature unrelenting attacks on the Jewish state with a wanton disregard for any facts that repudiate his so-called “progressive” views on the conflict. Silverstein openly supports the likes of Norman Finkelstein and Walt and Mearsheimer, minimalizes and, at some times, justifies violence perpetrated by Hamas, vilifies the Israeli right wing and IDF to the point of demonization and supports a version of the one-state solution including the renunciation of the right of return of diaspora Jewry.
The proprietors of CIF Watch have conveniently assembled virtually scores of Silverstein’s writings, which they reproduce verbatim. My personal favorite is Silverstein’s defense of the terrorist attack at Chabad House in India during the Mumbai massacre a few years ago, in which the rabbi and his wife were slaughtered in cold blood. Here, Silverstein takes the words of a surviving terrorist. Silverstein wrote the following:
Pakistani militants have been known to select prominent foreign targets within Pakistan, as the Mumbai terrorists did last week. But few, if any, Pakistani militants have been known until now specifically to target Israelis. I say, Israelis rather than Jews because the single surviving terrorist noted that they chose Chabad House to avenge the suffering of the Palestinians. Therefore, the attack was anti-Israeli, though not necessarily antisemitic.
Another of my favorites is Silverstein’s condemnation of the Israeli historian Benny Morris, who rightfully calls the ideology of Hamas “Nazi-like,” which Silverstein comments is worthy of a point of view only taken by “rightist ideologues.”
So the paper of record has now stooped to the level of using as a source a blatant leftist Israel hater, whom it characterizes falsely as a “liberal” – a term which perhaps 90 percent of the paper’s readership identifies with. Hence, they will most likely see the source as credible. This is pertinent since Silverstein is quoted as defending Leibowitz, whom he calls “an American patriot and a whistle-blower,” who was concerned of “the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran” – something which both Leibowitz and Silverstein are obviously opposed to. Thus Silverstein had written blogs based on what Leibowitz had illegally given to him, including a report that the Israeli embassy had given President-elect Obama “regular written briefings” on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza between his election and inauguration. Another dealt with conversations with Israeli officials and members of Congress, and a third dealt with a phone call between a Jewish activist in Minnesota and the meeting of an Israeli embassy official with Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who was preparing to go to Gaza.
I have a few thoughts about what Leibowitz passed on and what Silverstein published. First, the entire episode leads me to recall the hullabaloo for the past few years about the indictment of the two former AIPAC lobbyists who were accused of accepting classified information from Larry Franklin, in an FBI sting operation. The case was eventually thrown out of court. Those who followed it remember scores of stories about how the indictment revealed that the two innocent AIPAC officials were betraying their own country, and that it proved the “dual loyalty” of those Americans who were supporting Israel.
Now, Richard Silverstein, by his own admission, accepted illegal classified information from an employee of the FBI, who compromised national security by giving the leftist blogger the classified data, in order to help stop what he thought might be an Israeli policy of which he disapproved. Silverstein blogged on the items because he too wanted to stop a possible Israeli strike on Iran.
Isn’t Mr. Silverstein, then, an accomplice to Leibowitz’s violation of the Espionage Act? He knew what he received was given to him illegally, and that he was dealing with secret information. Why, then, isn’t the U.S. government seeking to prosecute him also? Silverstein told the Times that after Leibowitz’s indictment, he burned the material in his back yard. As Omri Ceren wrote today at Contentions, “maybe the Times can explain how functionally single-sourced stories from agenda-driven partisans now qualify as publishable.”
Moreover, Shane even wrote that Silverstein’s “account could not be fully corroborated.” Yet the paper ran with the story. Evidently, if the story comes from a leftist opponent of Israel, it is worthy of a major story, even if the account eventually turns out to have major holes in it.
Perhaps when it comes to the Middle East, the paper should now have as its slogan: “All the anti-Israel news that we choose to print.” At least, then, readers would know what they’re getting when they buy the paper.