Wednesday, April 07, 2010

"CYOA" military provokes press freedom crisis in "Middle East's only democracy"

The Israeli right and its American apologists often refer to the country as the Middle East's only democracy as a sort of inoculation against the slightest suggestion that the actions of Jewish state's government are in any way less than perfect.

(e.g.: It's okay for Israel to commit war crimes or crimes against humanity because it's "the only democracy in the Middle East," just as it's okay for the US to do the same because it's the self-proclaimed "leader of the free world.")

Like the US, Israel is often caricatured as a monolithic state where everyone subscribes to the prevailing militaristic orthodoxy. However in both countries, the reality is much more nuanced. While they don't scream hysterically non-stop like the settlers and others on the far right, there is a not-insignificant percentage of civilized Israelis that support a rational, sensible path toward peace that acknowledges Palestinians as humans, a path that, unlike militarism, might actually have a chance to work.

This group of civilized Israelis is trying to do something controversial: hold the country's security establishment accountable. The establishment has responded by provoking a freedom of the press crisis in "the Middle East's only democracy."

Alternet has a remarkable story on the scandal.

Anat Kam is a 23-year-old Israeli journalist who allegedly procured confidential documents while she worked in an Israeli Army general’s office during her mandatory military service. The documents revealed that in 2007, Israeli Army forces assassinated a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member in direct contravention of a Supreme Court order that banned the killing of wanted militants if there was a reasonable chance to arrest them first. Two top Israeli military officials, former Central Command Chief Major General Yair Naveh, Operations Directorate Head Major General Tal Russo, and Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, who directed the assault on Gaza in 2008 and 09, are said to have been incriminated in the documents.

Kam allegedly photocopied the documents and passed them along to the security reporter for Haaretz, one of Israel's leading daily newspapers, which published an article based on them.

This aroused the ire of the Israeli military, which since 1988 has demanded that journalists submit all "material relevant to the security of the state" to the military censor for review, and which compels all journalists seeking an official Israeli press card (GPO card) to sign on to the censorship policy. By all accounts, Blau submitted his article for review to the censor and was cleared for publication.

Kam was detained and placed under house arrest last year, though news of this only started coming out in the last few weeks. She is now on trial for treason and espionage and faces up to 14 years in prison.

Meanwhile, the journalist who published the article is hiding in London. He is terrified to return to Israel. His hard-hitting reports on Israeli Army abuses in the occupied West Bank have made him the bane of the military establishment. "At least ten journalists inside Israel have told me [Blau] is the real target," a reporter working in Israel and Palestine told me. "And everyone is saying they’re simply prosecuting Kam to make an example out of her."

The Israeli Shin Bet security service secured a gag order on the media from an apparent rubber stamp judge who had spent almost her entire career in military courts. The order, issued in January, forbade 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. A reporter I spoke to was publishing stories on the scandal under an anonymous byline. The New York Times has done the same, meaning even Ethan Bronner might be afraid of the Shin Bet.

The gag order was so secret that even the Speaker of the Knesset was reportedly not allowed to see it.

Perhaps this is the "Middle East's only democracy"'s own ironic way to mark the 40th anniversary of the US Pentagon Papers.

Note: Please see the Alternet story, which links to a number of other relevant places.

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