Israel: Secrets and lies in Anat Kamm case
The injunction and indictment of activist Anat Kamm for leaking confidential documents has revealed some uncomfortable truths about Israeli attitudes to free expression, says Shaul Adar
08 Apr 10

The injunction and indictment of activist Anat Kamm for leaking confidential documents has revealed some uncomfortable truths about Israeli attitudes to free expression, says Shaul Adar

When an Israeli court lifted the gag order covering the investigation and arrest of Anat Kamm, a former soldier and a journalist, on Thursday morning, it would have been easy to believe this was a watershed moment. But this may not be the case.

The Kamm saga started in November 2008, when Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz published a feature claiming the IDF was defying an Israeli Supreme Court ruling — the order should have prevented the security services killing Palestinian terrorists who could have been captured alive. Ha’aretz suggested the military had unilaterally loosened its rules of engagement, marked terrorists for assassination and also published top secret IDF documents.

The story didn’t have much impact but the publication of a copy of an actual IDF secret document lead to investigation by Shin Bet (Israel internal security agency) to discover who has leaked the documents published by journalist Uri Blau in his article.

A year later, Anat Kamm, a former soldier who served as assistant to the bureau chief of OC Central Command, and a writer for popular Israeli website Walla! was arrested on suspicion of espionage as well as holding and leaking top secret documents. She was put under house arrest and a gag order was issued by court. Kamm has now been charged with two counts of “grave espionage”.

Shin Bet claim Kamm stole over 2,000 documents, some of them highly sensitive and passed many of them to Blau, who has been in self-imposed exile in London since the end of last year. Blau has returned about 50 IDF documents to Shin Bet, but negotiations have stalled on the return the remaining documents — the documents could incriminate both Kamm and Blau. As the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement, the state let the gag order to be lifted.

While hardly anybody took notice of the original issue of the IDF’s disregard for the court ruling, the gagging order attracted criticism in Israel and around the world. It took more than three months to break the news, but when bloggers and British papers published it, the Israeli media started dropping hints about the case. And when Israel’s most popular paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, published a heavily censored column by American journalist Judith Miller mocking the injunction it was obvious that the gag is not affective any more.

Still; it took three months to publish the fact that Kamm was under arrest. Ha’aretz and Blau have been told to disclose any IDF documents they have and the general feeling in Israel is that Shin Bet knows everything and it is better not to go near the case (the advice I got from a lawyer few weeks ago). In the words of Tali Lieblich, Ha’aretz’s lawyer: “Every Israeli journalist should know that he may be the victim of such persecution himself.”

Colonel Sima Vaknin Gil, head of military censorship, agreed that there was no point to keep the gag order for much longer but added that “sometimes a gag is important if publishing the story may lead to a publish discussion that we can’t control”.

The public reaction in Israel was predictable. Websites were flooded with calls to shut down Ha’aretz, put Kamm in jail for the rest of her life and “do a Vanunu” to Blau. Radio phone-ins urged the state to put a stop to over-rated freedom of speech and an over-powerful press.

Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, concluded in a special media briefing: “We were too gentle… We should have taken of our gloves much earlier in this case. We were too sensitive to the world of journalism. We dragged the investigation for far too long. It should have finished ages ago. That’s our lesson.”