The Strange Disappearance Of Anat Kam

Graffiti in Israel: Where are you, Anat Kam?

Graffiti in Israel: "Where are you, Anat Kam?"

Imagine that the US military ordered the arrest of the person who leaked the now-notorious video depicting US soldiers mowing down two Reuters journalists and a crowd of innocent Iraqis. Then imagine that a court then imposed a gag order forbidding all American reporters and bloggers from even mentioning the arrest of the leaker. What would the media blackout say about the state of American democracy?

Of course this hypothetical scenario would be unthinkable in a country like the US, which boasts a grand tradition of whisteblowing, and which has shield laws in 36 states. The reason I raised it was to dramatize the outrageous nature of a gag order in Israel that has forbidden journalists and bloggers from reporting on the so-called Anat Kam affair. Who is Kam and why is speaking her name a crime in the Israeli media?

To make a long story shorter, 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 oversaw the Gaza assault of 2008 and 09, are said to have been incriminated in the documents.

Kam is believed to have photocopied the documents and passed them on to Uri Blau, a top national security reporter for the Israeli daily, Haaretz (Haaretz’s editor in chief has called any link between Kam and Blau “absurd,” however). Blau proceeded to publish an article detailing the contents of the documents, provoking 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 last December and placed under house arrest. However, news of her arrest only began to seep out into the news in March. Kam now awaits trial for treason and espionage, charges that could land her in prison for as long as 14 years.

Meanwhile, Blau is hiding out in London. According to multiple sources, Blau 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.”

Seeking to suppress discussion of the scandal, Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, 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 leaked tonight on the blog of Richard Silverstein. According to Israel’s Channel 10, its contents had been kept from secret at the personal insistence of Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin — even the Speaker of the Knesset was not allowed to see it.

A friend has helped me translate the salient portions:

The order identifies Superintendent Saar Shapira as the police official who went to court to request it; the plan to arrest Kam is referred to as “Operation Double-Overtake.” The most notable piece of information is that Israel’s National and International Serious Crimes Unit spearheaded the investigation into Kam’s conduct. The involvement of this unit, which in the past has gone after Israeli journalists for traveling to designated enemy nations like Syria, and therefore seems primarily concerned with crimes committed abroad, raises the question of whether Kam leaked documents to reporters besides Blau who work for international papers.

While American bloggers like Richard Silverstein have been reporting on the Kam affair for weeks, some Israeli bloggers have taken down their posts, fearing that they could harm Kam’s defense — and possibly place themselves in danger — by provoking the Shin Bet and reactionary political elements. Kam’s defense team has allegedly urged bloggers to take posts down in hopes of lessening her sentence. The fact that the contents of the gag order were not shown to anyone until tonight only added to the climate of confusion and fear.

There are exceptions to the blackout, however. The Israeli reporter Mya Guarneri has written about the Kam affair at The National, a foreign paper. And the scandal has received in-depth treatment from the Palestinian news service, Ma’an News, which recently lost a top editor, Jared Malsin (an American graduate of Yale University), when Israeli security services ordered his deportation on the grounds that he had published damaging reports about Israeli military conduct in the Occupied Territories. Besides a few vigilant Israeli bloggers, a Facebook page devoted to Kam’s case is hosting what blogger Didi Remez calls “a de facto civil disobedience campaign.”

Two major papers in Israel have tried to find their way around the gag order. Yedioth Ahronoth satirized the media blackout (I’m not sure if the satire was intentional), submitting Judith Miller’s report about Kam to the military censor, then publishing a redacted version of the article (see it here). And Haaretz has run an interview with a former Supreme Court Justice, Dalia Dorner, who mocks the order as pointless in the age of the internet. “If the entire world knows about [the Kam affair],” Dorner said, “issuing a gag order is baseless.” However, the article does not mention Kam directly or describe the details of her case.

While the media blackout casts the darkest shadow over Israel’s already withered democratic institutions, the fact that Kam is being charged with treason is nearly as disturbing. While she may be guilty of leaking confidential documents, she is only accused of malfeasance for exposing a much greater crime, an illegal assassination that appeared to have been authorized at the highest levels of the IDF general command. She is a whisteblower in the tradition of Mark Felt and Daniel Ellsberg. In Netanyahu’s Israel, however, she is being treated as an enemy of the state.

If reporters can be prosecuted or intimidated by the state for exposing acts that the Israeli Supreme Court has declared illegal, then the court holds nothing more than symbolic authority. By voiding the rulings of the court without a second thought, Israel’s military-intelligence apparatus has demonstrated the preeminence of its power. At the same time, its reliance on gag orders has revealed a growing sense of desperation. What else is the IDF hiding?

7 thoughts on “The Strange Disappearance Of Anat Kam

  1. yuval

    Thank you for retelling the story of Anat Kam.
    Telling this story again and again is important for the freedom of press in Israel. However I disagree with some of the points in the presentation.

    “Imagine that an American federal court issued a gag order threatening journalists and bloggers with criminal charges for reporting on the now-notorious video depicting US soldiers mowing down two Reuters journalists and a crowd of innocent Iraqis. ”

    This dramatization is wrong. The Haaretz article with the documents was published and cleared through the Israeli censor. The gag isn’t on reporting the article itself.

    “Perhaps the most outrageous aspect of the Kam case is not the media blackout, but the fact that Kam is being prosecuted in the first place.”

    As far as anyone can tell Anat Kam is accused of stealing top secret documents, an accusation that should be brought for a court to decide (of whether there was a greater cover-up).

    The blackout is the issue!
    It is dangerous for a country to allow people to be secretly taken to house arrests. It seems like the only reason is to prevent political inconvenience. Most bloggers removed their post due to direct requests from Anat. This does not excuse the removal of the posts – because it allows a 1984 approach for hushing the story. (I don’t know if I could hold ground to a direct request from her either).

  2. Max Post author

    Thanks for the comment, Yuval. I’ve adjusted the post a little to take your points into account. Like everyone I’m struggling to wade through the details. I did report that Blau cleared his piece with the censor, however.

  3. richards1052

    I think the name of the Operation should be properly translated as “Double-Take.” If that’s the case, it’s very interesting that they chose to use the term “double” which may have unintentionally given away that there are two targets of this investigation: Anat Kam & even more importantly, Uri Blau, who the IDF & intelligence services desperately want to get for being a huge thorn in their side not just in this case, but many others over the past yr or so. He’s made them into a laughingstock.

  4. eileen fleming

    The military censor, approved the Haaretz story for publication. The Israeli courts gagged the details of Kam’s arrest and news of the arrest itself.

    On 1 April 2010, “The New York Times” reported, “The secrecy surrounding Kam’s detention is reminiscent of the arrest of Mordechai Vanunu [who] was kidnapped by Israeli intelligence agents in Rome and taken back to Israel to stand trial behind closed doors…Some details of the Vanunu affair are still under wraps domestically.”

    Vanunu was released from 18 years in a tomb sized windowless cell on April 21, 2004 and as of this writing he is still waiting for the right to leave the state.

    A total of 1,200 pages of transcript of Vanunu’s 1986 closed door trial have been released.

    In a 2003, BBC documentary Peter Hounam [the reporter who broke Vanunu's 1986 story] noted, “Vanunu told the world that Israel had developed between one hundred and two hundred atomic bombs and had gone on to develop neutron bombs and thermonuclear weapons. Enough to destroy the entire Middle East and nobody has done anything about it since.”

    On January 25, 2006, after nearly two years of speaking with hundreds, perhaps thousands of foreigners since his release from prison, Vanunu was convicted by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court of 15 violations of a military order that had prohibited him from talking to non-Israelis.

    Vanunu was also charged with attempting to “leave the state” while taking a cab from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to attend Christmas Eve mass at the Church of the Nativity in 2004. He has no passport or visa and was only carrying a Santa hat.

    The original indictment included 22 different violations; Vanunu was charged with 19 and acquitted of four. He was acquitted of speaking to foreign nationals on the internet and via video and voice chats.

    On July 2, 2007, Israel sentenced Vanunu to six more months in jail for speaking to foreign media in 2004.

    On September 23, 2008, the Jerusalem District Court reduced Vanunu’s sentence to three months, “In light of (Vanunu’s) ailing health and the absence of claims that his actions put the country’s security in jeopardy.”
    On June 14, 2009, while I was in east Jerusalem, Vanunu and he told me, “The Central Commander of the General Army testified in court that it is OK if I speak in public as long as I do not talk about nuclear weapons.”

    On July 6, 2009, Israeli Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish continued to deny Vanunu the right to leave the state claiming that, “case is still generating great interest, like any other security-related case. The media’s attention he gets is proof of that.”
    I phoned Vanunu after reading that bad news and he said, “You have freedom of speech and freedom of movement. Do what you want. But I am not publishing anything. Everything is already on the Internet.”

    The very next day, July 7, 2009, my Facebook account was deactivated while I was posting my video interviews with Vanunu and posing the question, “Have you eyes to see and ears to hear Vanunu on video in 2005, 2006, 2008?’

    Facebook never replied to my multiple email inquiries asking “why was I deactivated/deleted/censored while posting to a Cause and Group I created and was the only Administrator of?”

    On December 14, 2009 Vanunu returned to the Israeli Supreme Court and I phoned him and learned he expected their decision regarding the three month sentence “in a few weeks” and he was confident he will be freed as “they have no case against me.”

    On December 21, 2009, Uzi Eilam, a former head of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission stated Vanunu “served the regime because his revelations helped Tel Aviv intimidate others…I’ve always believed he should be let go. I don’t think he has significant knowledge to reveal (about Dimona) now.”

    On December 29, 2009, Israel arrested Vanunu again. His attorney Avigdor Feldman said, “Vanunu was arrested (for) a relationship between a man and a woman, with a Norwegian citizen, He is not being accused of giving any secrets.”

    Vanunu was placed under house arrest for three days and it will be six years on April 21, 2010 that Vanunu has waited for the right to leave the state and begin a life.

    Israel’s statehood was contingent upon upholding the UN UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS:

    Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    Vanunu has waited twenty-four years for governments and media to follow up on his 1985 photos of the Dimona and 1986 testimony regarding Israel’s development of up to two hundred atomic bombs and the fact that Israel was already in process of developing neutron bombs and thermonuclear weapons.

    Much more than enough to destroy the entire world and nobody has done anything about it since.

    Maybe the Kam affair will help bring in that change.

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