Over the past two weeks Israel has been rocked by a major espionage scandal in which the Haaretz newspaper plays a central role. To understand the significance of the scandal, it is worthwhile to preface a discussion of it with a look at a smaller story Haaretz developed this week.
On Sunday, Haaretz's Amira Hass reported that in January, the IDF published a new military order that paves the way for the mass expulsion of illegal aliens from Judea and Samaria. The story sported the disturbing headline, "IDF order will enable mass deportation from West Bank."
In a follow-up on Monday, Hass reported that 10 self-described human rights organizations (all funded by the New Israel Fund) sent a joint letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak asking him to rescind the order. She noted, too, that, "the international media also has taken great interest in the story."
And indeed, on Wednesday, a Google news search for "IDF West Bank deportation order" drew nearly 20,000 results.
Also on Monday, Haaretz published an editorial based on Hass's stories. Titled, "IDF bid to expel West Bank Palestinians is a step too far," the editorial asserted, "Implementing this new military order is not only likely to spark a new conflagration in the territories, it is liable to give the world clear-cut proof that Israel's aim is a mass deportation of Palestinians from the West Bank."
That is, Israel is fomenting a war and Israel deserves to lose that war because it is the villain.
On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that Jordan had joined it in condemning Israel.
That's quite an accomplishment for an Israeli newspaper with a negligible share of the domestic market.
The only problem is that the order Hass reported on is 41 years old. After creating an international scandal, on Wednesday Haaretz acknowledged that the supposedly new order has been in place since 1969. What changed in January is that the IDF decided to expand the rights of illegal aliens in Judea and Samaria to pre-deportation hearings.
This was not a change for the worse in the status of illegal residents. It was a change for the better.
And still, due to Haaretz's misreporting, Israeli diplomats are being called into the chanceries of the world and raked over the coals for the country's alleged plot to conduct a mass expulsion of Palestinians.
Haaretz accomplished two things with this story. It weakened Israel abroad, which clearly serves its ideological purposes. And it demonstrated its enormous power to damage Israel's international image at will, which of course puts Israel's law enforcement and judicial arms on notice as they prosecute and adjudicate the Haaretz spy scandal.
HAARETZ'S MANIPULATION of the deportation story bears a striking similarity to the way it manipulated its own spy scandal. That scandal was under a total court-issued gag order that barred the local media from reporting on it until last Thursday.
That gag order gave Haaretz the opportunity to manipulate the story to its advantage before the state authorities had a chance to explain what it was about. And so, early last week, Haaretz editor Dov Alfon approached credulous foreign journalists and spun a tale. By Alfon's telling, Israel's draconian Shin Bet security agency had "disappeared" one reporter - Anat Kamm - and caused another - Uri Blau - to flee the country.
As Judith Miller put it in her write-up of Haaretz's version of events in "The Daily Beast" Web site, Blau was on the lam in London, "to avoid answering questions about how and from whom he obtained the confidential defense department documents that are said to have resulted in a spate of stories alleging personal and institutional misconduct on the part of the Israeli Defense Forces, the hallowed IDF, and some of its senior officials."
As for Kamm, Miller reported that she was suspected of stealing up to 1,000 documents from the IDF during her military service and giving them to Blau. But, Miller claimed, she denied the allegations.
Miller, like other journalists who spoke to Alfon, compared Israel to the likes of Cuba and Iran. Alfon and Haaretz were portrayed as the courageous defenders of freedom of speech and the true watchdogs of Israeli democracy, selflessly paying the expenses of their persecuted reporter hiding away in London.
All of this, of course, was reported abroad, before the actual story was published. And, like the deportation order story, all of it was hogwash.
When the gag order was revoked last Thursday, Israelis - and any foreigners who were interested - learned that Anat Kamm, a reporter hired by the Walla Web portal when it was partly owned by Haaretz, had been under house arrest for four months. She is on trial for acts of espionage with the intent of harming national security that she committed not as a reporter, but during her service in the IDF. Not only did she not disappear, she continued reporting for Walla, while under house arrest until the end of March.
Haaretz staff reporter Uri Blau fled the country not to protect a source, but to evade punishment for possessing classified military documents in breach not only of the law but of a plea bargain agreement with the Shin Bet.
Kamm served in the IDF from 2005 to 2007 as a secretary in the office of the commander of Central Command. In the weeks before her release from service, she copied about 2,000 highly classified IDF documents onto two CDs and uploaded them to her home computer. After her release, she shopped the documents around to various military reporters and eventually gave them to Blau. The documents she stole included top-secret information about IDF orders of battle, units, armaments and operational orders. Such information in the hands of Israel's enemies could cause the death of thousands of Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Kamm refuses to return one of the CDs to authorities, claiming that she lost it. And since until her arrest her home computer was connected to the Internet, the documents she downloaded to her hard drive were vulnerable to penetration by everyone and anyone.
The Shin Bet launched its investigation of stolen IDF documents, which led it to Blau and then to Kamm after Blau published articles in November 2008 based on the documents he received from Kamm. At the time, the Shin Bet asked that Blau return all the classified documents in his possession. In return for his agreement to do so, the Shin Bet agreed not to prosecute him for illegally possessing classified materials. Blau returned 50 such documents and asserted that he had no more documents in his possession.
But then the Shin Bet found Kamm. And after confessing to stealing the 2,000 documents, she told them that she gave them all to Blau. When Blau found out that the Shin Bet knew he lied, and still illegally possesses thousands of classified documents, he decided not to return to Israel.
The gag order on the case until last Thursday was issued by the court at the Shin Bet's request, not because it wished to stifle free speech, but because authorities wanted to give Blau more time to agree to return the documents he still holds illegally. That is, publication of the story was barred in order to give Blau another opportunity to come clean and walk free.
And it was with the knowledge that their reporter lied to the Shin Bet and fled the country that Haaretz chose to pay his living expenses in London and his legal expenses in Israel. It was with the knowledge that Kamm committed treason that Haaretz hired her as a reporter for Walla and represented her as a persecuted journalist to the international press.
In her statements during her investigation published in court documents, Kamm revealed that she is a messianic leftist. She came to the army not to serve the country, but to transform it. It was only when she realized that she had failed to bend the IDF to her will that she decided to reveal its secrets.
As she put it, "I didn't succeed in changing enough things that it was important to me to change during my army service, and I thought that I would bring about that change by exposing them. That's why it was important to me to inform the public about the IDF's policies in the territories."
KAMM'S TREACHERY is a deeply disturbing comment on the mindset of the radical Left in Israel. But her crimes are even more alarming when we realize that Kamm is not a lone renegade. In her treasonous activities, she enjoys the support of a massive organization.
By collaborating with Kamm first by publishing her stolen documents and hiring her as a reporter, and finally by covering up her crimes while suborning Blau's perjury, Haaretz has demonstrated that leftist traitors have a powerful sponsor capable of exacting painful revenge on the State of Israel for daring to prosecute them.
In facilitating and supporting treason, Haaretz itself can depend on a massive network of supporters in Israel and internationally. Reporters, self-proclaimed human rights groups, and the leftist blogosphere in Israel and throughout the world as well as foreign governments happily swallow whole Haaretz's manufactured stories about Israel's purported venality.
As for the State of Israel, depressingly, what the Haaretz spy scandal demonstrates is that the state is utterly unwilling to deal with this dangerous state of affairs. Shin Bet Director Yuval Diskin stated that Israel will not change its screening process of candidates for military service. In the post-Kamm IDF, religious youths will continue to be grilled about their willingness to expel Jewish Israelis from their homes, and radical leftist youths will not be questioned about their loyalty to the state and willingness to keep the IDF's secrets.
So, too, Diskin admitted that the Shin Bet was loath to aggressively pursue the investigation because its officers didn't want to be accused of impinging on freedom of the press. Because he was a journalist, Blau was not seriously investigated and was let off the hook even as he lied to investigators. And the Shin Bet gave Haaretz the rope with which to hang it by requesting a gag order in order to give Blau more time to do the right thing - in spite of the fact that he had already demonstrated his bad faith and flagrant contempt for the law.
Ma'ariv and Globes both reported that thousands of Israelis canceled their subscriptions to Haaretz this week. Haaretz denied the reports. But really, it doesn't care. Haaretz's target audience is not Israeli. It is global. And there it remains the champion of those who seek an Israeli affirmation of their anti-Israel attitudes.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.