Case involving military documents roils Israel

Is Anat Kam an Israeli hero or a traitor?

She is accused of secretly copying more than 2,000 military documents, many of them classified, while serving mandatory duty as a soldier from 2005 to 2007, and then releasing some to the press. One document appeared to show that the Israeli army tried to circumvent court orders meant to rein in its use of targeted killings.

Supporters say the 23-year-old Kam, who is on trial at Tel Aviv District Court, acted according to her conscience. They compare her to Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked documents related to U.S. conduct in the Vietnam War to the New York Times, which in 1971 published stories on what became known as the Pentagon Papers.

But critics call her a leftist traitor bent on embarrassing Israel.

The documents contained sensitive information that could put the lives of soldiers and civilians at risk if obtained by hostile elements, said Yuval Diskin, head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.

In a rare press briefing Thursday when authorities cleared the case for publication, Diskin told reporters that getting hands on documents of this kind was “every enemy state’s dream.”

Kam is charged with unlawful possession of classified material and with transferring it with the intent of harming state security. She could face life in prison, but news reports Tuesday suggested that attorneys for her and the newspaper involved are trying for a compromise with the state.

Officials and news reports said Kam burned the documents on a CD and took them with her before her release from military duty.

She gave the documents to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who used them for several articles. One appeared in November 2008, when the paper published two classified documents pertaining to the army’s practices in targeted killings, which appeared to be out of line with Supreme Court guidelines on such military operations.

Haaretz editors backed the reporter and insisted that the story did not compromise state security, as the newspaper had obtained permission from government censors before publication.

After that, the state negotiated with Blau through his counsel to regain the documents. Blau agreed to return the 50 documents that he acknowledged having in return for a promise protecting both him and his source from investigation, and he also agreed that his personal computer could be destroyed.

Security services paid for a new computer for Blau but also launched an investigation to determine his source. The investigation led to Kam, who was placed under house arrest four months ago and indicted in January.

Authorities say Blau didn’t hold up his end of the deal and still holds classified documents. Blau, who says he’s being persecuted, remains free in London.

Mibi Mozer, an attorney for Haaretz, said Tuesday that Blau would return all the material related to the Kam case, as Kam had waived her confidentiality as a source.

For weeks the affair has roiled Israelis, who have trolled the Internet and foreign publications searching for details heavily hinted at but not reported in Israel, where a court had issued a gag order. The case stoked public and professional anger over perceived censorship of the press.

Liberals tend to hail Kam as a conscientious individual who served Israel’s interests by exposing the army’s misdoings.

In a column published Sunday in the newspaper Israel Hayom, Zehava Galon, a former left-leaning legislator, recalled once meeting Ellsberg.

“There were attempts to portray him as a traitor then too, but today there is no American who doesn’t regard him as a hero,” she wrote.

But many conservatives say Kam put soldiers and Israel’s interests at risk.

Erez Tadmor of Im Tirtzu, a student advocacy movement, said Kam went beyond whistle-blowing.

“Stealing thousands of classified documents from the army posed a danger to the state and might have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers,” he said. “Ideological excuses are totally irrelevant.”

Tadmor said Blau and Haaretz acted more outrageously than Kam, who reportedly has said she thought that those exposing war crimes are ultimately forgiven.

“She was just a peon,” Tadmor said. “But unlike her, the paper understood exactly the dangers posed by the documents, and their refusal to return them is depraved, dangerous, disloyal and utterly scandalous.”

Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem Bureau.