Blog moved to +972 Magazine

This announcement comes a good few months too late, but readers will notice that I haven’t posted here in a while. The reason is that for a while now, Dimi’s Notes has been running from it’s new home on +972 Magazine. +972 has been a pilot project for its first few months, and so long as its future was uncertain, I took care to post in parallel both there and here. Now that a year and a half elapsed, I guess it’s not really a pilot. This blog will stay online, at least until I get round to building myself a proper personal website. But no new posts will appear here until further notice, and to invite you to keep following my writing at its new domain.

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On the assassination of Juliano Mer Khamis

News just broke that Juliano Mer Khamis, who has established and run the Freedom Theater in Jenin, has been assassinated by masked gunmen in the refugee camp near the theatre. Mer Khamis, son of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother, has faced threats since forever: From conservatives in the camp who took a strong dislike to the theatre’s liberal repertoire and casting of both men and women, both boys and girls; from nationalists who saw him as an agent of the occupation, a promoter of normalization; and from just about every Israeli who commented on any news piece covering him and his activity.
There will be so much said and written about Juliano in the coming days. Friends and students will laud his tremendous bravery, his contempt for the walls and barriers – especially barriers of fear – that crisscross our country, his sense of stage, his talent. Enemies will pour mud on him, rejoicing in the death of one they see as a half-breed and a turncoat. Comrades will remember a complex and uneasy man, as famous for his rough temper as he was for his devotion to the cause.
There will be so much said. I would just like to share this memory. It’s seven years ago, 2003. The Student Coalition at Tel Aviv University, an organization I co-founded, is staging a massive teach-out on the university square, trying to disrupt the normalcy of dozy lectures as the streets were burning.
At the end of a long, long day with lectures and arguments and songs and chants, as darkness fell on plush northern Tel Aviv, we screened Juliano’s film, “Arna’s children” – still, to my mind, the best documentary ever done about the Occupation. We, some five hundred students, sat in the outdoor auditorium, stunned. Before us, the “Palestinian gunmen” of the newscasts we knew since childhood – these footnotes in the reports, usually afforded no visuals, just “three Palestinian gunmen were shot in the West Bank today, IDF spokesman said. In other news…” – were coming to life as human beings, speaking about their childhood dreams, their slain comrades, their hopes or lack of hope for a future; sometimes as children, sometimes as grown, gun-wielding men, with children just like they used to be clustered around their knees. After the credits rolled and passed, the plaza was completely silent. One girl, a moderate centre-leftist from the campus chapter of Meretz, raised her hand. Juliano called her out. She got up and asked: “What can we do to help?”
This was the most humanizing, wall-shattering moment of my life.

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Blau to stand trial; state admits wanting to set precedent; new light on Kamm plea bargain

(updated below)

In the hail of news report on the escalation on the Israel-Gaza front and the Jerusalem bombing, a key development has gone all but unnoticed by world media. On Thursday, Haaretz reported “with regret” that the Justice Ministry decided to charge one of the paper’s star reporters, Uri Blau, with “holding classified information without authorization, but “without intention to harm the security of the state.” The indictment is pending a personal hearing with Yehuda Weinstein, the Attorney General; there is very little reason to assume Weinstein would stall the process.

The state’s decision turns the tables in the affair. Beforeת the official line had been that the only offence in the affair was that of Blau’s courageous source, Anat Kamm; the state knew, authorities implied, that Blau was merely doing his job and he was only wanted to help plug the leak. We now discover the investigation was originally directed not against the source, but against the journalist.

The decision to charge Blau also flies in the face of the extremely controversial agreement the state had blackmailed him into signing in exchange for being allowed to return to his homeland without an immediate arrest, although the same Haaretz report makes plain just what an extraordinary compromise it was on the journalist’s part.

To recap, Kamm, then a clerk in the office of then GOC Central Command Yair Naveh, delivered Blau a cache of nearly 2,000 documents, including some indicating Naveh was directly complicit in ordering the extrajudicial execution of two suspected Palestinian militants in 2006. It would appear Naveh not only consciously flaunted a specific verdict by the Supreme Court against such moves, commonly referred to in Israel as targeted assassinations; this premeditated killing was later described as a botched arrest operation. Other documents revealed in the original report shows senior IDF officials discussing a quota for innocent victims if the assassination turns out to be a little less targeted than the euphemism suggests.

Blau published the details of this operation in a Haaretz magazine story in 2008; the specific documents he used were submitted and green-lighted by the military censorship, and after publication, he returned the documents to the military. After Kamm was arrested and admitted to leaking considerably more material, the state demanded he return all of the documents he received. Blau, who by that time was in hiding abroad fearing arrest, complied with the request through his lawyers, on the understanding he would be allowed to return home without being thrown in jail. The state instead decided to twist his arm to near breaking point (emphasis mine):

[Blau] then agreed to give over to the state all classified documents in his possession, including ones he did not acquire through Kamm, with the state promising to evaluate the damage their leak has caused, but to destroy them without trying to trace Blau’s sources.

So despite this unheard-of compromise – Blau actually being forced to turn over his entire archive to the state, relying on nothing but the military’s “promise” to respect the confidentiality of his sources – the state now decided that twisting Blau’s arm is not enough; using a yet-unproved claim Blau still retains some documents, the state appears to be determined that  this arm must now be broken.

In a remarkable career spanning just a decade, Blau broke new ground as an investigative journalist. Among dozens of other achievements, he exposed not only Naveh, but also the dubious fortunes of the children of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman; both ran private consulting companies before retaking cabinet posts in 2009, both gave the companies to their children, in their early to mid-twenties; all of these children proved so talented in their father’s old jobs that the companies continued making millions, even as their founders and fathers of their CEOs occupied two of the loftiest positions in the state.

That very powerful figures have every reason to want to get back at Blau himself is clear enough. Yet this week’s move rings ominously for all of Blau’s colleagues. It is safe to assume that every journalist covering defense affairs in Israel since the state was founded has, at one point or another, “held classified information without authorization but without intention to harm the security of the state.” If Blau is charged, convicted and sent to prison, this will set a toxic precedent that may well pull the plug on investigative security affairs journalism in Israel.

But politically speaking, can the state just go and convict a leading journalist? Wouldn’t such a significant move itself need a legal and public precedent to go by? In its wisdom, and not without chilling elegance, the state already provided us with one. Blau’s source, Anat Kamm, has struck a plea bargain with the state just over a month ago; her sentencing hearings are due to start in two weeks and she will probably be sent to jail in the summer, just before the earliest reasonable time for Blau’s indictment to be served. The state agreed to drop all the charges against Kamm, except one. You guessed it: Holding classified information without authorization and without intention to harm the security of the state.

…In other words, here is one scenario that to me, at least, seems more than plausible. Kamm, who’s courage and determination are a separate story, will be convicted and sent to prison in the summer, at least for a few years (the worse estimates speak of up to seven or nine); almost immediately, a campaign will begin casting her as a centrist patriot, who in the innocence of youth delivered some documents to Uri Blau. Instead of slapping her on the wrist and giving the documents back to the state, op-eds in Yisrael Hayom will whine, Blau went and made a career out of her mistake and out of state secrets. Surely, right-wing politicians will snarl, the least we can do is to convict him of the same offence?

Update I: In case you thought there was no intention to set a precedent with Blau’s indictment, the state conveniently admits that there was indeed. According to conservative Globes columnist Mati Golan, the state actually says so in so many words, with the lips of Deputy Attorney General, Raz Nezri. Emphasis mine:

“Just before the statement to the press was made, I got a phone call from Raz Nezri. He said he was calling me because I’ve written before about the problematics of not having Haaretz and [publisher] Shocken put on trial. Alongside the decision to try Blau, Nezri said, the Attorney General decided not to prosecute Haaretz. Why? Nezri confirmed “Haaretz acted inappropriately when it backed and sponsored Blau’s stay abroad”, but “we thought it was more correct to go for the precedent-setting move of prosecuting a journalist for retaining stolen documents, and not a move against Haaretz for obstruction of justice, which is a supposedly different and problematic offence.”

Incidentally, the Globes columnist writes this from the indefensible position that not only the whistleblower of a suspected crime and the journalist who picked up the report should go to trial, but so should the newspaper and the publisher; or, at the very least, the charges against the journalist should be dropped and the newspaper stand trial instead. The fact that all four – source, journalist, newspaper, publisher – were fulfilling their civic duty in exposing a violation of the state’s own law by a senior officer is completely absent from Golan’s take on the case. If this move against investigative journalism succeeds, it will be to no small degree thanks to the wilful complacency of journalists like Golan.
Update II: I should note that although the criminal suspicions against Naveh were underlined and upheld by some of Israel’s leading legal experts – Professors Mordechai Kremincer and David Krechmer, commentator Moshe Negbi and leading human rights attorney Michael Sfard – Naveh was never tried for the suspicions raised by the documents;  The Justice Ministry and the attorney general denied both in 2008 and more recently that any Supreme Court orders have been violated;  an appeal against Naveh’s potential appointment as chief-of-staff was rejected by the Supreme Court in December.  The Court, incidentally, did not address the question of whether or not Naveh violated its orders, but merely if he should not be appointed to the new post; it ruled that as then-Attorney General found that there had been no need to open a criminal investigation back in 2008, there was no room now to rule against the appointment now (crucially, the appeal was against the appointment, not to overturn the AG’s decision).
Update III: Regarding the value of the state’s promises, I was reminded by an old entry in Noam’s blog just how much these promises are worth:

After the [original] story was published, the army began an internal investigation to locate the source responsible for leaking the operative orders cited by Blau in Haaretz. At the same time, the Shabak demanded Haaretz to return the documents in order to avoid a national security breach. Haaretz and Blau agreed, on the condition that the documents will be used only for damage control, and not to locate the source for the story.

According to a reports on Israeli media (Hebrew) the state admitted today that the Shabak did use the documents to get to Kamm.

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Ultra-rightist Israeli Facebook group: Where can we get explosives?

Zion Fighters” is a steadily growing ultra-rightist group that’s trying hard to become  a real organisation. Its imagery and language are extremely militant, rallying against non-Jewish MKs, left wingers and, obviously, Arabs. But last night members of their Facebook group broke a record of sorts:

Aviv Tam: Who can get C4 [plastic explosives]?

Karin Cohen: Lol great question I didn’t manage to get a gun and you’re talking to me about C4? We have a stupid country every 8 years old in Gaza has a bazooka, I’m older than him and I want a gun and can’t get it, there [in Gaza] as much weapons as there’s  sand baaaah

Gorge Jacluine: if u need to buy a gun and cant just build a mechanisem to shoot a bullet then u most likely shouldnt have one in the first place… : )

Aviv Tam: It’s all humorously, right?!

Karin Cohen: I’m actually about taking it seriously…

Aviv Tam: Me too, I mean it’s off the record.

Note that judging by the profile pictures, Tam at least appears to be a soldier in the IDF.


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Last thoughts for the night

Somewhere, not too far from here, thousands of people like me, like my parents, like my sister, like my friends, like everyone I ever knew, are lying awake, awaiting the dawn, counting back to the end of noontime prayers shortly after midday tomorrow; when they will throw themselves on everything that was always wrong with their lives, like a droning, debilitating background hum. They will rip through that hum with a tremendous, roaring noise, and they will haul themselves onto spiked fences of batons, bullets, tear gas – and silence. I wish there was something I could do to help, but all I can do is going to sleep with them in my thoughts and with the determination to bear witness, if even from miles away. Good luck tomorrow.


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LIVE BLOG: Labor Party Splits

I’ll be live-blogging the dramatic split of the Labor party on +972 Magazine today. Key updates so far: Barak leaves party and remains defence minister, forming a separate faction together with 4 mid-level Labor MKs * New faction to be known as Atzmaut, or Independence * Move reportedly orchestrated with Netanyahu * Social Affairs Minister Herzog, Minority Affairs Braverman resign * Labor in the process of leaving coalition. What follows below is my initial analysis; click here to see the news as they come in.

Early this morning, Ehud Barak took a daring leap into oblivion by resigning as chairman of the Labor party and taking 4 MKs to start a new parliamentary faction.  It is widely speculated the Labor ministers  left out of the ploy will either resign ot be dismissed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Hereditary peer Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog and Minority Affairs Minister Avishai Braverman already resigned), and their portfolios will be handed out to Barak’s acolytes.The new faction, which is aimed solely at remaining dependant on Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s good graces for portfolios, will be called Ha-Atzmaut – Independence.

Barak has been facing growing discontent within the party ranks from day one, but this was exacerbated over the past year, when it became clear the party had zero leverage in the government and that the “peace process”, for which is ostensibly joined the coalition, was a corpse. The very decision to join was hotly contested from the start, with vociferous backbenchers forming rebel groups within the parliamentary faction. Although for most of the two years the rebels were as impotent as they were loud, their mere presence signalled to young rank and file that there was an alternative to the Barak leadership, and there were persistent rumors in the past weeks the rebels were about to regroup and try a coup.

Barak’s move this morning was a clever, if desperate, check-mate to those who wanted to oust him from party leadership. He seized the initiative and grabbed the active role in the story, simultaneously cutting off the incumbent ministers of the Labor party, powerful allies who could turn rivals as the wind changed.Instead, he chose to make a new faction with a group of four middle to junior level politicos: His loyal deputy Matan Vilnai (who recently told reporters he got confused and voted in favour of investigating leftist NGOs “by mistake), MK Einat Wilf (who supports elementary schools privatisation), MK Orit Noked (who?), and Agriculture Minister Shalom Simchon. SImchon has bid this year to lead the Jewish National Foundation, but the conflict of interest between his role as Agriculture Minister and chairmanship of the largest land-owning organisation in the country was deemed to have too much conflict of interest even for such high-level politics.

The trouble with that very smart move is that Barak is one of the most widely despised figures in Israeli politics. He is seen as corrupt, megalomaniac, irresponsible and devoid of principle; the Right sees the  unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon he engineered in 1999 as a political and military disaster, which  to the equally disastrous unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Second Lebanon War;  the Left sees him as a huge disappointment, with a great share of responsibility for the collapse of the peace talks and the start of the Second Intifada in 2000; conservatives see him as spineless, liberals see him as a bully; for once, all of the above appear to be correct.

In their press conference the splitter faction announced that life in the Labor party have become “unbearable” of late, that there was no discipline, and that it’s been drifting leftwards to post-Zionism and post-Modernity (sic). MK Wilf bemoaned that some of her Labor party colleagues wanted to take the party “left of Kadima”, while she wanted to “retain the Ben Gurion and Mapai legacy.” The already ridiculous tussle for the mythological Israel centre reached an apogee: Kadima split from Likud in 2005 to bid for the centre, which it estimated to be two degrees leftwards; now Labor is splitting to bid to the right of Kadima.

Ynet had the early dibs on reporting that the move was orchestrated together with Netanyahu, and indeed we saw the split being confirmed by the House Committee thanks to the support of the right-wing members. The scenario for the next 24 hours appears to be laid out: All the ministers not on board Barak’s escape raft will either resign or get fired, and Netanyahu will replace them with Barak’s motley crew. Labor will then leave the coalition, which can afford to lose 10 MKs, especially as those 10 are expected to spend the rest of current parliamentary session  in a bitter feud amongst themselves for policy and leadership. Indeed, the issue of party discipline was a momentous one in the split in the first place, and it’s unlikely the Labor leftovers will be able to impose it any time soon.

In the short term, it seems everybody wins – Netanyahu retains coalition and gets rid of the loose canons in the Labor party; Barak retains the only thing he cares about – power; and the remainder of the Labor party get to play opposition. But in the long term, neither part of the split Labor is likely to fare well in the next elections. I don’t think Barak will even run on his own – he knows he’s unelectable; he might instead start a new party with all or some of the Likud or Kadima. The Labor leftovers chances don’t seem much better. For those who has some illusions about Labor’s potential, today might seem reinvigorating. But unless a major and cataclysmic young guard revolt takes place and drags it to 5-10 seats in the next parilament, Labor seems poised to vanish from Israeli politics.

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Israel’s open prison for refugees, and other gems of doublespeak

Much will be said in the coming weeks, maybe even years, about the House Committee on UnIsraeli activities, approved yesterday by the Knesset. Roi Maor and Yossi Gurvitz both have excellent posts – Roi on the more optimistic side, Yossi closer to the end of days. While my own estimate lies somewhere between these two poles, I was stricken not so much by the proposal, but by how blatant and naked in its purpose it was. In some ways, this week has elicited some of the most unintentionally honest statements from our politicians in a while.

Take MK Faina Kirschenboim’s statement of intent regarding the committee’s purpose.

“The activity of the Israeli organisations constitutes [sic] serious damage to Israel’s legitimacy in the world. Through their cooperation with international organisations, they are harming the IDF, it’s soldiers and commanders – and this must be investigated and stopped.”

No chance of that committee being biased in anyway, eh? Or the following statement from “associates” of young Likud MK Ophir Akunis, on Deputy Speaker Ahmed Tibi’s motion to have the Knesset discuss the death of Jawahar Abu Rahma:

Tibi supports terrorism, and he behaves like a terrorist in the Presidium of the Knesset. The Presidium was wrong to put the motion on the agenda while the IDF is still investigating an operation in which our soldiers act in self-defense.”

Same goes for the IDF investigation, it would seem. And my absolute favourite – a document revealed but not chased up by Haaretz’s welfare correspondent, Dana Weiller-Pollak. A month or so ago, the government decided that asylum seekers escaping war and genocide will be put in an “open accommodation facility”, conveniently located in the middle of the bleeding desert and operated by the Prison Service, because open accommodation is just Prison Service kinda thing. The planners Shlomit Dotan-Gissen and Tomer Gothelf, asked to prepare an outline for the internment camp, were intelligent enough to recognise the project’s real substance, and in a way, honest enough to put in writing. Their meticulous phrasing reveals, for once, not just doublespeak but the structure of that great mechanism of deniability and lubricant of atrocities, anticipatory compliance. While noting with due reverence the government’s decision to set up an open facility, the planners are quick to explain why it can’t really be taken seriously:

…the very fact that it is charging the Prison Service, which specializes in operating prisons, with running the facility indicates that the government intends to operate the facility as a closed compound, once the legislative amendments are complete.”

But here comes the fun part: In the longer, un-paraphrased Hebrew original of the report, the planners actually propose the completely Orwellian term “Closed accommodation centre,” and tell the government how to spin the contradiction between the “open accommodation facility” and the very ordinary internment camp / prison the government actually intends to build:

The difference between the two terms is not as great as it may seem. By “closed accommodation centre” we mean an accommodation centre which prevents the residents from leaving without the permission of those in charge of the facility, but with a possibility of different degrees of openness within different sections of the prison, and between the living quarters and the public areas. The degree of openness within the facility will be determined through accumulated  experience of its operation.”

Weiler-Polak also notes the planners

say that a closed facility would still allow for the residents to leave in a controlled and organised manner, for predetermined purposes and subject to control, and then returned there.

Aren’t we a shining beacon to humanity, the worthy product of a nation of refugees? Happy new year and all that jazz, I’m off to celebrate Orwell Week.

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