Traveling to the enemyLast week, three Israeli journalists were called in for questioning by the International and Serious Crimes Unit of the Israel Police. Their crime: They visited enemy countries. One of the journalists who was summoned was Lisa Goldman, who visited Beirut this past summer (See picture of her reporting on Channel 10 news at top left; the picture actually came from Hezbullah's al-Manar television).
According to Goldman, a man identifying himself as an officer with the International and Serious Crimes Unit of the Israel Police called, telling her she was a suspect in an international crime, and that she must report to the unit's Petah Tikva headquarters to be interrogated the next morning.Word got out because the police put it out. Lisa was one of three journalists interrogated; another journalist had visited Lebanon and one had visited Syria.
"I just about fell off of my chair," Goldman recalled. "I thought, this is the craziest phone call that I have ever received in my entire life." Disbelieving, Goldman asked why she was under investigation. The officer responded that he could not tell her, citing that it could enable her to interfere with the investigation.
Within an hour after the call, a police officer reported to her house, carrying a formal document summoning her to be questioned under warning.
"I pretty quickly arrived at the conclusion that it could only be because of my trips to Lebanon," said the veteran journalist and internationally-known blogger. She called other journalists whom she knew to have visited enemy states, such as Iraq, and found that none of them had ever been investigated for their travels. In at least one case, one reporter said that the Mossad had asked him for information after a similar trip, but that he had politely refused to help and the matter was closed.
"There are so many precedents for this sort of trip," said Goldman, citing at least 12 other prominent journalists known to have visited countries considered to be enemy states for the purpose of writing articles.
Goldman said it was only after being notified about the investigation that she contacted legal experts and found that her visit, which she made carrying a foreign passport, had violated the law.
'While I think that this law is unjust and violates freedom of the press, I would never have made the trip had I been aware at the time that it was illegal," Goldman said, adding that she thought it was crucial for Israeli journalists to be able to provide the public with first-hand accounts of news in Arab states, including those listed as enemies.
Goldman said that she was interrogated for four hours, and that her investigators clearly had not read any of her English-language publications. "They didn't know that I spent basically the whole war defending Israel at my own expense while working as a journalist," Goldman recalled, emphasizing that she had given an Israeli perspective on BBC and CNN broadcasts and a number of leading newspapers.
Following the interview, investigators told Goldman not to tell anyone about the investigation. "I didn't even tell my own mother that I was interrogated," she said. Goldman said that she figured that the police would adhere to the same standards.
Within minutes after her name was mentioned on the next hour's news broadcasts, together with those of the two other journalists - Ron Ben-Yishai and Tzur Shizef - Goldman began receiving calls from acquaintances who had heard about the investigation.I'm not sure why Lisa ever thought we have "such broad freedom of the press here," but that's an issue she should take up with some Arutz Sheva reporters (who were prosecuted a few years ago because their station was skirting the law about obtaining a broadcast license) and it's not the subject of this post. The subject of this post is whether the Police's International and Serious Crimes unit should be harassing Lisa and her two colleagues. I believe that the police are wasting their time.
At first, Goldman said, she did not understand how anybody had heard about the investigation which she had kept secret.
The police, she said, still haven't contacted her since the day of her interrogation.
"I think that there is domestic persecution going on here," said Goldman. "I always used to take pride in what a democratic country this is, with such broad freedom of the press."
Over at Treppenwitz, David disagrees with me:
The issue isn't whether there was justification to file the story: I wouldn't have done what Lisa and her colleagues did either. The issue is that the law wasn't enacted in a vacuum. The law was enacted to prevent Israelis from trying to conduct foreign policy 'for' us on a free-lance basis, and to prevent those Israelis who are privy to state secrets from spilling those secrets to our enemies. To my knowledge, Lisa is guilty of neither of the above.
While not exactly a Hanoi Jane-worthy performance, there was absolutely no justification for breaking Israeli law to file such a story, and certainly no justification for potentially risking who-knows-how-many lives if someone had decided to disappear her.
Seriously, what if she (or one of her two colleagues) had been kidnapped? How many bus-loads of terrorists would Israel have had to release to buy their freedom? How many Israeli soldiers would have had to put their lives on the line simply because the Israeli Government's assessment of what is - and isn't - unreasonably dangerous (and illegal) didn't cross the minds of a few arrogant journalists trying to make a name for themselves? How much more impotent would our government have appeared if the worst had happened and, for whatever reason, we could not gain the necessary support to act???
Not surprisingly, the press has closed ranks behind these three journalists while ignoring the perfectly valid reasons why such stunts are illegal.
We'll leave alone the many well-intentioned public and private individuals who have succumbed to the urge to carry out free-lance diplomacy and travel to meet with our enemies. While they represent a liability to the government's ability to make/coordinate policy, their presence on enemy soil is generally high profile enough to push kidnapping to the outer realm of statistical probability.
But for those - like our intrepid journalists - who are below the radar, but who feel they are above the law... the likelihood of coming to harm becomes very real. It's all very well and good that these three felt it was worth the risk... but I contend that it wasn't only their risk to take.
As to the prospect of her being kidnapped and traded for hundreds of terrorists, there are two points that bear mentioning. First, Lisa was traveling on a Canadian passport, and thus if she had been kidnapped, the responsibility for freeing her should have fallen to Canada, not to Israel. Second, David is apparently a few years younger than I am and does not remember the days when Israel "just said no" to negotiating with terrorists. Even when they had planeloads of civilian hostages as, for example, the Sabena jet that sat on the tarmac at Ben Gurion (then Lod) Airport for several days in 1972 and the Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris that was hijacked to Entebbe in 1976, the government would not negotiate with them. If Lisa had been kidnapped and the government had said no to negotiations, as - sorry Lisa - they should have, Lisa's risk would clearly have been her own.
What David apparently had in mind was the Elhanan Tenenbaum situation, in which Israel freed over four hundred terrorists in exchange for a philandering drug dealer and three dead bodies. I have two responses to that. First, Israel should not have exchanged terrorists for Tenenbaum (or for dead bodies for that matter) in the first place, and we should not be assuming it will do so in the future. Second, Israel was duped into the Tenenbaum exchange because he was a high ranking army officer, who apparently did have state secrets, and Israel was told that he had been tortured. Someone high up decided that we 'needed' to get him back in order to find out what he had disclosed to Hezbullah and to prevent him from disclosing anything else. But the IDF has its own rules against traveling to enemy countries, and while Tenenbaum violated them, Lisa (and probably her colleagues as well) is not subject to them.
So why were Lisa and her colleagues called in for questioning? I don't believe it was 'persecution.' I believe it was all for show. I believe that they were called in to demonstrate the police's (and by extension the government's) 'even-handedness' at a time when they are really trying to crack down on Arab MK's visiting Syria and Lebanon and making pronouncements against Israel. Instead of admitting that there's a difference between MK's making statements of support for Hezbullah in Syria and Lebanon, the government is making a sham of 'even-handedly' applying the law by pretending that it is going to press charges (and hopefully it won't go beyond that) against Lisa and her colleagues. I believe that's a waste of police resources. It's clear to anyone with a brain in their head that Lisa visiting Beirut is not the same as Azmi Bishara visiting Beirut or Said Nafa visiting Damascus.
I have a friend in the US who has visited Cuba several times. He first visited because he's the kind of guy who will insist on doing something if you tell him he can't do it, and because he loves to travel. He traveled to Cuba through Canada. Subsequently, my friend made several more trips to Cuba due to a romantic interest there, which he has since dropped. On one trip, the Cubans stamped his passport. US immigration saw the stamp when he returned to the US and ever since then, he is subject to extra tender love and care each time he flies within, into or out of the US. But he was never prosecuted, and he is a member in good standing of the bar in his state. I don't think he's been back to Cuba since then either - he did not want to take the risk of having his passport revoked.
If Lisa wants to use her Canadian passport to travel to Beirut, as far as I am concerned that is between her and the Canadian government so long as she has no state secrets and is not doing anything that will assist our enemies in their efforts to destroy us. No, I don't consider filing a 'human interest' television report from Beirut assisting our enemies' efforts to destroy us. (Although he is not an Israeli, would anyone argue that Michael Totten's reports from Lebanon have harmed Israel? Certainly not!) Shimon Peres' poodles who traveled to Oslo and negotiated with our sworn enemy in clear violation of the law fifteen years ago did much more harm to the country than Lisa could ever do.