'It's Not About Me' - Ilana Hammerman Speaks Out

On the real issues involved in the Am Oved CEO affair, in response to 'Policing the publisher' by Yehuda Melzer (Haaretz Magazine, January 20).

I want to provide a practical response to the hurtful, utterly venomous article against me which appeared here in the wake of my painful departure from Am Oved Publishers. There are three weighty issues here, all of which the writer, in his eagerness to settle accounts with me and with my personality, failed to consider in any depth.

One issue is that the process by which Yaakov Brei was appointed CEO of Am Oved was improper. The publisher's charter stipulates that the CEO is to be chosen by the board of directors and approved by Hevrat Haovdim, the holding company of the Histadrut labor federation, which owns the publishing house. In other words, the appointment is made by both sides. As a former representative of the editorial board on the board of directors, I can attest that this was how the appointment was made - from among a list of serious candidates who were extensively interviewed - of [former Am Oved CEO] Yaron Sadan, an economist by training, who dealt with matters of education and culture in the budgets department of the treasury, and was for seven years CEO of the Khan Theater in Jerusalem. That is, a man of finance and of culture alike.

Eini - Appelbaum - Jan 2012
Tomer Appelbaum

However, this is not how the retired police officer, Brigadier General Yaakov Brei, was chosen. He was appointed by Hevrat Haovdim, headed by Ofer Eini. This led to the resignation, in protest, of Am Oved board chairman Ron Feinstein. The other board members, none of whom is dependent for his living on this position (it is a voluntary and public one ), apparently resigned themselves to the scandalous process - otherwise they would have voiced their objections.

The members of the Am Oved editorial board displayed the same behavior. I sent them a personal letter, but contrary to what Yehuda Melzer implies, I did not suggest - from my supposedly lofty and pampered status as a pensioner - that they resign or be thrown into the street.

Protest does not necessarily begin with a resignation. What was needed, and what is still needed on the board members' part - and on that of Am Oved's stable of writers - is a public demand for the revocation of Eini's untenable appointment (not his first improper one, as we know from the press ) and for the orderly process as set forth in the charter to be followed.

A second weighty issue concerns values. "Worst of all," Melzer writes, "is this whole business about 'values.' You can't turn on the radio these days without some MK, cabinet minister or some really senior type announcing about someone, or about himself, that he is 'a person of values.' So you are hereby warned: As soon as you hear that word 'values,' run for cover!"

In the spirit of this warning, Melzer chose to place the word "values" in quotation marks, and to mock me for saying that the values I believe in are more important to me than continuing to cooperate with the publishing house, which for many years was a wonderful home to me. Well, even if Melzer were correct in his opinion of me, and even if I deserve this mockery because of the arrogance he attributes to me, the fact is that the values I believe in - which are humanistic and universal, and center around a person's basic rights in the state and in society - are worthy ones. They, not me, should be the crux of the discussion. Indeed, it is urgent that such values finally be subjected to a trenchant, binding public debate in Israeli society, which is required to choose between them and the values espoused by the present leadership.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Culture Minister Limor Livnat and Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar - all of them possess an ideology and values; they did not reach their positions of leadership by means of corruption and greed. Among the basic values they believe in is the Jewish people's right to the whole Land of Israel: that is, the right of every member of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad to settle in every part of the Land of Israel and to dislodge, as much as possible under the present circumstances, the members of the other nation that resides here, to dispossess them of their land and property, and to exclude them from a full and proper private and civil life.

The views and values of these leaders, and also of those who have inherited the doctrine propounded by Meir Kahane - who are now members of the government and of the Knesset, whose word is heard and enacted in legislation - are making them adopt the nationalist, belligerent and racist stance which, today more than ever before, determines the laws and the path of the State of Israel. It is urgent to rise up against this path, not only because it is immoral but because it is dangerous: It threatens our lives, our sheer physical existence here.

From this I come to the third serious issue that was not properly addressed in Melzer's column, one which is closely bound up with all of the above: the appointment of a senior police officer as the CEO of a publicly owned publishing house. Melzer writes, echoing my own opinion, "We both think that the mayor of Jerusalem, along with the police and the army and the government and the High Court of Justice are doing things that are immoral, especially in the West Bank and East Jerusalem." But then he immediately asks an absurd naive question: "What does all this have to with ex-police officer-cum-CEO Yaakov Brei?"

As it happens, Brei was not just some regular cop, but a very senior officer; the last post he held was deputy head of the investigations and intelligence branch. From the public point of view, then, and irrespective of his personal qualifications, he is unequivocally responsible for practical implementation of the ideological values of his superiors and of the policies that stem from them.

Among other roles, the Israel Police and its investigations branch, in cooperation with the Shin Bet security service, are in charge of interrogating tens of thousands of Palestinians who are denied their civil rights and tried in military courts. I myself have witnessed, with my own ears and eyes (both in the field and in these courts, which operate far from the indifferent public eye ) the police's treatment of and attitude toward the Palestinian detainees and the interrogation methods they use. Those interrogations are the basis for indictments and subsequently for prison sentences, following procedures that for the most part are completely arbitrary. I have also often been a witness to the hate-filled violence of policemen against Israeli and Palestinian demonstrators in various places in Jerusalem and the territories.

Even if Yaakov Brei himself was not personally a party to these interrogations and actions at any stage during his rise through the police ranks - there is no doubt that he bears public responsibility for this state of affairs, which is only getting worse. There is also no doubt that he identified with it, as indeed he confirmed in an interview broadcast on Israel Radio, for otherwise he would not have reached such a senior post. Nor is there any doubt that his recent appointment at Am Oved is another step in the blurring of boundaries in Israel between military and security authorities and the civil society, of which ostensibly autonomous cultural institutions are an integral part.

These issues - not my character - should be at the center of a discussion of the Am Oved affair. Nevertheless, I want to say to Yehuda Melzer, who assailed me so coarsely, and more especially to those who read his article: I have paid, and am still paying, no little price for my values and for my abiding desire to choose life and not wars and death in this country. It is neither "pampering myself" to engage in acts of civil disobedience such as I and my female comrades are doing, nor to be under interrogation time and again by the police, and to anticipate a trial and a two-year jail sentence. Nor am I in any way indulging myself by parting from Am Oved.