Israel's Military Reporters Deserted Uri Blau in the Field

Blau affair is a 'glaring warning sign', not because of what he did but what others didn't do.

They were supposed to be the vanguard that protects Haaretz reporter Uri Blau on his journalistic mission. They were supposed to be at the forefront of the army protecting the freedom of expression, which also includes the journalistic liberty to possess leaked documents, whatever their origin.

As such, they were supposed to be the first to condemn the heavy-handed behavior of the Israeli security services using all possible means - including illegal ones and those that may be legal but are not acceptable - to persecute a journalist solely because of his journalistic work. Their experience should have taught them that a journalist's role is not only to file a certain number of words, but to protect the fundamental values of the journalistic method and process.

But the leading military "reporters" and "analysts" in Israel chose not to carry out their duty. Even worse, not only did they fail to defend Blau, they opted to side with the assault on their colleague, raising doubts about the way journalists work and think.

An outsider scrutinizing their conduct in this affair will not be able to avoid feeling shame. Of all people, they are the ones who took on the role of spokesmen for the establishment, as if they were still conscripts. With enthusiasm they reiterated the claim that the material held by Blau has the potential to cause harm. They are the ones who disseminated the claim - without being able to check or verify it - that the case involves hundreds of documents that constitute state secrets. And they are the ones who volunteered the claim that the quantity of documents held by Blau is what makes him qualitatively different from them and their documents, and hence justifies his persecution.

A careful survey of the media over the past two days shows that the Israel Defense Forces spokesmen and the media advisers of the premier, ministers and senior military commanders have remained virtually silent, and justifiably so. The military "reporters" did the talking in their stead, as if they were trying to show their loyalty to the system as the lowliest of its servants.

It seems to me that it is not a sense of healthy competition that has led Blau's colleagues to behave this way. It seems that the way he perceived his work as an investigative reporter, which included writing about the defense establishment, is what is threatening them. Unlike many of these people calling themselves military analysts or correspondents, Blau was never among those who read the official beeper messages the IDF sends out to reporters. The fact is that most of his colleagues get a beeper message, call up one or two officers - the source of the original message - to verify its accuracy, and immediately run off to report the message.

Moreover, part of the routine of that elite group of military correspondents includes coordinated visits to our forces - geared up in flak jackets, eyes bright. From what they describe as "the field," they parrot what the establishment was all too glad to make known: a planned operation, an advanced weapons system, the way the forces are advancing. That kind of journalism is more like serving as a spokesman than working as a reporter.

Even from his days at Jerusalem weekly Kol Ha'ir (owned by the Haaretz Group), Blau was different. He attacked the defense establishment, didn't get chummy with its leaders (despite the temptation to have the sort of leaks that no one would dare investigate), tried to pry into its every dark corner and accepted nothing as self-evident. That is how he made major discoveries, but that also appears to be how he became an enemy of the establishment. Not the defense establishment (which would be understandable and reasonable in a democratic system of checks and balances), but the journalistic establishment.

In this sense the Blau affair is indeed a "glaring warning sign," as one of his colleagues put it. Not because of the work he did but because of the work that others didn't do, the ones who still dare to call themselves journalists.