The State Prosecutor's Office reached a plea bargain with Haaretz journalist Uri Blau, suspected of possessing classified Israel Defense Forces documents on Thursday, a little over a month after the state announced its intention to indict him.
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As part of the deal Blau will admit to holding secret intelligence, without intent to harm national security.
According to the deal, Blau will be sentenced to four months in prison, to be commuted to four months of community service.
The deal was reached between representatives of the Tel Aviv district of the State Prosecutor's Office, Ariela Segal and Hadas Fuhrer-Gafni, and Haaretz legal representatives Mibi Mozer and Jack Hen.
Haaretz said in an official statement on Thursday: "The prosecution of Haaretz journalist Uri Blau for possession of classified documents which he received in the framework of, and for the purposes of, his job, is a dangerous precedent. We thought that it was not right to serve him with an indictment. However, since the attorney general decided on serving the indictment, and as there was, and there is, no dispute over the facts, Blau admitted to the facts and to the offense of possessing classified documents."
Blau also responded on Thursday that, "Possession of documents is an integral and fundamental part in the work of a journalist in a democratic country, and all I did was done in the framework of my job and my calling as a journalist. I am convinced that the right arena to discuss this is the public and parliamentary arena. However, as the debate passed to the judicial arena, where there is no dispute over the essential facts, I decided to admit to the facts described in the indictment and to continue with my work, which I see as vital to democracy."
In late May, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced his intention to indict Blau, saying that the Haaretz journalist Blau was in possession of thousands of military and top-secret documents, which were stolen from the IDF by Anat Kamm, an Israeli woman who was convicted in February of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization.
Although the charges include the terms "severe espionage," Blau is not charged with an espionage offense.
In October of 2012, the Tel Aviv district court sentenced Kamm for 54 months in jail after a plea bargain was reached according to which she was convicted of possessing and transferring classified material.
During her military service, while Kamm was stationed in the office of GOC Central Command headquarters, she kept and copied many IDF computer documents. Kamm confessed of giving Blau 1,500 documents. 150 of the documents were classified "Top Secret."
Based on the documents he received, Blau published a number of articles in Haaretz, one of which uncovered that top officials in the IDF approved the killing of wanted terrorists in advance, even when they could, apparently, be arrested.
Anat Kamm's attorney Ilan Bombach criticized the difference between the punishments the two received. Bombach told Israel Radio that "Kamm was a nave, inexperienced soldier, trusting a senior and experienced reporter." Bomach said that Blau did not warn her of the implications and added that "the only one to benefit from the documents was him, she did not ask for anything" in return.
According to Bombach, "there is no doubt that both of them had done the same thing, except the fact she took the documents out of the office." However, Bombach said, this was only a drop in the ocean compared to Blau's actions. "She expressed remorse, cooperated and led them to the documents," Bombach said, "He did not show remorse and he lied as to the number of documents in his possession."
Bombach said he expects the judges to "provide an answer for this discrimination."
The justice department said that the decision regarding Blau was made "after taking into account all of the relevant considerations, including the need to restrain the enforcement policy in order to maintain the Israeli press as a free press which fulfills its duty."
"However," the statement read at the time, "the attorney general believes – based on the positions – of the State Prosecutor's office, the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police – that this case is an extreme one in terms of the severity of Blau's actions."
According to the State Prosecutor's Office, Blau knowingly held thousands of documents and "betrayed his duty – and later his commitment before the state – to cease possession of them."
The statement also added that Blau "could have easily prevented harm to Israel's security without hurting his sources the potential damage of possessing the documents was immense."
The AG said he has concluded that there is no connection between possessing such documents and practicing journalism.
The Jerusalem Journalists Association said in response to the plea bargain that "the association is troubled by the nature of the plea bargain between Uri Blau's attorney and the state, which reinforces the State Attorney's stance regarding the possession of classified documents by journalists. It would have been preferable if this case would have ended in the withdrawal of the indictments and the regulation of the matter in order to allow journalists to do their job without fear. The outcome of the plea bargain will hurt the public for which the journalists work for."
Haaretz said in response to the intention to indict that the decision "is unfortunate and sets a precedent in terms of its ramifications on the freedom of press in Israel, and especially on the ability to cover the security apparatus."