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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

If a Right-Winger Asks a Reasonable Question in a Lefty Forest...

... will anyone answer?

[A guest post by Zahava]

Based on my experience of the past few days, I’m guessing the answer is a resounding 'no'!

I hate to belabor the whole journalists-being-investigated-for-illegally-entering-enemy-countries thing, but I've actually asked some real questions around the j-blogosphere of late and nobody has given me the courtesy of a response.

Trep insists that the manner in which I asked – rapid fire stream of consciousness – makes it difficult to identify the questions and then respond to them.  I see his point. But, there are simply too many issues that bear examination vis-à-vis the on-going investigations. And being a curious girl, I genuinely want to understand the real issues and the legal implications a little better. 

The whole 'Ooooh, my friend is being attacked so I'm going to jump to her defense and completely ignore the issues' thing, while admirable (in a Jr. High School popularity contest kind of way), is not what I'm after here.

So, I’ve tried to boil my list of questions down a bit to reflect what I consider to be the three most pressing things we, as citizens of a democratic society, should be asking:

1. To date, have journalists traveling to enemy states actually collected factual material that was truly unattainable by other means?  Did that happen in any of the three cases under discussion today?  I understand that opinion/human interest (as opposed to more traditional investigative) journalism has value (and more importantly, sells). But while the ease of collecting this type of information is certainly enhanced by face-to-face encounters, isn’t it also available by other, safer means such as phone interviews, video-conferencing, blog exchanges, etc.?

2. In Israel, does the precedent of not enforcing a law nullify it?  Seriously, the Israeli law books are full of laws that are seldom, if ever, enforced.  Sometimes it is because it is not in the national interest to enforce them.   Other times there is no funding to back up enforcement (as with the smoking laws until recently).  But is the perception of non-enforcement a valid excuse for breaking a law... or for complaining when the state does begin enforcing it?

3. If the individual journalists will be prosecuted, should their employers be exempted or included in the charges?   Likewise, if a journalist goes into harm’s way, either at the behest of a news organization or as a free-agent, should waivers of national responsibility be signed?  Can a nation even enter into such an agreement with one of its citizens???

Oh one more question.  Sorry, I know I said only three questions but I warned you that I’m a curious girl!

4. I'm curious to know if the Ministry of Interior has routinely denied the travel request of journalists who’ve bothered to apply.  I tend to think that a government committed to ensuring the safety of each citizen who ventures outside her borders has a right to restrict travel under certain circumstances.  However, nobody seems to be talking about the actual Interior Ministry process that was bypassed by all three journalists (which landed them in hot water in the first place!).

As Trep likes to say, “please show your work".  Oh, and don’t feel you have to answer everything.  I'm just looking for a little outside perspective.

Posted by David Bogner on December 18, 2007 | Permalink

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I don't have all the answers, and I'm not, nor have I been ever, a big Jr. high type defender.

But, just in my opinion (no facts to back this up) I think it does make a difference that the government seldom chooses to enforce this particular law, regardless of its merits. High profile Arab MKs seem to commute to Syria, and no one says a peep, even though the (Jewish)public would very much appreciate a response.

But 3 journalists go and all of the sudden the police wake up? It seems weird. Also, I think it does make a difference that they traveled on their own personal non-Israeli passports (at least in you-know-who's case). So Trep's thing about the Israeli government having to go in to save her ass- well, if you want to get really technical, it would really be the Canadian gov't responsibility here. Would they do something? Probably not. But she took that risk when she went at all, and when she used the passport. This is the price of dual citizenship- nothing stops Israeli dual citizens from using their foreign passports wherever they wish. If you or Trep are against this concept, that's another issue.

Also, there's the issue of Channel 10 airing YKW's piece and sponsoring it? (did they do the latter? not sure). I'm sure this gave her the impression that what she did might have been dangerous, but not illegal.

Basically, she's an irritating lefty, but I think the situation is a little more complicated then left/right issues.

Posted by: Abbi | Dec 18, 2007 1:43:38 PM

Abbi: thanks for weighing in. I was beginning to feel like I'd suddenly become invisible. :-)

And in the spirit of starting a dialog about the issues....

I agree that the sudden decision to apply the law is troubling. Why them? Why now? These are exactly the questions I would expect everyone to be tossing around! (BTW, a big deal was -- and unless I am mistaken, still is being -- made over at least one of the MK's trips to Syria.)

Your contributions to the discussion raise additional questions. Just because technically YKW would have been Canada's problem, does that automatically negate beyond all question Israel's involvement with her? In a worst case scenario, a journalist enters an enemy state and the country of their dual citizenship refuses to intervene... What then?

Is that the end of YKW? Is my imagination truly working overtime when it concocts the following plausible scenarios:

1) Enemy state, using information from her passport Googles her and finds she also holds Israeli citizenship (as I recall from her now defunct blog, this was a real fear for Rinat while she was in Lebanon). Despite her vehement protests, the enemy state decides to call the Israeli department of state and begin issuing threats/ultimatums with regards to YKWs well fare... How sure are we that our state department will decline involvement?

2) Canada reluctantly gets involved, but makes as much progress as we have on getting back Shalit, Goldwasser, and Regev. YKW's family contacts the Israeli consulate to beg them to intervene....

Just how sure are we that using a foreign passport really takes Israel out of the picture?

Clearly the situation is far more complicated than left/right issues. But, when I asked similar questions in places where I am perceived of being to the right of center, there was no response. Now I suppose that it is possible that no one had answers. Or that my questions are stupid. But since I was left with the distinct impression that my questions were greeted with a "Shhhhhhhh! Be very quiet and don't move, there is a right-winger here. Maybe if we don't offer her food, she will go away." attitude, I thought I send up a test balloon over here to see if anyone who will talk to me has any light to shed on the nature of my questions.

Posted by: zahava | Dec 18, 2007 2:37:01 PM

Oh. And while I agree with your assessment of YKW being an irritating lefty, it has absolutely nothing to do with my interest in these issues.

As an ordinary citizen, I am truly interested in better understanding the issues. As I understand the status quo, it's not actually illegal to go -- just illegal without permission from the Ministry of the Interior.

In everyone's rush to show support for those under investigation, there has been a bit of hand-ringing over free press issues. Some folks have practically accused Israel of the draconian press policies of our neighbors as a result of this investigation. If obtaining the proper permits is possible, then the fee press issues cease to be a factor in these discussions.

I would suspect that one would be required to pass a security clearance of sorts. Perhaps the government even provides each traveler with important "in case of" information which could serve to better protect him/her. Loathe as I am personally of unnecessary government involvement in my life, I can see the potential that having the Ministry of Interior aware of my presence in hostile territory to be beneficial to the travler!

Posted by: zahava | Dec 18, 2007 3:19:20 PM

Zahava,

Here's my take:

Somebody that nobody really cares about did something that nobody really cared about, and now everybody's talking about it. Is it just me, or is being questioned by police the best thing that's ever happened for her career?

I say we stop beating this particular dead horse, and pray that her 15 minutes are up.

Posted by: dfb1968 | Dec 18, 2007 3:59:54 PM

dfb: Fair enough.

Posted by: zahava | Dec 18, 2007 4:09:29 PM

Zahava

My versions of your questions:

1.
1.1. Have journalists who travelled to enemy states collected factual material that was unattainable by other means?
Yes. Here's why.
All reportage is factual. Even if the report is just "It is rumored that . . . ." The fact is that it is rumored. Is the rumor true? No one can tell. Likely not, but the implication is that it is true.
All reportage is anecdotal. It takes time to gather all the data and figure out what is pertinent and what is not. Trying to explain what happened and why is the purview of history, not journalism. No one appreciated the strategic importance of the Battle of Saratoga for years. Nowadays it is considered the decisive battle of the American War for Independence.
But if you were a reporter in revolutionary American, would you be in Boston (held by the rebels), in New York City (held by the loyalists), or trekking through the woods in what-is-now upstate New York? Odds are you would not have been at the scene of action and would not have understood what you saw or appreciated its significance.
Same with today's reporters. Very, very, very little chance that they are at the scene of action while it is happening. Less chance that they can put their piece into the puzzle of events.
So they rush to a local scene to report 'breaking news' about something that happened yesterday . . . or hours ago. Well, somebody else is reporting that event, too. Will the two reports differ? Yeah. That is the key.
Reporters sell spin. They always have. If any reader thinks that news reporting should be factual and objective, go back to your milk; beer, sausages, and reality are fare for adults.
Each reporter gives a limited and distorted report of something-that-happened. Each report differs from the others in its limits and its distortion.

1.2 Did that happen in any of the three cases under discussion today?
Well, yeah, but so what? Sorry. Not a useful question.

1.3 Could the reportage have been prepared using other, safer means such as phone interviews, video-conferencing, blog exchanges?
Sure, but where's the fun in that? Going to Lebanon to report was part of that reporter's distortion; it was her spin. Without the travel, she had an op-ed piece. With the travel, she had 'breaking news': "I'm a Jew, and I'm standing in Lebanon."

(to be continued)

Posted by: antares | Dec 18, 2007 5:08:15 PM

2.
2.1 Does the precedent of not enforcing a law nullify it?
No. How often do you enforce the law against treason? Do you believe that non-enforcement of the proscription against treason renders treason acceptable?

2.2 Is the perception of non-enforcement a valid excuse for breaking a law?
No.

2.3 Is the perception of non-enforcement a valid excuse for complaining when the state does enforce it?
No, but who ever needed an excuse for complaining?

Posted by: antares | Dec 18, 2007 5:12:02 PM

3.
3.1 If the individual journalists are prosecuted, how should their employers be treated?
As accessories to the crime.

3.2 If a journalist goes into harm’s way, should waivers of national responsibility be signed?
What is a waiver of national responsibility?

3.3 Can a nation (state) even enter into such an agreement with one of its citizens?
Okay, I infer from the juxtaposition of these two questions that you mean that you think the state has an obligation to extricate one of its citizens from harm. It does not. I tell you three times. A state has no obligation to save one of its citizens from harm at the hands of another state. A state has no obligation to save one of its citizens from harm at the hands of another state. A state has no obligation to save one of its citizens from harm at the hands of another state.
And the lineal descendants of Abraham are a nation; the Bedouins are a nation; the Cherokee are a nation. Israel is a state. Syria is a state. Lebanon used to be a state. Today, it is a geographic expression.

Oh one more question. Sorry, I know I said only three questions but I warned you that I’m a curious girl!
That's okay. You are already up to nine by my count.

4. Has the Ministry of Interior denied the travel request of journalists; that is, has the Israel gov't exercised de facto censorship?
Dunno.

keith
PS This is my last post to treppenwitz.com. Your spam filter has declared war on me. David, if I got something to say that I want you to hear, I will send you mail.

Posted by: antares | Dec 18, 2007 5:16:22 PM

antares: Sorry to hear the spam filter has declared war on you! I have enjoyed being able to read your "take" on things. Would it make it less frustrating for you to know that his spam filter has declared war on me too? And I live here!

Thanks for giving me some more stuff to chew on!

Oh. Touché on the number of questions. :-)

Posted by: zahava | Dec 18, 2007 5:41:26 PM

In Israel, does the precedent of not enforcing a law nullify it?

Absolutely not. Case and point is Moshe Feiglin, who was convicted of sedition for blocking roads in the Zo Artzeinu protest, based on a law from the British Mandate which had never before been excersized.

How about the "voice of peace" radio which operated illegally on a boat for years in the 1980-1990s, but was never stopped...only Arutz Sheva was...a few years back.

Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | Dec 18, 2007 6:02:39 PM

Jameel: I am embarrassed to say that I did not know the specifics of his arrest and incarceration. Your comment prodded me to look up the facts and I thank you for bringing it to my attention as I learned a great deal.

For others in the same spot as I was, I recommend reading Mr. Feiglin's bio at the Manhigut Yehudit site. The bio page address is:
http://www.jewishisrael.org/jewish_leadership/meetmoshelong.htm

Posted by: zahava | Dec 18, 2007 10:35:59 PM

Well, I was going to answer this point-by-point, but Antares pretty much said what I was going to say. One thing I would like to add about #1 though. One reason (out of several) that the news coming out of Iraq is so doom and gloom is because many western reporters use Iraqi stringers to bring them stories instead of leaving the bar in the Green Zone and going out to gather the news themselves. They're afraid of being kidnapped and killed, which is a valid concern. The problem is, the stringers they use often work for the bad guys and pass along disinformation. So, if a reporter is actually willing to report the facts, then they need to see things with their own eyes to ensure that what they report is fact.

Having said that, reporters also need to obey the law. And they need to understand that if they go into bad guy territory, they may end up like Daniel Pearl. Their government may not be able to help them and that's one reason why those laws exist.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Dec 18, 2007 11:09:56 PM

As a dyed in the wool leftie, I think that those questions really do need to be answered. Unfortunately, I do not have the answers, and I happen to agree wholeheartedly with Dovid's post about the issue.

I also think that anyone traveling to an enemy state, without express clearance to do so, has de facto defected. At the very least, their motives, method, and means should be examined, and their activities while there held up to scrutiny. There's a treasonous aspect to co-operating with the enemy in this.

Precedent of unenforcement as far as I know does not nullify - that's more or less the case here in the US, and seeing as Israeli law is an unholy jumble of English admin law, Ottoman remains, and post-1948 makeshift, I would imagine that still holds.... more.... or..... less.

Regarding the employers, at the very least that needs to be looked into. They may be guilty of something as well in this matter. At the very least, accessory.

Number four is immaterial. What the interior ministry does or does not do has no bearing on the legality of the issue, or on state security. Travel in the Middle-East has always been a matter of governmental interest. Necessarily so.

Oh, and by the way, most lefties (from democrats and liberals through mild socialists all the way to hard-core Marxist-Leninists and neo-Stalinist nutballs) nowadays do not deserve to be called 'lefties'. The term implies a certain amount of savvy. That is much lacking - and that's the bad news. But the good news is that the term 'idiot' is still available.
Precedent of unenforcement as far as I know does not nullify - that's more or less the case here in the US, and seeing as Israeli law is an unholy jumble of English admin law, Ottoman remains, and post-1948 makeshift, I would imagine that still holds.... more.... or..... less.

Regarding the employers, at the very least that needs to be looked into. Thye may be guilty of something as well in this matter. At the very least, accessory.

Number four is immaterial. What the interior ministry does or does not do has no bearing on the legality of the issue, or on state security. Travel in the Middle-East has always been a matter of governmental interest. Necessarily so.

Oh, and by the way, most lefties (from democrats and liberals through mild socialists all the way to hard-core Marxist-Leninists and neo-Stalinist nutballs) nowadays do not deserve to be called 'lefties'. The term implies a certain amount of savvy. That is much lacking - and that's the bad news. But the good news is that the term 'idiot' is still available.

Posted by: Back of the Hill | Dec 18, 2007 11:22:32 PM

Karl: No one arguing over the necessity for obtaining real facts. My problem with the argument that this law will limit access to the truth (or somehow censor the press) is that the assertion that "permission from the Ministry is impossible to attain" just feels a bit like an assumption or here-say. What everyone seems to be missing is the idea that it does not seem like the government is actually making it illegal to go -- otherwise why bother with the Ministry?! If it were simply illegal, there would be no need for this procedure.

Back of the Hill: Your de facto defection stance is rather an interesting perspective. Not what I would have expected of a "dyed in the wool leftie."

I think you misunderstood my questions re: the Ministry of Interior. My points regarding them have nothing to do with legality -- rather my contention is that if permission is granted this rather ends the argument that the government is guilty of imposing a de facto censorship.

Posted by: zahava | Dec 19, 2007 7:53:59 AM

Zehava --I'm putting below my response to your response on my blog and I'm not sure how often you check over there :) I also want to add a few things.

I work in a Comm dept (actually 2 of them) at universities here in Israel and so have a lot of colleagues who are in the media, as journalists, cameramen, editors, and so forth. Not a single one of them knew about this requirement from the government until this story broke. Quite a few of them have, in their work for CNN, FOX, and other international and foreign news agencies, as well as local Israeli media outlets, gone themselves to report, film, and so forth in enemy countries and were never informed by anyone that they needed a special permit to do so. It seems to me that if the govt would like journalists and media people to apply for and get this permission, that it would behoove the govt to first inform them and their news agencies that this permission is necessary. You have a law that applies to an entire industry but the industry was never informed of it. That makes it kind of hard to comply with.

I agree entirely that this whole situation is very perplexing. One of the things to note with this whole issue of journalists not being able to go to the source is that it can cause quite a lot of problems. Right now, there is a huge controversy in the U.S. about the reliance on Iraqi journalists for news reports from Iraq –there is a really good article in the NYTimes today about the fact that sectarian views, altered facts, and so forth are often found in these reports by editors but that many of them escape detection and get served up as “fact”to the public, which in turn colours the perception of what is happening there and so forth. And of course during the Lebanon War (II) there was the case of the faked photos covering newspapers across the globe. Then there is the case of the faked killing of Mohammed Al Dura, which has caused so much damage to Israel and cost so many lives –Israeli and non-Israeli. The only cameramen in place were Palestinian in that case –had there been Israeli or foreign cameramen on the scene as well, that hoax could never have been perpetrated on the world.

We face a very dangerous path when we prevent journalists from working independently and going “into the lion’s den” –too often, it leaves us with relying on news from the lion.


Posted by: Yaeli | Dec 19, 2007 2:58:06 PM

Funny thing, Yael -- I actually saw your response (and responded) on your site first (gotta love the spam filter Typepad has employed, argh!). I hope readers here will wander over to your place to see what you've had to say on the subject, as I think the topic is significant and will -- to some degree -- affect us all in some way or another.

I will not duplicate the responses I've left for you at your place, but will summarize by saying,
1) I would think that when borders are hostile checking with your Ministry of the Interior certainly seems implied, even if you don't know the specifics of the law
2) the seemingly uneven application of the law is indeed most troubling,
3) I am still remain unconvinced that the government is trying to prevent journalists from going -- they just want a certain protocol adhered to
4) vis-a-vis the lion and his den -- some of our guys are not without their own perspectives to influence how they digest and regurgitate their stuff

So. The government has now alerted the entire country that the law exists. There have been no formal indictments to date. It will be mighty interesting to see how it develops.

YIKES! And now it seems that the spam filter is preventing me from responding too! Arghhhh! The frustration....

Posted by: zahava | Dec 19, 2007 6:08:38 PM

Yikes don't get me started on biased journalists with an agenda in the media --in our media and everyone elses! Oh no, I feel another MSM rant coming on, quick someone give me a tranquilizer :)

Posted by: Yaeli | Dec 19, 2007 7:23:12 PM

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