Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | December 13, 2007

We’re going on a witch hunt

While both the mainstream media and the blogosphere have been buzzing about the interrogation of three Israeli journalists following visits to countries defined by Israel as being “enemy” countries, I have remained silent. I chose to remain silent, as anyone who reads this blog is aware of my close friendship with one of them, and while she is certainly aware of my unwavering support, I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to write a post that would sound supportive, yet unbiased. Now, following days of frustration and disgust over some of the pieces that have been written as well as some of the comments I’ve seen, I find that I just can’t keep quiet any longer. I’m horrified by the (usually incorrect) assumptions that people have made, involving everything from her journalistic ethics to her motives, and shocked by the number of individuals who seem to think that Lisa Goldman and her colleagues simply woke up one day, tossed a change of underwear and a toothbrush into their laptop bags, and popped across the border to visit with “the enemy”, without thinking of the possible ramifications.

While I can’t personally vouch for Lisa’s colleagues, I’m going to make an educated guess and assume that these are intelligent, knowledgeable individuals who were well aware of where they were going and took necessary precautions – just like Lisa. And, as opposed to being unable to vouch for her colleagues, I CAN personally vouch for Lisa. I know how much thought went into her trips, how much preparation. I know how she was feeling and what she was thinking, her excitement and her concerns, her expectations. Going to Lebanon was not something she took lightly – if anything, I’d say it was quite the opposite.

There are those who complain about her selfishness, about endangering national security by her actions, and so on, just so that she could do a non-newsworthy “fluff” piece. What these individuals are overlooking is that it was not Lisa’s intention to file some hard-hitting scoop. Anyone who reads either her blog or any of the other articles that she’s either written or been interviewed for knows that Lisa is drawn to human interest stories, and this is precisely what she reported on for both Channel 10 and Time Out Tel Aviv. Whenever people ask me about living in Israel, talking about how dangerous it is or how scary it must be, I’ve always responded by saying that daily life here is different from what they show on the news, because you don’t see reporters filing stories about regular life, and if nothing is happening, there’s not going to be a story about it. Until now. Until Lisa went to Lebanon, and returned to share her impressions, to provide Israelis with a picture of “normal” life in Beirut. Not every story needs to be earth shattering, and frankly, I found these scenes from Beirut – a city just a few hours to the north, one that I will probably never have a chance to visit – to be invaluable.

I am both saddened and distressed as I watch this entire episode unfold. As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve learned that Daniel Sharon will soon be indicted for his recent trip to Lebanon, and who knows how many other journalists (and politicians) may soon be caught up in the same web as Lisa and her colleagues. Why is there a witch hunt, and why is it happening now, when these kinds of trips have been made for years? As an Israeli, I am worried about our country’s current state of affairs, our misplaced priorities. As a person, I am worried about my friend. I want this to go away. Lisa has said that had she realized that what she was doing was against the law, she never would have done it. I believe her. I’m sure there are those of you who will belittle my stance because I’m biased. And you’re right. I am biased. Lisa and I wouldn’t be such close friends if I didn’t admire her so much as an individual – her intelligence, her warmth, her sense of humor. I’m impressed by her innate ability to connect with people, and how she will always go out of her way to do so. One of her primary reasons for visiting Lebanon had to do with her constant desire to build bridges – to learn about her neighbors and to, in turn, share her newfound knowledge with her countrymen. Yes, a law was unknowingly broken, but the intent was neither criminal nor malicious, and if anything, it was the opposite. The police have made their point by publicizing the interrogation, and unless they are planning to go after every other person who’s ever made such a trip, I cannot help but question their motives in making an example of these three individuals, and I cannot help but wonder about the direction in which our society is going.

*******

See Lisa’s post on the subject here.

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Responses

  1. Lisa knew what she was doing was against the law.

    Had she been caught she would have caused problems for Israel as they might decide to negotiate for her release.

    The argument that the law is enforced selectively is really no excuse. The solution to that isn’t not to enforce it on Lisa but to enforce it on the others as well.

    Some people are so arrogant as to think that they are beyond the law. Lisa did the crime, she should be willing now to do the time.

  2. Gus, What makes you think that Lisa knew it was against the law? Like many other reporters here, she has dual passports, and it’s not like she was doing something that had never been done before. Israeli journalists have been popping up in “enemy” countries for years in order to file stories, so she’s definitely not blazing any trails with her trips. And, yes, technically, she did break a law, but when it comes down to it, the only blunder I see is in her failure to go through the proper channels while planning her trip, which would have undoubtedly revealed the information about its legality.

    You mention arrogance, and frankly, when you make assumptions such as this, it makes you look very arrogant indeed.

  3. Liza, I think you did an admirable job of writing an unbiased and supportive piece. Good on you!

    I can also certainly understand why you feel there is a witch-hunt going on — the seemingly arbitrary application of an unapplied-to-date law certainly feels odd, if not down-right suspicious. Why now? Why the three journalists who were initially investigated? How will the sudden application of this law affect the press and Israelis’ access to information? How will it affect private citizens?

    However, as someone with slightly different political views from you, I wonder if I might offer some additional perspective to the discussion you have so eloquently initiated?

    First off, while I obviously can’t speak for everyone within the daati leumi camp, I can assure you that people like myself do not wish to see Lisa incarcerated or punished. The discussions and perspectives regarding the situation are not about Lisa and her colleagues, per se, but rather about the law, the ramifications of breaking that law, and the questions about how relevant that law is today and if not, what should be done about it.

    I am personally frustrated by the deafening silence surrounding these issues. There are a myriad of valid questions this investigation raises. Should journalists be allowed to travel to enemy states? If so, what degree of security does our state owe/guarantee these journalists? If not, how are the laws applied and upheld? What responsibility do employers in the media industry bear toward their employees or freelancers with regards to the law? What responsibility should the media industry bear in protecting journalists who “get caught” in enemy States? How do these various ramifications affect/impact the public?

    As citizens wishing to live in a democratic society, I think we have a responsibility to examine these questions, and all the potential ramifications to the various solutions/outcomes – even – no especially! – the unpopular ones – as it will is only with an honest examination that we as a society can be prepared to accept the status quo or begin to implement change.

    I don’t think anyone is painting a picture of Lisa as a capricious, thoughtless, impulsive girl who thought it would be a lark to go to Beirut. It is clear that she is a dedicated professional who lives her beliefs and genuinely wishes to “make a difference.” I think where opinions diverge, is the contributory value ascribed to the work she did while in Beirut for Israelis. The truth IMHO is, that while a very well-produced human interest story, her work in Lebanon brought nothing new to the table than the work she has already done. I learned nothing new from those pieces. It was simply a reiteration of the work she has done on her blog, and in her journalistic endeavors here in Israel. I can appreciate that there are other people who may have new insight as a result of these pieces, but I don’t think the vast majority of Israelis think for one moment that all Arabs – be they Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, Saudi, etc. – are war-mongering anti-Israel savages. On the contrary, I think that what frustrates those of us “on-the-right” is that the vast majority of just-wanna-live-our-lives-and-raise-our-kids-in-peace sort of folk lack the power to make it happen.

    While the investigation is certainly wreaking havoc on the lives of the journalists under investigation, I think that the fact that the issues have been raised to the national consciousness is rather a good thing. That doesn’t mean that I wish to see these particular journalists punished – but rather, I do wish to glean from the proceedings and the discussions a sense of what the heck is going on. Ultimately, we as a society have been given an opportunity to examine the issues and make our voices heard. I don’t know whether we as a country will decide it is in our best interest to amend the existing laws, or to accept them as they are. Regardless of the outcome, I think an essential part of a democratic process is to assess the issues for what they are, and not solely based on the agenda of trying to prevent the prosecution of these journalists.

    Do I value a free press? Of course I do. I also think our country faces extreme issues of national security. These issues do not need to be mutually exclusive. Here’s to hoping that our leaders will find a way to maximize both, without using one to negate the other.

    Shabbat shalom.

  4. Nice entry, you are a caring, thoughtful, and sensative soul.

    Shabat Salaam,

    Roi

    http://roiword.wordpress.com

  5. Beautifully put, Liza.

    (Also your reply to Gus. Nicely bitchslapped, great timing and a deadly aim. Attagirl, Liza.)

    Being honoured to know Lisa also, albeit not as well as you, i was immediately struck by her all-encompassing need to improve the situation between us (Israelis/Jews) and them (Palestinians, citizens of neighboring Arab countries, et al). Not for personal or political gain. Just simply because it was the right thing to do, and because she could use her journalistic vocation to do something.

    I felt humbled, and thoroughly in awe.

    I’m writing a post for OJ about this subject. I did write a longer comment, but i’d rather not take up valuable space on your blog comments, when i can take up valuable space elsewhere…

    Shabbat shalom
    Trollmamma xxxxxxx

  6. What Trollmama said! (And amen to what you said)

  7. Liza,

    First of all, thanks for the tip, I am lately out of time that I usually allocate for visits, and this one caught me unaware. Sheesh, what a load of crap! Our brave guardians don’t have any other shit to do?

    Now I am getting mad…

  8. Zahava,

    You raise some very legitimate questions in your comment (and I’m sorry it’s taken so long to answer them…).

    I think that journalists should be allowed to travel to enemy states, but that they should have to sign some sort of waiver prior to traveling that absolves the government of responsibility, should something happen. Of course, when a journalist travels on a foreign passport, they should be the responsibility of the country that issued the passport which, in Lisa’s case, was Canada. In the case of Daniel Sharon, the German government took responsibility for getting him released, and the Israeli government had nothing to do with it.

    I’m quite certain that should anything have happened to Lisa during her trip, she wouldn’t have expected Israel to come to her rescue, and I’m guessing that other journalists who have made similar trips would express similar sentiments. They go in knowing the risks, do what they can to minimize those risks (at least in Lisa’s case – I can’t speak for the others), and do what they can to remain safe and not turn into a liability.

    As for the employers who send these journalists to enemy countries, I believe that, to some extent, they are at fault. They should be making sure that their legal departments are well-versed in laws that touch on these issues, and should ensure that the journalists are aware of them as well. They should also do what they can to help these journalists, should they run into trouble with the law while in the line of duty. Sadly, it seems that the story is more important to them than the person reporting it, which is rather troubling.

    As for how much these issues affect the public, to be honest, I’m not too sure. The sudden desire to go after these journalists certainly has implications for other dual-passport Israelis who may wish to travel to countries with whom Israel has not diplomatic ties, and while I certainly don’t have any plans to visit such countries in the near future, I find it very disturbing that Israel believes that it can control what I do and where I go with my American passport.

    There’s also another issue that I’ve thought about a lot, with regard to the responsibility of governments for their journalists. Is it a government’s responsibility to take care of journalists who file stories from countries at war or countries where security cannot be guaranteed? What about aid workers who work in war-torn countries? I’d be willing to bet that Lisa and the other journalists involved in this current case were in far less danger than journalists in Iraq or Afghanistan, or aid workers in Afghanistan and other trouble spots. What some of these other individuals do makes what Lisa did seem positively tame by comparison.

    I think the law, as it stands, is too vague and too open to interpretations that were not part of the original intent. And obviously, I think it’s dangerous for a democratic society as a whole when such a law is selectively applied.

  9. There is a difference between a free country and a free country at war. The needs to be certain restrictions on the Press when it comes to matters of national security.


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