The Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court sentenced former Haaretz reporter Uri Blau to four months of community service on Thursday for unauthorized possession of classified documents without intending to damage the state's security. The sentence was given to Blau after a plea bargain was accepted by the court, enabling the reporter to avoid serving a prison sentence.
According to his indictment, Blau received and held on to thousands of classified military documents leaked to him by Anat Kamm, who had collected them during her military service at the Israel Defense Forces Central Command bureau. Kamm was convicted of espionage in February 2011 and was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.
Blau's deal with the prosecution is scheduled to be presented to Judge Ido Druyan on July 27 for final approval.
According to the indictment, the former Haaretz reporter received the 1,800 documents on a portable disc from Kamm. Many of the documents were labeled "Top Secret" and dealt with operational military plans during a time of war, current military deployments, various research projects and targets for military operations. The documents were not maintained securely by Blau and the possibility of their being compromised was real.
In the indictment, state prosecutor Hadas Forer-Gafni described how Blau deceived Israel Security Agency agents. During a meeting with ISA officials in 2009, Blau was told that if he returned the documents he received, he would not be prosecuted for possessing them and an investigation to discover the source of the leak would not be conducted.
Several months after returning 50 of the documents, the officials realized Blau was still in possession of many others. Later, during time he spent abroad, Blau again delivered only some additional documents. Only after another deal was forged with the ISA did Blau return all the remaining documents.
Defense attorney Tali Liblich said on Thursday: "The decision to put Blau on trial was a dangerous precedent. But because there is no contention concerning the facts, my client admitted the facts and confessed to the crime. Possessing documents is an integral part of a journalist's work in a democratic country. As soon as the issue moved from theoretical debate to the courtroom, in which there was no argument over the basic facts, Blau decided to confess to the accusations detailed in the indictment and move on with his work."
Kamm, who began serving her sentence eight months ago, has appealed the severity of her sentence and the Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the matter. Kamm's attorney, Ilan Bombach, told Israel Hayom on Thursday: "Kamm should be released immediately. Her conviction was an absolute injustice by any standard. We should remember that Blau deceived the ISA when he violated his agreement to hand over all the documents. She [Kamm] confessed at the beginning of the investigation, cooperated, and expressed remorse."
The Almagor Terror Victims Association denounced the plea bargain with Blau. Almagor chairman Meir Indor told Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein on Thursday: "Stop the deal or we will petition the High Court of Justice."
At the time of Blau's indictment, Weinstein noted that the decision was made after "taking all of the relevant considerations into account, including the need to restrain enforcement policies in order to preserve the reputation of the Israeli press as a free press, which ensures the public's essential right to know."
Weinstein concluded, however, that "the potential acquisition [of the documents] by hostile parties could have damaged the state's security and endangered the lives of Israeli soldiers."
"Possessing operational documents is entirely different than collecting journalistic data for publication in good faith," he said.
Blau published some of the information he received in investigative articles, including a 2007 story alleging the army had planned to kill wanted Palestinian militants in violation of a court order to arrest them alive if possible.
As required under Israeli law, Blau submitted all of his stories to Israel's military censor before they were published. The censor approved the articles, meaning they contained no information deemed dangerous to state security.
Still, the Justice Ministry issued a statement in May saying that Blau would be indicted because "the potential for damage in the unprotected possession of the documents was enormous." It concluded that the gravity of his conduct outweighed the public's right to know.
At the time, Haaretz issued a statement saying the attorney-general's decision to indict Blau was “unfortunate and sets a precedent in terms of its ramifications on the freedom of the press in Israel, and especially on the ability to cover the security apparatus."
The Israel Journalists' Association also issued a statement lamenting Weinstein's decision, saying, "The attorney-general's decision sets Israel back a generation and calls into question its status as a true democracy."
In contrast, Nachi Eyal, director-general of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, welcomed the decision, saying, "Blau's [actions] served the enemies of Israel."