IDF CRACKING DOWN ON BLOGGERS ‘WHO TALK TOO MUCH’

The facts that the blogger was twice summoned for questioning, that law enforcement authorities took such drastic steps to locate him, and that threats were made against him, are worrisome. Even if the actions of the military and civilian police in this affair stemmed from genuine security concerns, it nonetheless appears that some figure of authority lost perspective and took steps that damaged democratic values of free speech, and freedom of the press.
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Israel’s most sought-after anonymous blogger has won his battle with the IDF

Eishton was put under investigation over his bid to gather data on the rate of suicides in the Israel Defense Forces; three weeks later, he has emerged the victor.

By Barak Ravid
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cemetery - Archive:  Tess Scheflan / Jini - June 21 2011
The military cemetery at Mount Herzl. Photo by Archive: Tess Scheflan / Jini

Almost three weeks after the anonymous blogger “Eishton” was summoned for questioning by the police and military police, it appears that the episode is drawing to a close. As should have been clear from the start, Eishton is not a crime suspect. No indictment is expected against him, nor is there likely to be an indictment submitted against anyone connected to the blog’s report on suicides in the Israel Defense Forces.

The facts that the blogger was twice summoned for questioning, that law enforcement authorities took such drastic steps to locate him, and that threats were made against him, are worrisome. Even if the actions of the military and civilian police in this affair stemmed from genuine security concerns, it nonetheless appears that some figure of authority lost perspective and took steps that damaged democratic values of free speech, and freedom of the press.

That said, some bright spots can be gleaned in the affair. First, suicides in the IDF are once again a topic of public discourse. That the blogger was summoned for interrogation actually gave credence to allegations leveled in his report. In this respect, Eishton is the victor, and deserves credit. One can dispute his claims and findings, but the fact that the established media became engaged with the blog, even belatedly, forced authorities to respond.

That the IDF decided Wednesday to take advantage of a briefing given by its chief medical officer to reporters and provide data about the scope of suicides was no accident. The IDF claims that the number of suicides has decreased, from an annual average of 29 between 2002 and 2006, to an annual average of 22 between 2007 and 2011.

That trend is to be welcomed, but the number remains high. In addition, the precise number of soldiers who committed suicide remains unclear, since in some cases deaths may not be classified as such due to pressures exerted by family relations. Demonstrating sensitivity toward bereaved families is a laudable goal, but the need for transparency is no less worthy a consideration.

Incidentally, in the middle of the last decade, when the IDF started to deal much more seriously with this issue, its mobilization came as a response to newspaper reports written by Maariv’s Amir Rapaport, and my colleague Amos Harel in Haaretz. At the time, the IDF changed its procedures, and prohibited soldiers from taking rifles home with them on weekend furloughs.

The second bright spot is that the affair ultimately is likely to contribute to freedom of the press, and to strengthen the status of bloggers. The affair made clear that in Israel in 2012, a journalist is not solely someone who has a license issued by the government press office.

The defense establishment has yet to digest the changes which have occurred in the media world. It has yet to assimilate the fact that bodies such as WikiLeaks and Anonymous, alongside independent bloggers, are players which rank with the traditional media, and are sometimes even more important than it.

The affair showed that the security system’s monopoly on information is dwindling. Most of the information utilized by Eishton was accessible on the internet. On the other hand, the affair illustrated that Israel’s power structure does not fully heed democratic values such as transparency and public disclosure. The defense ministry continues, for instance, to withhold disclosure of the list of 126 fatalities in 2012.

The Eishton blogger also has to draw conclusions. Possibly, had he not made public copies of original documents that reached him, he would not have become embroiled with authorities. Even though the investigation against him was unjust, more prudent conduct on his part could have brought the affair to a close on its first day. In addition, it can be hoped that Eishton will forgo his cloak of anonymity. Should he do so, the credibility of his investigations will only be enhanced.

 

 

Written FOR

3 Comments

  1. robertsgt40 said,

    December 27, 2012 at 15:21

    Suicides, whether in the IDF or US forces is a good indicator that troops know something OS not right with these wars

  2. Redpossum said,

    December 28, 2012 at 22:54

    Whoa, whoa, whoa! I was cool with this article, until the very end when the author made that snide comment about how the blogger should “forgo his cloak of anonymity”.

    Hogwash!

    Who are you, mister Ravid, to say that this blogger should reveal his identity? You don’t stand to lose anything, you are not taking any risks, it’s his tender arse on the line. You too, are someone who “does not fully heed democratic values”, if you dare reproach someone for exercising his/her right of anonymity.

    I have been on the web since its very beginning back in the early-to-mid 1990’s, and I can attest that anonymity of online identity has always been a bulwark of net freedom. It is only the the ignorant johnny-come-lately’s and Facebook commandos who fail to understand the importance of anonymity online.

  3. Blake said,

    December 29, 2012 at 13:20

    Wish they would cap the amount of spam their propagandists send all over the show.


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