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.
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.