26 May 2010
Those who think that it is only in Israel that the courts act as a rubber stamp for the forces of darkness and mystery, the enemies of freedom of information, should read what little is known about the trial of the Israeli lawyer Shamai Liebowitz, who nearly certainly disclosed classified information related to Israel.
This human rights activist (yes, yes, the grandson of Yeshayahu Liebowitz) went to the USA in order to continue his studies as a lawyer with the support of the New Israel Fund. After that organization learned that Shamai supports a boycott of Israel, his stipend was cancelled, and a subsequent public retraction brought no honour to Shamai, nor did it bring him any practical benefit.
Failing to find a job to support his family, Shamai chose to work as a translator from Hebrew for the FBI. Last December information was published about a plea-bargain that he made with his employer after he was accused of leaking classified documents, the contents of which are unknown, to an unnamed blogger in April 2009.
As in the Blau/Kam case in Israel, the blogger apparently did not take the precautionary measures that were necessary to ensure that his source would not be identified, and according to the information that was made public Shamai, for his part, kept the documents that he had leaked in his home, with carelessness similar to Kam’s.
In the documents related to the plea-bargain that have been made public it is not alleged that Shamai harmed any vital US interests, and he for his part declared yesterday in the court:
“During the course of my work I came across wrongdoings that led me to conclude this is an abuse of power and a violation of the law. I reported these violations to my superiors at the FBI who did nothing about them. Thereafter, to my great regret, I disclosed the violations to a member of the media.”
Shamai says that in the course of his work he came across evidence of acts of injustice that lead him to believe that an abuse of authority and violation of the law had taken place. He reported it about it to his supervisors, who did nothing, and only then did he turn to the journalist (not to me, to my sorrow, even though we are on friendly terms), an act for which he expresses regret today.
In view of the fact that Shamai worked in translation from Hebrew to English, there is a very high likelihood that the subject of the documents is related to Israel, and that the FBI was aware of it, but due to considerations that may have been political, decided not to disclose to the public. Considering Shamai’s background and the known facts, his assertion that he was not motivated by personal gain but was guided only by moral considerations indeed appears to be quite credible.
He made some fatal mistakes. For example, if he had approached a properly-constituted authority instead of a blogger he could have benefitted from the regulations that protect whistleblowers.
Shamai’s sentence, 20 months in prison, is above and beyond what has been the practice up to now and contradicts all of Obama’s declared policies about increasing transparency. This is another hint that political motivations are playing a very important role here.
The subject is so sensitive that the judge himself was not made a party to it, but that did not prevent him from acting as a rubberstamp for the FBI by imposing a harsh sentence.
Translated from Hebrew by George Malent
Letter sent Judge Alexander Williams Jr.
Judge Alexander Williams Jr.
US District Court
Greenbelt MD 20770
Zurich, May 16th. 2010
A letter of support for Mr. Shamai Leibowitz Esq.
Dear Honorable Judge Alexander Williams,
As a long time Israeli investigative journalist and peace activist, I know and appreciate very much for many years the importance of the work for human rights and the person of Mr. Shamai Leibowitz.
Although I do not have any concrete information about the data leaked by him, I am completely convinced that by leaking classified information, obviously concerning some Israeli misdeeds, he had no intentions whatsoever to endanger the security and interests of the US, but to improve the human rights situation.
Such whistleblowers like Mr. Leibowitz are very important for democracy and for the struggle for human rights and more justice in this world.
As a journalist I appreciate very much the role of courageous whistle blowers that help us to inform the public about important issues that some official decided to keep secret, mainly because of anti-democratic reasons.
I hope deeply that you will take into consideration the above argumentation while sentencing Mr. Leibowitz.
Thanking you in advance
Winner of the prestigious Australian Gold Walkley Award for excellent Journalism 2004 (the Australian equivalent of the US Pulitzer Prize).