Ex-Israeli soldier Anat Kamm appeals prison sentence

Former Israeli soldier Anat Kamm, who turned classified military documents over to a reporter, has appealed her 4 1/2-year prison sentence.

Kamm, who entered the Neve Tirza prison in Ramle last November, has asked Israel’s Supreme Court to reduce her sentence, according to Ynet, which reported that a hearing has been set in two weeks.

The sentence and 18-month probation meted in Tel Aviv District Court was well below the 15 years requested by prosecutors. Her two-year house arrest is not counted as time served.

Kamm was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. She had been charged originally with espionage, but the charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain. Kamm was arrested in late 2009 or early 2010.

Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, including hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded on to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army’s Central Command. She turned the information over to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who wrote stories based on the information that were approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau’s source.

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz.

As part of her filing, Kamm pointed out that Blau, who also accepted a plea bargain, is going to be sentenced to four months of community service.

Cables show shared Israeli, Arab concerns about Iran

A peek behind the scenes offered by the WikiLeaks cables published this week offer hints into U.S. and regional priorities. The two issues cropping up most often in the Middle East are Iran and Israeli-Arab peace. The cables also offer choice insights into how Americans interact with the locals.

Iran and peace

In private discussions, leaders from Egypt and Dubai both talk about their enmity for Hamas, and they and the Saudi king also warn of the dangers of Iran.

In a classified message from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in January 2008, Omar Suleiman, director of Egyptian General Intelligence, tells Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) that Iran “is supporting Jihad and spoiling peace, and has supported extremists in Egypt previously.” Iranian support of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood makes them “our enemy,” Suleiman says.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2009, the U.S. ambassador in Cairo wrote that after talking to Egyptian Foreign Minister Abdoul Gheit, he is positive that Egyptian President Mubarak sees Iran as Egypt’s “greatest long-term threat, both as it develops a nuclear capability and as it seeks to export its ‘Shia Revolution.’ ” As far as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mubarak is “proud of (Egypt’s) role as intermediary, well aware that they are perhaps the only player that can talk with the Israelis, all Palestinian factions, and (The U.S.). Mubarak hates Hamas, and considers them the same as Egypt’s own Muslim Brotherhood, which he sees as his own most dangerous political threat.”

The Arab leaders in the Persian Gulf share similar sentiments on Iran. A letter sent to Rice from the Dubai consul general in January 2007 states that in a meeting with Nicholas Burns, a State Department undersecretary, the emirate’s leader, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, “agreed that Iran should not have nuclear weapons, but warned of the dire regional consequences of military action.” In addition, Dubai agreed to cooperate in financial restrictions against Iran, but only if it is done quietly. The Dubai leader also said he hoped for a peace deal because it “would make Hamas everyone’s enemy.”

The Saudi king took his hatred toward Iran a step further, telling John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser in Washington in March 2009 that he had just finished a telephone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and scolded him that that Iran should “stop interfering in Arab affairs.”

“A solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict would be a great achievement, the King said, but Iran would find other ways to cause trouble,” the cable reported. ” ‘Iran’s goal is to cause problems,’ he continued, ‘There is no doubt something unstable about them.’ “

The moving Iran deadline

In a March 2005 cable, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer describes Israel’s fear of Iran’s nuclear weapons program as reaching the “point of no return” when Iran is able to enrich uranium without assistance—a development believed to have been achieved by 2007.

The cables show that Israeli officials saw the diplomatic efforts vis-a-vis Iran as relevant and crucial. However, they expressed their disappointment with the European Union, which according to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was “too soft,” Kurtzer reported. As to the military option, unlike the strike against Iraq in 1981, hitting Iran would be a much more difficult task, and furthermore would “elicit a strong response from Arab states and the Palestinians, effectively freezing the peace process.”

In a May 2009 meeting between an American congressional delegation and Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, Barak stressed that “no option should be removed from the table when confronting Iran and North Korea.”

Barak also described the Iranians as “chess, not backgammon players,” who will “attempt to avoid any hook to hang accusations on, and look to Pakistan and N. Korea as models to emulate in terms of acquiring nuclear weapons while defying the international community.” Barak also estimated a window between six and 18 months from when the meeting was held in which “stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable.” After that, he said, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage.

He also expressed concern that should Iran develop nuclear capabilities, “other rogue states and/or terrorist groups would not be far behind.” Israeli officials now say the “no return” deadline is sometime in 2012.

Regional concerns

In a meeting between Mossad chief Meir Dagan and then-Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) on March 13, 2005 in Tel Aviv, Dagan expressed concerns about the fallout from the end of the Iraq War.

“Foreign fighters originating from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Yemen have arrived back in their home countries” after fighting together in Iraq, the Israeli top spy said.

Dagan said that Israel has “no assets in Iraq other than a friendly relationship with the Kurds.” However, he said that Israel has interest in the possible impact the jihadis might have in their home countries, especially in ones where the local governments might not be able to fully respond to the challenge brought by the militants.

In a meeting two years later, in July 2007, with Frances Townsend, President Bush’s top terrorism adviser, Dagan raised alarms about Pakistan’s stability.

‘‘Dagan characterized a Pakistan ruled by radical Islamists with a nuclear arsenal at their disposal as his biggest nightmare,” the cable said. “Al-Qaeda and other ‘Global Jihad’ groups could not be relied upon to behave rationally once in possession of nuclear weapons, said Dagan, as they do not care about the well being of states or their image in the media. ‘We have to keep (President Pervez) Musharaf in power,’ said Dagan.” Musharraf, facing allegations of corruption, resigned in 2008.

A wild wedding

A classified document from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow titled “A Caucasus Wedding” describes the life and culture of Dagestan, a republic in the north Caucasus. The detailed description, replete with references to drunken revelry and the corpulence of the locals, also refers to the members of the Jewish community, their numbers and habits.

A special reference was made to the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray, described as “a man who looked like Shamil Basayev,” a Chechen Islamist terrorist, “on his day off—flip-flops, T-shirt, baseball cap, beard—but turned out to be the chief rabbi of Stavropol-Kray. He told us he has 12,000 co-religionists in the province, 8,000 of them in its capital, Pyatigorsk. 70 percent are, like him, Persian-speaking Mountain Jews; the rest are a mixture of Europeans, Georgians and Bukharans.”

Elsewhere, it describes the regional compunction for ethnic identification, and how it seemed to be catching among the diplomats.

“After a couple of hours Dalgat’s convoy returned with Aida, horns honking,” the report says, referring to the groom, Dalgat Makhachev, the son of a lawmaker and oil magnate, Gadzhi Makhachev. “Dalgat and Aida got out of the Rolls and were serenaded into the hall, and into the Makhachev family, by a boys’ chorus lining both sides of the red carpet, dressed in costumes aping medieval Dagestani armor with little shields and swords. The couple’s entry was the signal for the emcee to roll into high gear, and after a few toasts the Piter ‘gypsies’ began their performance. (The next day one of Gadzhi’s houseguests sneered, ‘Some gypsies! The bandleader was certainly Jewish, and the rest of them were blonde.’ There was some truth to this, but at least the two dancing girls appeared to be Roma.)”

WikiLeaks release not a problem for Israel, Netanyahu says

The secret documents released by WikiLeaks will not negatively affect Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israeli leaders can feel comfortable with what was revealed in the first batch of documents made public Sunday, Netanyahu said, because there is very little difference between what they said in private discussions with United States leaders and what they told their citizens.

“Usually there is a gap between what is said in public and what is said in private, but regarding Israel this gap is not large,” he said Sunday afternoon. “Regarding other countries, the gaps are extremely large.”

The documents did show that what many Arab leaders said privately and publicly, particularly on the subject of Iran, was significantly different. For example, many Arab leaders called on the United States, in some cases repeatedly, to attack Iran.

“More and more countries realize that Iran is the central threat, but the countries in the region have a gap because they publicly are attached to the Israeli-Arab conflict but privately they realize that this narrative is not true,” Netanyahu said Sunday during a speech before an editors’ conference in Tel Aviv. “They realize that the central threat is from Iran and now this has been revealed even though it was known.

“It can eliminate the theory that Israel is the obstacle to peace and show that we have mutual interests.”

The United States briefed several of its allies on the documents over the weekend. Israel already had been told by the U.S. last week that it could be mentioned in the release of classified U.S. documents.

The WikiLeaks website, which publishes classified documents from anonymous sources and leaks, released about 250,000 secret diplomatic cables on Sunday.

Netanyahu said he was not told in advance the specifics of what was said in the documents.

State Department legal adviser Harold Koh released a letter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange saying that the publication of the documents is illegal and demanding a halt to their publication.

The publication of the documents will “place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals,” ‘‘place at risk on-going military operations” and “place at risk on-going cooperation between countries,” the letter reportedly said.

The letter called on WikiLeaks to return the documents to the United States and destroy any copies.

Turn a New Page

Leaders of Conservative Judaism have argued from their pulpits for more than 50 years that the Torah is a divinely inspired document that evolved over centuries, rather than the product of a single encounter with God at Mount Sinai. Starting this month, their congregants will finally be able to follow along in the pews with a Conservative Bible commentary that says the same thing.

Conservative synagogues across the country are receiving shipments of “Etz Hayim,” or Tree of Life, the first one-volume, annotated version of the Five Books of Moses ever put out by the movement. Until now, most of the movement’s 800 congregations have relied on the 65-year-old Hertz Chumash, named for its editor, the late J.H. Hertz, chief rabbi of England, who spiritedly insisted that the Torah was revealed in its entirety to Moses by God at Mount Sinai. The new commentary comes at a time when many of the Conservative movement’s leading academics and pulpit rabbis are attempting to close a yawning religious gap between themselves and their followers. More so than any other synagogue movement in America, Conservative Judaism has been dogged by the claim that its ideology — a hybrid of religious innovation and adherence to traditional rabbinic law — is rarely followed, if even understood, by the bulk of its members.

While Conservative congregants generally practice a far less stringent brand of Judaism than their religious leaders, one Los Angeles rabbi, David Wolpe, sparked a major brouhaha last Passover with a sermon challenging the biblical account of the Exodus from Egypt. Such challenges to the theory of Mosaic authorship, however, are ideological staples at the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS).

“For the first time in over a generation, we have a Chumash that reflects the ideology of the Conservative movement,” said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which published the new commentary this month in partnership with the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly and the non-denominational Jewish Publication Society (JPS).

So far, Epstein said, several hundred congregations have ordered a total of 80,000 copies of the new commentary — sight unseen. The list price is $72.50, he said, but synagogues received significant discounts for prepublication and bulk orders.

Several observers said that early sales had been helped by the participation of a pair of renowned author-rabbis, Chaim Potok and Harold Kushner, who edited two of the main commentaries that run through the work beneath the Hebrew text and English translation.

A former JPS editor and author of “The Chosen,” Potok edited the p’shat section, which attempts to explain the literal meaning of the biblical text as understood by the ancient Israelites. It is actually a condensed version of a five-volume commentary published in stages by JPS since 1989 put together by four scholars with historic ties to the Conservative movement: Nahum Sarna, Baruch Levine, Jacob Milgrom and Jeffrey Tigay.

In the d’rash section, Kushner and his contributors draw on talmudic, medieval, Chassidic and modern Jewish commentators to elaborate on the text’s deeper meaning. “I wanted the average synagogue-goer or bar-mitzvah guest to see the reading of the Torah as an encounter with a source of moral guidance,” said Rabbi Kushner, author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” “I wanted them to see the moral depths of the Torah that a simple reading of the text might not give them.”

The third running commentary on the Torah — co-edited by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of the University of Judaism(UJ), the Conservative movement’s West Coast rabbinical seminary, and Rabbi Susan Grossman, of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, Md. — attempts to show how various biblical verses served as the basis for later Jewish laws and Conservative practices. “Etz Hayim” also contains 41 essays in the back by leading Conservative rabbis and scholars, in addition to each week’s haftorah reading and a corresponding commentary edited by Michael Fishbane.

Just as important as any of these features, said several Conservative congregants and pulpit rabbis, will be the chance to read from a modern English translation first published by JPS in 1985. Even while hyping “Etz Hayim,” Conservative leaders were quick to praise Hertz, the first graduate of JTS, describing his commentary as venerable and sometimes brilliant. But, they said, the seminal work is outdated in terms of its scholarship and apologetics.

Several observers said Hertz wrote his commentary at a time when Christian scholars were not only rejecting the notion of Mosaic authorship, but dismissing traditional Jewish commentators, attacking the morality of the ancient Israelites and accusing the rabbis of the talmudic era of perverting the biblical tradition by failing to accept Jesus. Today, however, American Jews occupy a much more secure rung on the societal ladder than the Yiddish-speaking immigrants of the first half of the 20th century.

“We have no interest in apologetics,” said Rabbi David Lieber, senior editor of “Etz Hayim” and former UJ president. He noted that the new commentary does not attempt to sugarcoat aspects of the Torah that might offend modern sensibilities, such as its countenance of slavery, unequal treatment of women or elaborate system of animal sacrifice. Unlike Hertz, who often defended Israelite society by presenting it as more progressive than the surrounding ancient world, contributors to “Etz Hayim” do not shy away from criticizing the religion of the early Hebrews.

“We make no bones about the fact that slavery is something that cannot be justified,” Lieber said. “At the same time, we say that the Jewish tradition eventually eliminated slavery because of the spirit of the Torah.”

In his defense of Judaism and the Torah, Hertz rejected the fundamental premise of the emerging field of biblical criticism: that the Pentateuch was really a compilation of several different documents woven together by human “redactors” over hundreds of years. And yet he never hesitated to cull other findings from the field when they supported his belief in a direct revelation at Sinai, the historical accuracy of the Five Books of Moses and the moral superiority of the ancient Israelites.

The editors of “Etz Hayim,” on the other hand, fully embrace the deeper implications of biblical criticism, including the notion of an evolved Torah. In fact, they not only accept this view but consider it vital to understanding the text and the Jewish faith.

“I believe that this commentary does very much underscore and support the things that I was preaching about earlier this year,” said Wolpe, who contributed an essay to “Etz Hayim.” “This commentary embraces the idea that the Torah yields wisdom when examined by both ancient and modern methodologies.”

This embrace of biblical criticism is significant, several contributors said, but should be understood as a means toward providing synagogue-goers with a commentary that will inspire them. “It’s designed to help Jews improve the quality of their lives,” Grossman said.

Grossman and other contributors noted that congregants will now be able to study from a commentary that takes into account the Holocaust, Israel’s founding, technological advances and Western civilization’s elevation of women. For example, the new commentary compares the Egyptian midwives of Exodus who refuse to kill first-born Israelite males to the righteous gentiles of World War II.

While the new commentary serves to highlight Conservative Judaism’s leading scholars and pulpit rabbis, it also provides a rare instance of the movement speaking in a loud, unified, theological voice.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, president of the Rabbinical Assembly. “Especially for a movement that is very often not always on the same path theologically, religiously or even programmatically.”