While an army of graphic designers are putting together a monochrome portrait of Julian Assange for the next edition of TIME magazine, I have been interested by the vehemence of many American reactions. And not just the pundits, regular people too. A guy in shul told me that he should be shot (or poisoned) and this sentiment has been echoed by others of differing shades of the political spectrum. It’s interesting because most of the Wikileaks aren’t all that surprising: apparently many countries are worried by the Iranian threat; Angela Merkel is a square; and, shock horror, Silvio Berlusconi is a narcissist. But it is the feeling that official secrecy has been violated, irresponsibly so, and driven by a personal agenda.
It is yet another event which begs the headline: “We are all Israelis now”. In 2008 a young female soldier (Anat Kam) did a “Bradley Manning” and leaked a couple of thousand internal IDF memos to Haaretz journalist Uri Blau. Haaretz went on to publish a damning story of the IDF carrying out pin-point assassinations in an illegal fashion. There was a mild public outrage at the affair, and Blau hid out in London until turning himself in on his return to Israel. But leaks are part of the political landscape in every country, and Israel is no exception, with leaks from the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and the IDF a regular occurrence. Both the Army and the Police leak obsessively, with a high-ranking officer recently claiming that there must be someone with a fetish for leaking, because it seems to not even fulfill a personal political gain. It is unclear which is worse.
There is however a public fascination with uncovering the inner workings of high level decision making in Israel. No trust of authority, or respect for secrecy: not everyone should know everything, but I definitely should… It’s not who you know, it’s what you know. Subsequently we all know things we probably shouldn’t, from covert romances between high-level aging Labor party grandees to personal tiffs between Defense Ministers and their Chiefs of Staff. From seemingly corporate buildings which are a front for internal secret service operations, to the “real” illicit stories behind high-profile police complaints. We can even leak wikileaks, who will soon leak a very embarrassing cable from the US embassy in Israel, detailing exactly what is thought of Monsieur Netanyahu’s administration techniques. Yes, we pride ourselves on knowing everything. Even when we hear it for the first time we knew it already. And when we are proved wrong, we never took it too seriously at the time.
And is this a surprise? Jews love to talk – this has been proved to be an empirical statement – and we have a whole State to play with. Forget shul politics… well don’t forget them, just factor them appropriately. One Jew, two opinions, three sketchy rumors.
While the American respect and trust of authority maybe the more mature model, the Israeli version mirrors a more personal relationship with the State. We feel like we know everyone involved, and just as we can’t trust them for skip, we also know that there is no sinister Big Brother directing our lives from some hidden location. When things go wrong we feel safe in the knowledge that it was probably just our own incompetence, as we truly are masters of our own pot-holed destiny. Wikileaks doesn’t scare Israel, we can make up much better rumors than they can leak; and whatever does emerge wont floor us, we are strengthened through our awareness of our own flaws. Let’s just hope we don’t get stuck there.