Haaretz & Israel Ziv

On 28 November 2013, Israeli news site Mako published an article entitled “Who’s Against Who? / Enemies, A Love Story“. The following in an English translation of the relevant section of the article:

Why did Yossi Melman really leave Ha’aretz newspaper, and how is it connected to a Major General (Reserves) in the Israeli army, a private investigator and a scandalous recording?

by Aviv Hurvitz with Esti Aharonovich

Ha’aretz newspaper is a big believer in transparency. In the last year, at least three editorials were published there calling for transparency with everything related to the expenses of the prime minister’s residence, the deliberations of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and the budgets of the secret services. Even the editor-in-chief, Aluf Benn, in an op-ed he penned, insisted upon the importance of government transparency. So it’s a bit of shame that this transparency end at Ha’aretz’s doorway.

In this story, there is more concealed than revealed. The main characters are a senior journalist, a high-ranking officer and a private investigator.

The journalist is Yossi Melman, formerly a commentator for Ha’aretz on intelligence, terrorism and nuclear issues. The high-ranking officer is Major General (Reserves) Israel Ziv, today head of the firm “Global CST”, which provides security consulting. And then there’s the person that can be called “the third man”.

Between 2009 and May 2011, Melman published five articles critical about Israel Ziv and the firm he heads. At first, Melman described how Ziv negotiated to include a controversial weapons dealer as an investor in the firm. In a second article, he wrote that the firm Global CST signed a contract to establish a presidential guard for the cruel dictator that ruled Guinea. In a third article, he reported on an investigation into Ziv in the wake of the signing of the Guinea contract. His fourth article, an update, noted that at the end of the investigation, a decision was made to fine Global CST. And in a fifth article he reported on contacts between Ziv and leaders of the regime in the Abkhazia region, which led to a diplomatic incident between Israel and Georgia.

General Ziv did not like Melman’s critical coverage, to put it mildly, and suspected his motives. From there, it was just a short leap to an international sting operation.

Nine months after the last article that Melman published about Ziv, it became known that Melman would leave Ha’aretz. The supposed reason: he’d already made the most of his time there.

Now it turns out that the story behind the departure of the veteran commentator is much more complicated. A source familiar with the affair says that Melman, commentator on espionage affairs, was recorded expressing willingness to receive money from a businessperson connected to the world of espionage. All this while he was actively working as a journalist. The scandalous recording was given to General Israel Ziv. Ziv gave it to the editorial board of Ha’aretz, along with accusations against Melman, and references. Not long after, Melman stopped working for the paper. He received his last salary from Ha’aretz in May 2012. That very month, he began writing for the website Walla – not very long after the “already made the most of my time” that Melman had mentioned in personal conversations.

In the slightly laundered remarks that Melman made after his departure was announced, he said: “There is a moment in life when you feel that you must do something else, and I’ve thought about it for many years”. A source who spoke with General Ziv said this week in response to Melman’s official statement: “If it wasn’t sad it would be funny.” In any case, Mel-man, who felt that he must do something else, did something very similar at Walla for nearly a year, until the site faced a wave of cutbacks. Nowadays, he writes for the weekly “The Weekend”.

Like many of the best stories that Melman published in the past, this story that he’s at the middle of is also covered in a smokescreen. “Several actors here have confidentiality agreements and non-disclosure agreements regarding the real circumstances of the issue,” says a source familiar with the topic. “They pulled a dirty trick on Yossi, and someone tried to incriminate him. In reality, he did not receive money. The hint he made in a dialogue with the business figure, that he supposedly wants to receive money if something they discussed would take place in the future, was part of an investigative trick. In this instance, Yossi may have acted foolishly, but he said what he said in order to reveal who was behind this effort.”

A source familiar with the issue says that Ha’aretz preferred to deal with Israel Ziv’s complaint quickly and decisively. At first Melman wanted to explain to the newspaper’s leadership the complexity of the plot and its intricacies, but when he realized where the head editors were leaning, he came to what was termed “an agreement to leave willingly.”

The staff of Haaretz consistently flies the flag of transparency. Apparently there are cases besides Melman’s in which they walk their talk. In announcing Melman’s departure, Ha’aretz publisher Amos Shocken praised his journalistic activities and did not raise the issue that pre-ceded his departure. At that time, all of the critical reports that Melman published about Israel Ziv, which had led to the hiring of a private investigator and the acquisition of the scandalous recording, were removed from the Ha’aretz website, and today they can no longer be found, even with Google Cache.

Q: Israel Ziv, can you add details about the circumstances of Yossi Melman’s departure from Ha’aretz newspaper?

A: I am not interested in discussing this, and I have reasons for not wanting to discuss this.”

Q: Perhaps you can speak to some of the details? We understand that it’s a sensitive story.

A: If you understand, then it’s all good.

Q: We don’t understand everything.

A: I cannot cooperate. Even if you ask, I won’t answer. If you want a background conversation about the Middle East, I’ll be happy to talk. I prefer not to talk about this topic.

Q: Yossi Melman, what is your response?

A: In my entire journalistic career, I have never acted knowingly and deliberately as an emissary of any business figure, whether an individual or a company. In my entire journalistic career, I have never received money or any benefit from such a figure. I willingly left Ha’aretz newspaper in May 2012, after feeling that I did everything I wanted to do. As per my agreement with Ha’aretz newspaper, they paid me everything they owe me, and I have no complaints.

Q: Ha’aretz editor in chief Aluf Benn, what were the real circumstances behind Yossi Melman being forced to leave Ha’aretz newspaper?

A: I will not respond to this in any way.

Q: Don’t you feel that a newspaper that demands transparency should tell its readers the circumstances surrounding the departure of a veteran journalist?

A: I won’t respond to that, either.

Ha’aretz publisher Amos Schocken was asked why, in his parting words to Yossi Melman, he didn’t say anything about the circumstances surrounding his departure, and whether it was proper for Ha’aretz, whose editorials have preached in favor of transparency more than once, to hide relevant information from its readers and Melman’s potential employers. Schocken did not respond to either question.