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Leaky Weeks

Joseph, the hero of this week’s parasha, could teach Wikileaks’ Julian Assange a thing or two about personal responsibility

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Julian Assange at the United Nations Office in Geneva last month. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is being held in British custody—fighting his extradition to Sweden, where he is accused of sexual assault—he might use his time to brush up on his Bible. If he reads this week’s Torah portion, he may find cause for reflection.

It tells of Joseph, now reconciled with his treacherous brothers, and his struggle to keep Egypt afloat during a terrible and prolonged drought. Disgruntled, the people come to Joseph and demand satisfaction. “Give us food,” they say. “Why should we die in your presence, since the money has been used up?” But Joseph is tough and effective. He collects all the remaining cash, barters food for livestock, and sustains the economy throughout a volatile period. He is a paragon of good government and the embodiment of personal responsibility.

Assange is not. The man who famously expressed his glee at crushing bastards has never specified just who the bastards might be, but his behavior leaves little room for doubt: While he does not appear to be a classical, ideological anarchist, Assange seems imbued with the lawless spirit that represents so much of what is good and what is reprehensible about the Internet; the bastards he enjoys crushing are people with power, and it is their power, more than any concrete fault or inherent flaw, that makes them worthy of crushing.

Rising to Assange’s defense this week, Glenn Greenwald criticized a column by my friend and co-author Todd Gitlin, who condemned Wikileaks. Taking offense with the assertion that the Wikileaks leak was an indiscriminate data dump, Greenwald argued instead that Assange and Co. acted responsibly and judiciously. “WikiLeaks has posted to its website only 960 of the 251,297 diplomatic cables it has,” Greenwald wrote. “Almost every one of these cables was first published by one of its newspaper partners which are disclosing them (The Guardian, the NYT, El Pais, Le Monde, Der Speigel, etc.). Moreover, the cables posted by WikiLeaks were not only first published by these newspapers, but contain the redactions applied by those papers to protect innocent people and otherwise minimize harm.”

But the partnership between Wikileaks and the media is not an easy one. How uneasy? The New York Times—as the paper’s Executive Editor, Bill Keller, recently told readers in an online conversation—is “not a ‘media partner’” of Wikileaks. It’s hard to imagine the Gray Lady going to such lengths to disassociate itself from, say, Pentagon Papers source Daniel Ellsberg, and for good reason: Before giving his purloined documents to the Times, Ellsberg sent copies to Henry Kissinger and Senators William Fulbright and George McGovern, pleading with them to reevaluate the Vietnam war. Only after none was taken did he turn to Times reporter Neil Sheehan. Assange, on the other hand, took a different route. As the AP reports, “days before releasing any of the latest documents, Assange appealed to the U.S. ambassador in London, asking the U.S. government to confidentially help him determine what needed to be redacted from the cables before they were publicly released. The ambassador refused, telling Assange to hand over stolen property.”

These are more than just divergent attitudes. To Daniel Ellsberg, whistle-blowing was the final step that came only after every other imaginable course of action has disappointed. Assange made no such concentrated effort. The invitation he extended the ambassador is as disingenuous as the one offered to the media: Unlike Ellsberg, Assange had the Internet, and, most likely, he intended to publish the documents no matter what and let his so-called partners in the press, the U.S. government, and just about everybody else scramble to cast themselves in the drama he was writing and directing.

Which makes Assange the anti-Joseph. While the ancient Hebrew, a high official in the Pharaoh’s court, used his power to protect the institution of government during trying times, Assange used his technological savvy to elevate himself to the government’s level, impudently offering the State Department a shot at a joint copy-editing effort as if the American ambassador in London and the founder of a website were equally endowed partners.

Herein lies the problem: To think that an individual and an institution—a government, an embassy, an army—are entitled to the same privileges and expectations and should butt heads on the same playing field, leveled by technology, is not only spurious but suggests a deep ontological confusion. Governments have their powers and responsibilities, and Assange seems envious of the former and oblivious of the latter.

It is a shame, then, that the often-astute Greenwald missed the larger point of Gitlin’s piece, namely that Assange and his fellow Wikileakers are interested not in reforming government but in subduing it. They want the machinations of military and diplomatic affairs—machinations that must, by definition and necessity, remain frequently unlit—made visible for all to see and inspect, but, possessing no understanding of how government actually works, offer no concrete ideas for enlightenment. This is the raw and terrible power of the data dump as metaphor; that Assange preselected a few of his many documents for publication does little to endow him with responsibility or respectability. In leaking the documents—be it some or all of them—without bothering, as Ellsberg had, to put them in the appropriate context and draw concrete conclusions and try first to bring them to the attention of higher-ups in the government, Assange is like a child who hurls a brick through a window and then boasts of having exposed the fragility of glass.

Among the more interesting news on the Wikileaks front this week was Assange’s announcement that he’d sent the cables obtained by Wikileaks—all of them—to more than 100,000 supporters around the world with the instructions to reveal them should something happen to Assange or his organization. The files, he assured worried souls, were thoroughly encrypted. Beyond the obvious irony on display—a hacker’s assurance that the information he wants protected is perfectly safe—this act calls into question Greenwald’s assertion that Assange never indiscriminately published his entire trove. Sending a file to more than 100,000 people, even if it is encrypted, is an act of publishing; that Assange’s lawyer labeled the file the “thermonuclear device” further suggests that the Wikileaks mindset is more reminiscent of the rogue bent on destruction than of the activist committed to change.

In his long lifetime, Joseph had his share of both activists and rogues. And he had the wisdom and wherewithal to bless the former—even when, like his brothers, they were guilty of terrible sins—and vehemently reject the latter. Let us follow his lead.

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What Ellsberg did seems worse than Assange. Ellsberg abused his position as a military analyst to illegally copy files. He then used those files to try to blackmail government officials to change policy, threatening release of the stolen files if they did not. Ellsberg, not Assange is guily of, as you say, using his savvy to “elevate himself to the government’s level.”

On the other hand, Assange has not used his documents to coerce the U.S. government to enact or abandon a specific policy. Nor did he steal the documents, he only received them and made them available.

I also disagree with your charitable interpretation of Joseph’s actions. As I understand it, Joseph collected the people’s grain without compensation, then forced the people to turn over their property to the Pharoah in order to get their food back. Joseph used the famine to enrich Pharoah at the people’s expense.

Perhaps a connection can be drawn, on both economic and moral terms, between Joseph’s actions and the ensuing slavery of the Israelites. After Joseph made the Egyptians give up their property and livelihood to Pharoah, his people became enslaved by Pharoah.

I find it ironic that the social stability that protects Assange’s freedom is provided by the very political and military institutions that he attacks. If, for instance, Assange was living in China or Russia, well….let’s just say his leaks would be plugged quite expeditiously. However, because Assange is an Australian citizen traveling through European democracies, he is afforded a myriad of legal rights that protect him.

I couldnt keep a straight face reading the remainder of the article because of the type on draught versus drought..

his struggle to keep Egypt afloat during a terrible and prolonged draught

Being Irish one gets used to eating in the rain – if only the great Irish Famine had been a windy one the potatoes would have survived..

allenby says:

YES! Assange is THE Man!!!
I hope it will accelerate the death of the printed media.
To reveal the dirty stinky crap behind the scenes of the banks, politics….etc.
YES, exactly because Julian is in the still democratic society we’re able to learn the filthy truth, that we all suspected anyway. It is only official now, with some pepper and cayenne.

VHJM van Neerven says:

Dear Mr. leibovitz,

I am now completely confused.

First, you lambasted the Israeli government for using its powers in the wrong way and not taking its responsibility – and now you tell us governments are on a different ontological level than individuals. (That’s quite something, ontological difference.) Both your and my country emerged from abandoning a government deemed ilegal and simply bad, not to say evil. Were the American and Dutch revolutionaries ontologically confused as well?

Really, I don’t get it. And the real is the subject matter of ontology.

Second, a while ago you told Marjorie Ingall that she had to accept that modern kids use the electronic means at their disposal and that an electronic attack should be answered by the same means — individually, not by the institution of a school. No ontological difference that time.

I really, really don’t get it. And reality is what ontology and thus ethics are all about.

I strongly feel that an answer and some added information or explanation are called for.

Kindly yours,
VHJM van Neerven

mark bloom says:

“Assange, Bastardo non Carborundum.”

Boise Jew says:

The merits of Joseph aside, thank you for your take on Julian Assange.

He is a far cry from Daniel Ellsberg; anyone who was an adult in the 60’s and 70’s understands the differences, in both context and attitude, between the two men. Your paragraph starting with the words “Herein lies the problem” gets to the heart of the matter. All one can say is, “Mr. Assange, you’re no Daniel Ellsberg!”

allan siegel says:

Dear Liel, you are out of step and unable to understand wiki leaks for the same reason that Todd can’t and fail to understand it’s significance (maybe you should read Daniel Ellsberg’s comments on the matter). But mainly you want Julian Assange to operate from an illusionary moral high ground and from a pre-determined political frame (hence all your biblical references). Todd Gitlin has shown himself – once again – to be a typically self-righetous liberal and I guess you are hoisting the same flag. Shameful is your diatribe (especially considering the biblical quote) and considering that anyone able to lift the shroud of hypocrisy that wraps itself around the militaristic actions of the last twenty years should be applauded rather than popously criticized.

Liel Leibovitz says:

Dear (Mr.? Ms.?) van Neerven,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write, and for your insightful question.

Earlier this week, I indeed decried the failure of Israel’s government to act like a government, namely to plan, allocate resources, and erect efficient infrastructures to serve and protect its citizens. I also suggested, somewhat subtly, that the problem in Israel is ontological rather than political, namely that the governing class no longer perceives of itself as a governing class and has accordingly abandoned en masse all of its engagements and responsibilities.

Today, writing about Assange, I called attention to a different manifestation of the same cognitive confusion, namely the hacker’s delusion that technology makes all the world a stage on which individuals and governments square off. By refusing to accept that the machinations of military and diplomacy often work, by necessity, in the dark, Assange is undermining the very functions of government, without suggesting anything in return. He wants to subdue government and embarrass it. That’s a far cry from Ellsberg, who saw it as his civic duty to reform government, and resorted to whistleblowing only after many government officials refused to hear his claims.

The moral here is the same—the same, too, as it was in my advice to Marjorie. Put simply, it is this: Know your rights, know your responsibilities, demand nothing more than the former, contribute nothing less than the latter. When individuals start acting like states, when states start acting like individuals, then we run into big, ontological problems.

I hope this clarifies things some. And, again, thank you so much for getting in touch.



allenby says:

we all know very well that those who control the economy of the so called “freaworld” are those who helped china to get ahead of US, being greedy inglorious basterds, and moving every possible american industry to china. If these people are not “Basterds”, then how you would call them????
The BANKS are behind these IngloriousBasterds, they are TheBasterds. They were the ones to incourage thousands american companies to move to china. Why? because they got a lot and a lot of sweet cookies from china.
The media belongs to the same IngloriousBasterds CosaNostra – CNN, NYT, …. and at least half of these are not even american owned anymore, like CNN for example which is controlled by saudis…

Julian Assange is no Daniel Ellsberg? Perhaps you should alert Ellsberg to that…

One can’t help wondering if Liel Leibovitz would have written this piece had there been information in the Wikileaks cables that corroborated his political worldview (as opposed to cutting chinks into it, as they appear to do thus far). File under: congnitive dissonance.

The Parsha of Joseph spreading the assets equally to Egypt’s citizens is a story that should be read to the Congress; especially the greedy and corrupt GOP members.

The link with Wikki Leaks is and this weeks sedra as Rabbi Ginsbury in the UK pointed out NOT with Daniel Ellsberg. It is the fact that confronted with the fact that he could reveal and so appease and comfort his father and brothers.he didn’t. He learnt that sometimes it is best to hold back from showing everything, revealing all your cards etc.
Sometimes it is wiser and better for all to ration what is revealed in the name of real true and benefit for all.Not for the sake of some pseudo moral crusade he thinks he’s on. After all, if we are not to believe all these attacks on the sex life Mr Assange then why is he not so open about that. Or does he believe possibly illegal behaviour in that realm of things either merit or require defence on his part.

And you my son Liel? Your stories are catharsis for us readers, but this one is not. Just read every comment. People are polite and they hardly can believe you are the writer of this Sarah Palin look alike opinion on Wikileaks.

“Governments have their powers and responsibilities” Does this mean that they decide what to tell us what they should? The decision of what to say publicly is completely arbitrary. We are at the will of little dictators worldwide who force a democratic government of United States or Britain to live with their values. Sure not telling that Kadhaffy is surrounded, in addition to his female body guards, by blond voluptuous Ukrainians nurses is a responsibility of the Government. This peace of news will keep peace for ever if concealed.

steve ben israel says:

yesterday the the new york times printed the tapes of nixon…Where the former president revealed
that he couldn’t stand jews, and italians and i am sure some of these folks voted for him
this news printed 40 years after the has bee revealed that as many as 3000 soldiers have committed
suicided since the current wars began..we all know that these wars are a distraction for the people who
have been trying for to long to make this planet human
we have to focus on how to turn the GREAT FEAR that hangs over us all can be turned INTO into a process
that will enrich the mind into finding who we REALLY are…bible stories wether they are from the new or old

In Defense of Joseph and “jsa’s” attack: Does the government “compensate” you for any of the taxes it takes from you now?

Joseph had warned all of the people, not just the Pharaoh, of the coming crises. During this period of plenty, Everyone’s crops were seven fold the normal. Joseph advised them to set a portion aside and save it for the coming lean years. Joseph was assigned the task by Pharaoh to administer this for the government but the people should also have set aside a portion of what they had extra. Apparently, none of them did.

Dear Miha,

As always, I enjoy and respect your comments, but this time I disagree with your interpretation. Palin and the other Tea Partiers, it seems to me, have much in common with Assange and Co.: They share the same disdain for authority, the same disbelief in government, the same suspicion of power. It is, of course, ridiculous for anyone striving for elected office, but it is equally silly for anyone setting up what appears to have all the might of a globalized news organization with none of the ethics or responsibilities. To truly hold governments accountable, we need institutions—and civilians—who are themselves accountable, and who hold themselves to high standards. An army of unseen hackers, relishing in chaos and, to quote Assange, “system-wide cognitive decline,” is far from an answer. It is, in fact, an even bigger problem. Wikileaks, most likely, would drive tyrannies to feel justified in curbing the free flow of information online, and would encourage the more reactionary wing in our democracy to allow less by way of transparency. If the Internet is going to become the new global Polis, we need a new code of citizens’ rights and responsibilities, not bedlam.



Of course, everyone’s talking about it. The big leak. Information transparency is not new business, but it is a new development that it can be so widely dispersed so quickly. Next we’ll be looking for a network of publishers who work together to disseminate material.

Levi Keller says:

How utterly ludicrous.

We all know that Joseph never existed, and you are just molding this myth into some launching point for your polemic. Your ludicrous contrast between Ellsberg and Assange has been thoroughly refuted by Ellsberg’s own statements. Moreover, Ellsberg is technically guilty of treason while Assange is not. The sheer idiocy of this essay is almost par with a Glenn Beck diatribe.

VHJM van Neerven says:

Dear Mr. Leibovitz,

Sorry: It is Mr. van Neerven, Vincent (and some more) by birth, but on the net I can usually be found under VHJM van Neerven.
I was pleased to see your answer to my query today. Thank you so much.

I am still somewhat in the dark as to your use of the term ‘ontological,’ but since ontology is our knowledge of being, I take you as meaning: Our knowledge of what is real, what is realistically there — in the true sense of the word. With ‘true’, we insert ethics into the discussion. For what is, compels us to say what is and not to lie about it. The just can only be built on what is. So we come to the moral of the story. I thus agree with your: “Know your rights, know your responsibilities, demand nothing more than the former, contribute nothing less than the latter.”
That is is a safe beacon in a wild world.

But everything hinges on the law under which we have a right and take our responsibility. Ontological may never be equal to the status quo unless we hold that we live in the best of all possible worlds. I think we do not. I think this given has little to do with politics and everything with what is and has been. Wars of the last three generations have made states’ injustice abundantly clear to the living. States can not be trusted to act on behalf of the people. They never have been and the so-called question of tyrant-murder or, if one prefers, revolt, remains paramount under any government.

This question every individual has to answer for himself. Many do. I remind you that Mr. Assange is only the front of a large movement. Many people feel that it is time to cry “Foul.” Why? To know that, we have to re-run the images, to look at the documents, to see for ourselves. That is all Wikileaks (and all Wiki’s, by the way) are doing: re-running the play, building an encyclopaedia of our world as it really is, was and came to be.

Now I must say, your calling on our knowledge of being sounds very strange in this light.

VHJM van Neerven says:

Our governments waged war upon others without real justification, on the basis of lies, fabrications and darkness and silence — and we should remain in the dark and silent because the state happens to be the highest organ in our societies?

I must disagree. Reality, that is, truth and justice have to dictate our behavior. When our leaders parade in make-believe and persecute the little boy who said that the emperor has no clothes: then it is not our task to help the emperor and his minions. That is definitely not our personal responsibility !

I am very interested in hearing back from you, Mr.Leibovitz. These are no smal matters and I welcome any discussion that helps —me and hopefully others as well— to find the right thing to do. That is why I read your haftoroot and parasha-writings and I will keep on doing so. This world is too perplexing to go it alone. It is good to have someone to talk to.

Vincent van Neerven

P.S. I have not read all the commentaries in between; I apologize if I repeat points already brought forward.

VHJM van Neerven says:

“(A) paragon of good government and the embodiment of personal responsibility,” that;s exactly what Wikileaks and its cooperating outlets are. Please read The New York Times; and others’ reports on how the leaks were leaked, e.g. at NYT itself or here:

Assange and Wiklileaks have their own dissidents, too, like the ones who double-leaked to Aftenposten and they in their turn to RTL and NRC in the Netherlands.

NL-NOS, negotiating fairly with Assange, missed the Dutch Cables scoop, basically corroborating the NYT report. They all contributed to good governance and showed great personal and institutional responsibility.

Appreciating the commitment you put into your site and in depth information you present. It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed material. Excellent read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

Sounds like a great project. I wish it well and hope it gets the exposure it deserves.Gerry Report this comment

This is my first time I have visited your site. I found a lot of interesting stuff in your blog. From the tons of comments on your posts, I guess I am not the only one! keep up the great work.

Your site is very helpful. I found the information that I need and I will come back. Best Christmas Gift

I’ve said that least 2333023 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

Hiya, Could I grab that photograph and apply that on my personal web log?


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Leaky Weeks

Joseph, the hero of this week’s parasha, could teach Wikileaks’ Julian Assange a thing or two about personal responsibility

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