The Israeli Government’s Campaign to Silence Breaking the Silence
The Israeli Government’s Campaign to Silence Breaking the Silence
Legislation Proposed to Stop Foreign Funding of Israeli Human Rights Organisations
No government likes
to be taken to task over human rights abuses.
Most deny, as a matter of instinct, that any such abuses have taken
place. But it is only the worst of the
worst governments seek to destroy or cripple the very organisations that have
been criticising their human rights record.
Even the United
States government of George Bush didn’t seek to destroy its critics over
Iraq. Even the British government didn’t
try and destroy those organisations that criticised its use of torture in
states like Egypt and Saudi Arabia target the human rights organisations
themselves in their efforts to cover up their abuses. Israel describes itself as ‘the only
democracy in the Middle East’ but in its attack on human rights organisations, as well as other forms of dissent (Israeli Arab, cultural) it is demonstrating that its democratic veneer covers a police state practice.
has been demonised more in recent weeks than ‘Breaking the Silence’ [BTS]. Why?
Because it has taken and publicised the testimony of soldiers in the
attack on Gaza last summer, Protective Edge, which contradicts the official
version that all was sweet and light and that Israel bent over backwards to
protect the human rights of the civilian population.
testimony catalog number: 470948
rank: Staff Sergeant
unit: Armored Corps
area: Deir al-Balah area
But everything else that they didn’t specifically instruct us to
avoid shooting at – and except for a few other places, where nearby [IDF]
forces were located to avoid friendly fire – you could shoot anywhere, nearly
freely. There are also times when we said, “Let’s fire over there, worst case
they’ll ask what we shot at, we’ll say it was a ‘suspicious spot,’ that it
looked threatening.” That happened a few times
It was all scorched, burned to the ground. Entire streets where one
building is half-destroyed, the next one totally destroyed, the next one half-destroyed.
Entire streets that were totally shelled.
Entire streets that were totally shelled, and I needed to verify a
certain target that had clearly been obliterated. I opened up the footage and
saw that it was taken right after the strike had been carried out, and there
were lots of people there, and lots of ambulances, and a whole lot of smoke and
lots of commotion. And from what we knew, that area was supposedly devoid of
You said earlier that you did know the neighborhood was supposed to
be empty of civilians?
That’s what they told us. They told us – maybe really so we wouldn’t think the
IDF does immoral things – they told us the civilians had been informed via
leaflets scattered in the area, and that it was supposed to be devoid of
civilians, and civilians who remained there were civilians who apparently chose
to be there.
Who told you that?
commanders, in off-the-record type conversations, or during all kinds of briefings.
Just so we’d know, for our general knowledge, that this is what’s going on.
That there’s no civilians supposed to be there, and any who are – are there
because they chose to be. In conversations between us it was summed up as,
“There’s nothing we can do, war is war.” You don’t really talk about it – any
discourse or opinions that are slightly ‘deviant’ are pretty much
At one point early on an older woman came near, and one of the
officers said she should be shot. They told him to fire [warning shots] in her
direction, and after a few shots she backed off. Later on, lots of people with
white flags came over and [warning] shots were fired near them, too.
During the first entrance [to the Gaza Strip] we were near Beit
Lahia, in a place called the Bedou’iyya. We were there for a few days. When we
got there, there were white flags on all the rooftops. We had been prepared for
something very… For some very glorious combat, and in the end it was quiet. We
set ourselves up in our spot and slowly, slowly, [the Palestinians] started
The Israeli government, apart from running an (unsuccessful) campaign
to ban a BTS exhibition in Zurich, has found that the White House arranged a
meeting with people from BTS. The next
stage in the campaign is to hit its funding, on the ground that BTS is
dependent on mainly foreign funding.
That of course is true and funders include ‘soft’ Zionist groups like
the New Israel Fund. What is so
hypocritical is that Netanyahu’s election campaign to remain leader of Likud was
funded from abroad!
What has been particularly irksome to the Zionists is that BTS has
been invited to speak in places normally reserved for Israeli government and
hasbara speakers such as the Hillel centres, which cater for Jewish students.
lobby in the United States has not been slow to respond and its response is
Director of the absurdly named Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), Asaf Romirowsky, wrote against Breaking the Silence in
June 2013 in the aftermath of former IDF Spokesman Barak Raz’s criticism :
Barak Raz, spokesman for the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division,
correctly blasted the group and its actions, stating that “Breaking the Silence
is an organization that engages in nothing – but nothing – other than a smear
campaign targeting the IDF. This smear campaign has nothing to do with rooting out
their observed problem. Furthermore, none of their work helps the IDF (or
Israel, for that matter) provide a solution.”
… BtS has become the
poster child for groups like J Street [a slightly
less hawkish version of Aipac but still very much pro-Zionist and anti-BDS – TG] and others on many North American campuses
that want to engage in “honest debate” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In reality, these groups do nothing more than fuel a skewed view of Israel in
order to pressure Israel to succumb to Palestinian demands, thereby only
contributing to the isolation of the Jewish state. Further, it is also the
pervasive tactic employed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement
(BDS) in their political warfare against Israel.
The adaptation of soft
power by the pro-Palestinian camps and far-left Jewish groups is one of the
main vehicles used in this political warfare. Breaking the Silence plays a
central role in this agenda, now spearheaded by J Street.”
Note how broad brush assertions such as ‘smear campaign’ are not
backed with even an iota of evidence.
Instead the Israeli army spokeman ‘correctly
blasted the group’ even though SPME is not in a
position to make such a judgement. BTS
are attacked, not because of the inaccuracy of what they have said but because
of the effect such criticisms will have in ‘contributing to the isolation of the Jewish state’ and isolating Israel and fueling ‘a skewed view of Israel’. And of course there is the mandatory
Guilt by Association techniques, so beloved of McCarthyists through the
ages. Scholarly? Barely high school stuff.
Another anti-free speech group is NGO Monitor, whose President, Gerald
Steinberg also indulges in guilt-by-association. Apparently BTS ‘receives part of its budget
from individuals who support the BDS.’
The clinching argument of course, although we are not enlightened as to
who these wicked individuals are!
Apparently the ‘The
central issue is how tainted money buys preferential influence and skews the Israel
debate on campus’. There is the word ‘skew’ again. No mention of the ‘tainted money’ of Sheldon Adelson,
the billionaire backer of Netanyahu who owns the Israeli free sheet Israel Hayom which is driving the rest of Israel’s press
out of business.
Apparently ‘Tiny radical groups like “Breaking the Silence”
are able to flood the market of ideas’. Far more preferable that people like Adelson buy peoples’ opinions
to be outdone, Russell Robinson, CEO of the Jewish
National Fund, which administers and buys land in Israel only for Jews, i.e. it
is an openly Apartheid organisation, in “Hillel is Not The Place For Anti-Israel Discussion,” expressed concern about anti-Israel events in Hillel. Apparently, in the Zionist police state that should
be Hillel, ‘I have witnessed time after time, speakers that condemn
Israel do so without being properly vetted and fact-checked. Often listeners
absorb every word as though it were based on facts when it is nothing more than
biased opinion and misinformed rhetoric.’ Clearly
there is a problem here having speakers who are not thoroughly vetted and ‘fact-checked’
But these are
the hurdles one must clear in order that Israel can remain the only democracy
in the Middle East.
— An organization of former Israeli soldiers dedicated to shedding light on the
dark side of the country’s military is coming increasingly under fire, roiling
a country in the grips of a battle against the burgeoning threat of
international isolation and boycotts.
group, Breaking the Silence, says that without its work, stories of improper or
even illegal behaviour against Palestinians would remain hidden from an Israeli
public that reveres the military. But the group has come under attack from
legislators who threaten its funding and say it could help turn Israel into a
its founding in 2004, Breaking the Silence has collected the testimonies of
more than 1,000 veterans in a bid to expose the underbelly of the decades-old
occupation of the West Bank. It has taken those accounts to audiences in Israel
and around the world, including a recent 10-day photo exhibit in Zurich,
comes as Israel confronts a growing boycott movement focused on companies doing
business in its West Bank settlements.
European Union also has ratcheted up measures against settlement products. The
settlements, built on land captured in the 1967 Mideast war which the
Palestinians want for a future state, are seen as illegitimate by the
the Silence does not call for a boycott of Israel. But critics say it feeds
into a global trend that unfairly singles out Israel and is bent on
“delegitimizing” the world’s only Jewish state. In contrast to other rights
groups, Breaking the Silence presents a unique threat because its members were
devoted soldiers before coming out with their claims.
will not ignore the fact that an organization, whose sole purpose is to tarnish
(Israeli) soldiers, is operating internationally in order to cause serious
damage to Israel’s image,” said Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign
group was created by soldiers who served during the Palestinian uprising in the
early 2000s. It has since built an organization of some 60 active members that,
beyond collecting testimonies, holds lectures and meetings and organizes trips
for Israelis to the West Bank to expose them to the daily realities of
Palestinians living under Israeli rule. Military service is largely compulsory
for Jewish Israelis.
the Silence often makes waves with its reports, and in May, it released the
accounts of dozens of soldiers who fought in last year’s Gaza war.
group concluded that “a troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate
fire” that killed innocent civilians. The Israeli military, which has launched
dozens of investigations into alleged wartime misconduct, rejected the report,
saying the claims lacked proof and could not be investigated as the group
grants soldiers anonymity for their testimony.
Shaul, Breaking the Silence’s co-founder, described its critics as hard-line
Israelis bent on perpetuating Israeli rule over the West Bank.
long as we are in uniform and are going to kill and die for settlements and for
the occupation, then everything is fine, but the moment we break the silence,
suddenly we are traitors. That’s the hypocrisy of the Israeli right-wing,” Shaul said.
said that the majority of Breaking the Silence’s work is in Israel, but it has
been lambasted for taking its message abroad.
group of pro-Israel Swiss lawmakers last week criticized the Zurich exhibition,
saying it “instigates evil propaganda, disinformation and furthers ideologies
that run counter to peace.” The Swiss Foreign Ministry said its support for the
group is “consistent” with its goal of supporting “a fair and lasting peace
between Israelis and Palestinians.”
attempted unsuccessfully to have the Swiss Foreign Ministry pull its funding of
the exhibit. But an exhibition planned at a fair on Israel-German relations in
Cologne, Germany, was canceled following an Israeli request.
Top: Ayelet Shaked: BTS is slandering Israel;
Bottom: Tzipi Hotoveli, we will not ignore
the fact that they are acting to damage Israel’s image.
Zurich exhibit comes at a time of surging panic over the possible economic
effect of boycotts, which Palestinians say are necessary after more than 20
years of failed peace efforts.
the deputy foreign minister, called for an urgent ministry meeting to examine
how to rein in Breaking the Silence. Israeli opposition legislator Yair Lapid
said that “extremist organizations” like Breaking the Silence “harm Israel’s
efforts in the struggle” against the boycott movement. More than 7,000 people
are part of a Facebook group called “My Truth,” which attempts to counter
Breaking the Silence and staged a protest in front of the Swiss Embassy in Tel
Aviv last month.
of the criticism comes over the group’s foreign funding. Many of its
international projects are supported by European bodies, and opponents see that
as a way to influence the very citizens and governments who could one day
choose to boycott Israel.
a world tour funded by the European governments under the facade of human
rights that is so damaging,” said Gerald Steinberg, who heads NGO Monitor,
which tracks the funding of Israeli rights groups like Breaking the Silence.
the Silence and other rights groups face a looming threat from a bill expected
to be introduced in Israel’s Knesset that could limit their foreign funding by
requiring senior government officials to approve the donations.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is behind the bill, said this month that
Breaking the Silence is “slandering and harming the state of Israel.”
said the group is determined to continue its work.
harms Israel more than anything is the occupation and what harms Israel the
most is the settlement enterprise and our unwillingness to end the occupation,” he said.
Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.