Representatives from Breaking the Silence were noticeably absent from the Knesset Education, Sports and Culture Committee panel, which convened on Tuesday for a discussion of the group’s activities.
“We invited Breaking Silence to the discussion and time and again there was no response,” committee chairman MK Ya’acov Margi (Shas) said in the opening remarks.
He noted that only the night before the Knesset meeting did he receive a written response from the group, which he read to the committee: “The title of the committee meeting leaves no room for doubt regarding the objectives of the discussion, and we do not intend to participate in discussions that are part of an incitement campaign against the soldiers of Breaking the Silence, and we oppose the occupation,” the Breaking the Silence statement read.
Margi criticized the group for its absence and said the discussion would continue as scheduled, despite calls from other MKs to cancel it in their absence.
“A group like this that demeans the Knesset, suspects the Knesset, doesn’t leave room for doubt, but despite all this we will hold the session today,” he said.
“How a group which seemingly wants to purify the atmosphere in the State of Israel, which seemingly wants to purify the IDF, with all these nice words, doesn’t leave doubt regarding its true objectives and its statements,” Margi added.
The panel – “The activity of the Breaking the Silence organization against the citizens of Israel and IDF soldiers” – quickly turned into a heated discussion between the Right and the Left, with many MKs being forcibly removed from the room.
The discussion was initiated by MKs Oded Forer (Yisrael Beytenu), Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Ahmad Tibi (Joint List).
Forer wasted no time in slamming Breaking the Silence and their absence from the Knesset meeting.
“I have no doubt that if they had invited the Breaking the Silence group to a discussion in the government of France, Denmark, Belgium, Germany or Holland, Ireland, Switzerland, Britain, I have no doubt they would find the time and would arrive to the discussion, especially if it were to include the defamation of Israel,” he said.
Forer added, “And maybe they would even earn money from this because a part of their funding is if they arrive to discussions and how many times they are able to slander the State of Israel.”
Forer said that Israel had proven, since the establishment of the state, that it is capable of investigating and criticizing itself when necessary.
“The group has a clear agenda to defame Israel abroad – and that’s all,” he said.
MK Kisch also criticized the group’s absence and said, “Nobody [in the room] opposes the process of criticism – this is the way we become better.
“But the objective of this group is the opposite. It is a group that takes money from foreign countries and has political international interests that we cannot ignore,” he said.
“We are dealing with an ugly phenomenon with the interests of foreign states in collaboration with testimonies that cannot be verified because they are anonymous,” Kisch added.
“This is BDS, and it is from within and we must fight it,” he said.
MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) addressed the committee and defended the NGO’s decision not to attend the session. Throughout her entire address, she was continually interrupted by other MKs.
“Nobody has a monopoly on the IDF – all of our children serve in the IDF,” said Gal-On. “We all want to protect the image of the IDF.”
She said that the revelations of the Breaking the Silence group is not what causes the de-legitimization of Israel, but rather, “50 years of occupation over millions of people is what causes the greatest harm to the State of Israel.”
“The truth hurts and the truth deserves a real discussion and not to silence it,” she added.
Gal-On slammed the right wing Im Tirtzu group and its recent media campaign, at which point she was interrupted and a screaming match ensued between right and left-wing MKs.
MKs Gal-On, Michal Rozin (Meretz) and Kisch were removed from the room following several warnings by the chairman.
Following the Knesset discussion, Gal-On and Rozin released a joint statement: “The discussion today reflects the initiative of Knesset members who have partnered with Im Tirtzu and right wing organizations and their attempt to silence MKs and organizations from the Left. This is McCarthyism of the worst kind that reminds us of dark regimes.
“Sitting here are a bunch of self-righteous, right-wingers and Knesset members who give them the stage, when they have a political objective of concealing the occupation,” the statement continued. “The policy of occupation is what harms the State of Israel and not the organizations that reinforce the democratic status and raise the status of Israel in the world.”
Kisch also released a statement following the discussion. “Hypocrisy celebrates. An organization that chooses not to publish the source of its evidence which they present in the corridors of the UN, and chooses to boycott a hearing in the Knesset calling for transparency in the IDF,” he said.
Kisch said he was “surprised” to “see the conduct” of Meretz and Joint List MKs which defended the organization’s decision not to attend the Knesset session.
“I wonder how they would’ve responded if an organization on the right of the political map would choose to boycott a similar discussion,” he said.
“The struggle today is another step in the fight against the organizations of de-legitimacy. If you say a lie enough times it may become true,” Kisch added.
Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirtzu, said that Breaking the Silence receives millions of shekels from foreign countries in the European Union and that all the funds are managed in Ramallah.
He called on the MKs to further investigate the sources of funding for the group.
MK Omer Bar-Lev (Zionist Union) defended the IDF and said that in every war there are unfortunate incidents, but that the IDF has proven that it knows how to effectively investigate such incidents from within.
Bar-Lev, however, criticized the decision to hold the Breaking the Silence discussion surrounding the issue of its funding from abroad, and said the same discussions should apply to right wing NGOs, such as Im Tirtzu.
MK Oren Hazan (Likud) was removed from the discussion for interrupting Bar-Lev repeatedly and refusing to quiet down.
The committee concluded that the organization should be barred from educational institutions – though MKs Dov Henin (Joint List) and Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said they vehemently oppose this decision.