Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and a group of reservists came out on Sunday against Breaking the Silence, saying that the NGO defames IDF soldiers abroad.
In a press conference in Tel Aviv, Lapid announced that, as part of his fight against Breaking the Silence, he plans to propose a bill that would not allow groups that promote a boycott of Israel to fund local organizations.
According to Lapid, “Criticism is constructive for our society, but there is a significant difference between criticism and defaming IDF officers and soldiers abroad. That is not criticism; that is undermining the foundations of the state. Organizations like Breaking the Silence have crossed the red line between criticism and subversion.”
Breaking the Silence collects testimony from former IDF soldiers, many of whom claim that Israel committed war crimes. The group has long been controversial for its questionable methodology, frequently unsubstantiated and unverifiable allegations, and its practice of airing its claims abroad instead of bringing them to the Israeli legal system.
In the last week and a half, since President Reuven Rivlin spoke at a conference in which a Breaking the Silence representative participated in a separate panel, politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the NGO Im Tirtzu, have been especially vocal in their criticism. Last week, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett banned the IDF and schools, respectively, from cooperating with Breaking the Silence.
A petition against Breaking the Silence initiated by Yesh Atid garnered signatures from 60 MKs and more than 600 IDF officers and combat soldiers in the last week.
“I stand here surrounded by the representatives of 600 officers and soldiers, our best sons... representing the IDF’s values and leadership. They and the IDF defend those values,” Lapid said at the press conference.
Amit Deri, one of the leaders of the reservists’ campaign, asked: “Who are you, Breaking the Silence, to claim to represent us, IDF soldiers, and to say we threw our ethical code out the window?” Deri accused Breaking the Silence of “spreading blood libels in America and across the whole European continent.”
Avihai Shushan, a reservist and the founder of “My Truth,” an organization that collects verifiable testimony from soldiers to counter the claims of Breaking the Silence, said the “products that it [Breaking the Silence] manufactures are used as fuel and energy for boycott organizations.
Even the terrorist organization Hamas wrote after Operation Protective Edge that reading Breaking the Silence’s claims is enough to present [IDF] war crimes.”
Lt.-Col. Munir Madi said that Breaking the Silence should give its testimony to those in the IDF authorized to investigate it, because “we are a country with rule of law and a democratic country that encourages freedom of expression and learning lessons.
Madi spoke of “purity of arms,” the IDF ethical rule that states that weapons can be used only to fulfill the mission and only to the extent necessary, without harming non-combatants or prisoners.
“Many generations of commanders and soldiers were educated in this,” Madi said.
Amit, a commander in Operation Protective Edge, described fighting in an area with many civilians.
“Before entering, we spoke to residents of the [Gaza] Strip, we sent flyers, and we knocked on their doors – all to prevent harming innocents. Roi and Yoni…led the platoon between the houses. Roi was hit by an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] and was killed. It came from a house that had civilians inside, which is why it was not blown up,” Amit recounted.
Manny Notora, an officer in reserves, said “in all of my eight years of IDF service, there were a few cases of inappropriate behavior. Those people were taken care of and put in prison. However, I saw many dozens of cases in which the opposite happened, and we endangered our forces in the name of protecting the population. That is the army I know.
“Our army is the most moral in the world, and neither Breaking the Silence and nor any other organization can twist that,” he added.
Breaking the Silence director-general Yuli Novak asserted that “Lapid has joined the extreme right-wing government and the campaign of atrocities that is meant to distract the discourse from the reality of bleeding terrorist attacks that we are all experiencing these days.
Novak accused Lapid of acting from narrow political interests and targeting combat soldiers who endangered their lives for the state and claimed they are now, once again, being threatened because they testified to Breaking the Silence.
“[Lapid] is once again choosing to lie and repeat messages written by Bennett’s media adviser, because he knows that if you repeat a lie enough times, it will stick,” she added. “We will not be silent. It is our patriotic duty to continue Breaking the Silence.”
Meretz head Zehava Gal-On accused Lapid of hypocrisy.
“It’s not every day that a politician gets up and declares that two of the most senior members of his party are anti-Zionist traitors that are taking part in a delegitimizing campaign, but reality is beyond what we could imagine. That is exactly what Yair Lapid just did to [former Shin Bet chief and MK] Yaakov Peri and [Yesh Atid faction chairman] Ofer Shelah,” she wrote on Facebook.
Gal-On pointed out that Peri participated in the documentary film The Gatekeepers
, featuring interviews by former Shin Bet chiefs, in which he “bravely spoke about the injustices of the occupation, for a foreign film, funded by Europeans, that was presented in dozens of festivals abroad.
“Yaakov Peri broke the silence more than all members of Breaking the Silence put together,” she added.
Shelah, Gal-On recounted, as a former Channel 10 reporter, broadcast anonymous testimony from IDF combat soldiers telling about alleged war crimes, and the IDF prosecutor investigated them.
“What a faction of traitors,” she wrote sarcastically. “With these two important and brave actions, Peri and Shelah did much more for the country than what the head of their party did in his three years as an elected official. Lapid is the personification of hypocrisy.”
Gal-On called the soldiers who testified to Breaking the Silence “heroes of Israel,” “patriots” and “true lovers of Israel,” and said she is very proud of them, while Lapid, Bennett and Netanyahu are “leaders of this ugly incitement campaign [and] a clear and present danger to the future of the State of Israel.”
Peri countered that he is for freedom of expression of opinions, but that he does not support “defamation and slander, in some cases, of the IDF, which is dear to us all and its morality is not in doubt.”
“When things needed to be investigated, the IDF does so, did so and will do so, and when the IDF does not know about a case, it is important that it is notified without airing dirty laundry among the nations of the world, where... Israel’s image is twisted and one-sided,” he said.
As for The Gatekeepers
, Peri said the comparison is irrelevant and the content is not similar, and he and the other participants in the film sought to promote a two-state solution.