Ya'alon: If NGO Breaking the Silence used classified info abroad, it's 'treachery'

Defense minister orders probe of NGO; Ya'alon's comments draw fire from opposition MKs.

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March 21, 2016 20:07
3 minute read.
Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon

Former defense minister Moshe Yaalon. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has ordered an investigation to ascertain whether the Breaking The Silence NGO received classified military information, and if it made use of such data in its activities overseas.

Addressing pupils at a school in the Upper Galilee on Monday, Ya’alon affirmed the right of all citizens to express themselves, whatever their views, “unless their expressions cause tangible harm to national security.”

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Ya’alon said he has known Breaking The Silence since its founding in 2004, when he was IDF chief of staff.

“When it began its activities, and I heard testimonies from anonymous soldiers of morally improper activities, from ethical and legal perspectives... I was alarmed as chief of staff. It began then with stories from Hebron,” Ya’alon recalled.

As chief of staff, Ya’alon said, he immediately asked the NGO for testimonies by named former soldiers, so they could be investigated by the Military Police. “I didn’t manage, to this very day, to receive named testimonies, which we can use to question the people behind them, and investigate their allegations to the full,” the defense minister said.

“Later, I found out that this organization goes abroad, and tells its stories there. That brought me to the conclusion that I have nothing to talk to them about. If you are concerned about the IDF’s moral image, if you are worried about our conduct, why are you going abroad? In other words, there is a political agenda here,” Ya’alon said. “From that moment on, I said: Activists from this organization will not set foot in the IDF.”

He stressed that he is not calling for a ban on the organization.

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“They can continue saying what they are saying,” Ya’alon said, “So long as there is no security breach.”

A recent report on Channel 2, documenting Breaking the Silence members questioning soldiers about issues not apparently linked to ethical ones, led Ya’alon to order the investigation, he said. “When they insert all sorts of components that are actually operational secrets... If they make use of that abroad, that is very severe. If they spread that abroad, that is treason. If they only keep it to themselves, then who safeguards this material? Why do they need to know which vehicles we use, in the air or on the ground, and why do they need to receive operational techniques?” Breaking the Silence has vehemently rejected the allegations, describing them as part of a right-wing smear campaign.

Ya’alon said during his speech that it is the duty of IDF commanders to explain to soldiers that searching Palestinians at checkpoints, or entering homes of terrorist suspects at 2 a.m. to conduct searches, are deeply unpleasant, yet necessary tasks. “Otherwise, this [the terrorism threat] will blow up on us, in our cities,” he added. Ya’alon’s use of the word “treason” sparked fierce condemnations by opposition Knesset Members.

Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni said in response that “politicians have to be careful when they use the word treason. Even against those with whom we disagree about their activities.” She added that the government is behaving irresponsibly by failing to integrate diplomatic and economic steps in the fight against terrorism.

Meretz MK Esawi Frej said, “In the best tradition of the extremist right, Defense Minister Ya’alon also incited against the members of Breaking the Silence. Israeli law permits the death sentence or a life sentence for treason, and this is the message that came from the defense minister, who rushes to call law abiding citizens ‘traitors.’” Frej added that “it is the Likud that has betrayed Israeli democracy.”

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