The offices of the Breaking the Silence organization in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Breaking the Silence (BtS) is an Israeli organization founded by disgruntled Israeli army veterans who regularly take their protests to American and European audiences to generate external pressure on Israel. Critics say they are abetting anti-Israel activists in their efforts to delegitimize Israel in the movement to impose boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on the Jewish state. Adding to the existing controversy are serious new allegations that BtS has been collecting information on classified IDF operations. If proven true, BtS leaders may have committed espionage and could face criminal charges, with far-reaching repercussions for BtS’s funders and partners, including the European Union, the New Israel Fund, and J Street. Currently BtS is touring US campuses, having just presented to audiences at Brown and Columbia.
BtS’s stated purpose is to bring to fellow Israelis the voices of soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza so as to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life” there. Its main tool is a collection of impossible to verify anonymous and anecdotal testimonies of soldiers.
BtS disseminates these allegations to general and campus audiences in the US, Europe and elsewhere. BtS refuses to cooperate with the IDF’s legal unit, the Military Advocate General Corps, which is tasked to investigate such claims.
There is an irony in the group’s name. In Israel there is no silence to break. Most Israelis serve in the IDF. Hundreds of thousands of other soldiers have, over the years, experienced firsthand military activity in the West Bank and Gaza. So BtS’s premise that Israelis are “ignorant” of the situation in these territories defies logic. Further, given the noisy debates that characterize Israeli society, substantiated allegations of IDF misbehavior would generate calls for investigations.
BtS, however, hides the accusers’ identities while withholding information regarding specific dates, sectors, units, combat conditions and numerous other variables making it impossible to verify their claims. Such hearsay accusations are inadmissible in any legitimate court of law.
That is why BtS – and its supporters – prefers the court of public opinion, whose evidentiary expectations are non-existent. BtS has a clear political agenda, which is to increase foreign pressure on Israel’s democratically elected government.
This is what upsets so many Israelis and pro-Israel supporters, including those that may otherwise be open to hearing its perspective.
Yet, this does not deter J Street from assisting BtS in finding campus venues. The problem is that audiences in the US and Europe are distant from Israel’s daily realities, have not served in the IDF, may even be outright hostile to Israel, or have an agenda that BtS helps to realize. Such audiences are all too ready to accept as fact BtS’s impossible to verify accusations.
Since 2009 the group has spoken at scores of events around the world. In 2013 they even presented to the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, arguably the most anti-Israel body in the world.
The Palestinian Authority delegate urged that BtS “do more speaking engagements, particularly in the United States.”
Most concerning is BtS’s open association with BDS groups. The BDS delegitimization campaign paints Israel as a “war crimes” offender making BtS’s claims vital to BDS propaganda. BtS’s cofounder, Yehuda Shaul, presented at a program in South Africa organized by Open Shuhada Street, which promotes BDS. In 2014 and 2015 he also spoke at conferences organized by Paix Juste, a pro-BDS Luxembourg group that is itself a member of the BDS-supporting European Coordination of Committees and Associations For Palestine.
Enabling all this are European governments, the European Union, European church charities and the New Israel Fund (NIF). Since 2012 approximately $2.3 million in donations were granted to BtS by these various sources.
NIF’s policy states it “will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.”
And J Street declares it “has always been and remains opposed to the Global BDS Movement.” Yet, both groups support and enable BtS, which unapologetically lends its name to the BDS disinformation blitz. So, despite their own policies, NIF and J Street indirectly contribute to BDS and the global campaign to delegitimize Israel.
Their leadership owes Israelis, and the American Jewish community, particularly their funders, an accounting.
Every democracy – including Israel – must openly monitor the behavior of its military, and civil society has an important role to play. Breaking the Silence could have fulfilled this function. Its lack of transparency regarding its allegations, its activities abroad with pro-BDS groups, and the allegations of espionage, however, have utterly destroyed BtS’s credibility with the very population it wishes to influence, the Israeli public. In this manner BtS has failed Israel.
Its funders and partners should be doing some serious reassessment about continuing their support.Roz Rothstein is CEO of and Yitzhak Santis senior writer and analyst with StandWithUs.