Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (R) announced in 2016 that he and 600 IDF reservists would fight Breaking the Silence. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90) (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Yair Lapid

The Knesset is moving towards adoption of a bill that would prevent the group from spreading lies about the IDF in Israeli schools.

By UWI Staff

There are relatively few issues that unite the Israeli public as much as support for the Israeli army. Perhaps not surprisingly, another issue that unites most of the country is animosity towards “Breaking the Silence (BtS),” an Israeli NGO that is severely critical of the IDF.

Israeli lawmakers had “Breaking the Silence” in mind when they presented a bill this week empowering the education minister to ban groups deemed harmful to the Israeli military from entering schools. The bill passed its first Knesset reading on Monday by a 35-23 margin and will now head to the Knesset Education Committee before being presented for a second and third reading as required in order to become law.

The bill was first proposed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett back in December 2016 after several high school principals ignored ministry instructions on prohibiting the organization from meeting students on school property.

Knesset coalition members have accused Breaking the Silence of attempting to harm IDF officers and soldiers, including through accusations of war crimes. The left-wing Meretz party has supported the anti-IDF NGO’s right to address students.

Member of Knesset Mossi Raz released a twitter statement this week, saying, “Soldiers who gave the best years of their lives to the state want to tell the truth, and there is a limit to silencing voices.”

Breaking the Silence was founded in 2004 by a group of veteran Israeli combat soldiers. The group claims to publish authentic statements by former soldiers of alleged abuses carried out by the army in Judea and Samaria. Political and military critics have described BtS reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.

Not for attribution, an activist who closely monitors BtS told World Israel News that the NGO “has united both sides of the political aisle against them. They are extreme, and their reports are inaccurate and unsubstantiated. BtS has managed to convince a wide spectrum of society that they are out to harm the army. If what they did was about transparency, that’s one thing, but they come off as extreme and not credible.”

Most BtS activities take place outside of Israel and are sponsored by groups with a record of anti-Israel activity. According to NGO Monitor, the group has a budget of nearly NIS 6 million with about 65% coming from European governments and NGOs. They are active in promoting international “war crimes” charges against Israel, and much of their so-called ‘testimonies from soldiers’ are no more than unverifiable hearsay.

‘A clear political agenda’

In 2010 BtS published a highly tendentious book, titled Occupation of the Territories – Israeli Soldier testimonies 2000-2010, which claimed to provide a counter to the “official Israeli position” on IDF actions in the territories. NGO Monitor analysis has revealed that this book was rife with methodological problems and appeared to tailor the testimonies to predetermined “analyses” that falsely claimed Israeli actions are not aimed at self-defense, but at “terrorizing the civilian population.”

According to military reporter Amos Harel, writing in the left-wing Ha’aretz newspaper,  “Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’ Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the ‘corruption which permeates the military system’ is not a neutral observer. The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices.”