An Israeli soldier, visiting the "Breaking the Silence" exhibition, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (AP/Ariel Schalit) (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Breaking the Silence

By meeting with Breaking the Silence, a leftist Israeli group that spreads baseless accusations against Israel’s military, US administration officials demonstrate double standards and hypocrisy. 

Freedom of speech and expression is a hallowed value both in Israel and the US. However, both societies recognize that with freedom comes responsibility and, I would add, integrity. Last week, as first reported in Ha’aretz (June 5), unnamed officials from the Obama Administration met in Washington, D.C. in the offices of the politically left-wing Foundation for Middle-East Peace with members of the fringe Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS). The meeting was engineered by Matt Duss, president of the Washington-based foundation. The same Ha’aretz article mentioned that a BtS representative also held a separate meeting at the State Department with senior officials in its human rights bureau.

BtS collects testimonies of former IDF soldiers who served in Judea and Samaria and the eastern, mostly Arab populated, sections of Jerusalem. These testimonies are intended to raise questions about the legality and morality of actions against the Palestinian population by soldiers of the IDF. They are intended to demonstrate the cruelty and inhumaneness of Israel’s “illegal occupation of the West Bank.”

BtS recently published a highly controversial report covering last summer’s conflict in Gaza known in Israel as “Protective Edge.” Duss told Ha’aretz that “Obama administration officials reacted with a great deal of interest, asking many questions about the vetting process of the witnesses, the testimonies and the fact-checking.” He made the point that “the fact that both White House staff and the State Department held meetings with Breaking the Silence shows that the organization has an open door to the administration.”

Breaking the Silence

An unidentified former Israeli soldier, who served in Hebron and finished his military service a few months ago, stands next to photos from the city. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

What is going on here? According to the reputable Israeli research organization NGO Monitor, BtS is complicit in promoting “war crimes” charges against Israel. These charges have been proven to be based on anonymous and unverifiable hearsay. Furthermore, although claiming to address Israeli society so as to engender positive moral change, BtS lobbying and media advocacy focus almost exclusively on international audiences. Moreover, according to NGO Monitor’s research, virtually all of the massive amount of funding procured by BtS comes from overseas sources. In other words, BtS is much more of a foreign entity paid for by foreigners, intended for foreign audiences, but run by highly politicized and disgruntled Israelis.

A meeting of officials from the Obama administration and the US State Department with representatives of BtS can only exacerbate the tensions between the White House and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. So why did these meeting take place? According to an Obama Administration spokesperson: “US Government officials met with Breaking the Silence as we routinely meet with a range of actors from official and non-official international groups, including from civil society.”

This is a poor rationale. There is no record after six years in office of Obama administration representatives meeting with organizations representing Israel’s political right, for example Women in Green or The Yesha (Judea and Samaria) Council. Furthermore, we know that such meetings would never take place. Conversely, what if Knesset subcommittees, or even the aids to various Israeli parliamentarians, publicized meetings they held in Jerusalem with former US soldiers who had fought in Afghanistan and Iraq who reported to the Israelis on the hundreds or more civilian deaths caused by the negligence of US troops on the ground and bombardments from the air. Or, what if African American community leaders from Ferguson, MO, or Baltimore, MD. traveled to the Holy Land in order to publicly name and shame their local law enforcement officials and the US Justice Department. Of course, their motivation would only be to bring about positive change in American society.

Afghanistan civilian deaths

Hajji Sharfddin holds photographs of relatives who went missing during US military operations. The US failed to properly investigate civilian killings, including possible war crimes in Afghanistan, according to Amnesty International. (AP/Rahmat Gul)

The cooperation of unnamed US government officials with BtS smacks of double standards and hypocrisy. All armies, all security forces, who represent the democracies they protect, inevitably in times of war are responsible for the tragic, unintentional deaths of innocent civilians. Individual troops may be guilty of behavior towards the local population that is unbefitting. Of all the democracies in the world with active armies, why single out Israel and place its soldiers’ actions under a magnifying glass? This type of inquiry conjures the title of the recent publication by Israeli-American journalist Tuvia Tenenbom, “Catch the Jew.”

The strategy of BtS, its dependence upon foreign funding and its playing to a foreign audience as evidenced most lately by its publication in English of a damning report on the IDF and its current exhibition in Zurich funded by the Swiss government and the Zurich municipality, conjures the reviled “Diaspora mentality” practice of turning to the gentile authorities to forcibly settle a dispute among Jews. Shame on BtS for lacking integrity and shame on those in the Obama administration and the State Department who irresponsibly allowed themselves to be used by this group.

By: Ardie Geldman, United with Israel

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