Earlier today, Likud Knesset Member, David Bitan, who chairs the governing faction in the Knesset, stated on an Israeli talk show that he would try to find a way to strip the citizenship of Hagai El-Ad , executive director of B’Tselem. Bitan described El-Ad’s testimony to a special session of the United Nations Security Council on Israeli settlements as “explicit breach of trust by an Israeli citizen against the state, and as such he should find himself another citizenship.”
Zehava Gal-On, the Chairwoman of the Meretz party, described Bitan’s comments as “dangerously close to incitement to murder.” That characterization is important considering right wing efforts over the past two years to incite violence against peace and human rights activists in Israel. Read more at Facts on the Ground, FMEP’s blog
The past months have witnessed an unprecedented series of attacks on Israel progressive, peace and human rights groups. Right-wing organizations, many with close ties to the Netanyahu government, have worked to paint these groups as “plants” for foreign powers, or even as traitors. Back in December, the Foundation for Middle East Peace issued a statement in support of these groups, and we reaffirm that support today.
No group has faced more frequent or aggressive attacks than Breaking the Silence. This group of veterans who served in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the West Bank and Gaza gathers
testimony from other soldiers, goes to enormous lengths to corroborate those testimonies, clears them all with Israel’s military censor before publishing and then uses those testimonies to explain to Israeli citizens what the occupation is and what their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and parents do when they serve there.
Breaking the Silence opposes the occupation, and their purpose in gathering and publicizing these testimonies is to make Israelis understand both the human rights violations that occur as a result of the occupation and experiences of the soldiers whose job it is to maintain it. Because they are IDF veterans, and all of their testimonies are gathered from other veterans (including many who do not share the views of BtS), they are special targets of the right.
On March 17, Israeli Channel 2 aired a report based on information gathered by Ad Kan, an organization of right-wing settlers with a history of using deceptive methods to build their cases against progressive Israeli groups. Yet Channel 2 aired their charges unquestioningly. According to Breaking the Silence:
“The report showed footage of members of BtS, filmed with hidden cameras by moles of Ad Kan who infiltrated our organization. Among the false claims in the report was the argument that BtS collects confidential information that could potentially endanger the security of the state. Another grave claim was that we persuade pre-military youth to enlist in specific IDF units to collect intelligence and spy on the IDF from within. The implications of such claims led to public turmoil and accusations that BtS members are guilty of treason, in the words of Defense Minister Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon. Needless to say, both of these claims are false. They are also malicious and slanderous and it is highly disturbing that they come from the highest political echelons.”
In 2015, Israel ushered in the most right-wing government in its history. But the same election produced another notable outcome: for the first time, Arab parties joined in a bloc with the sole Jewish-Arab party, Hadash, to form the Joint List. The bloc garnered 13 seats in the current Knesset, making it the third largest party and second largest in the opposition.
Ayman Odeh is the Chairperson of the Hadash party and the head of the Joint List. In these roles, MK Odeh has established himself as a respected leader, bringing a principled voice to the opposition while balancing the diverse and sometimes contradictory politics of his own List. It is not always easy, and MK Odeh has managed to keep his coalition together while positioning himself as a leader of a progressive movement within Israel. While other opposition leaders such as Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) have largely backed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in many of his policies dealing with both internal security and the Israel-Palestine conflict, MK Odeh has given voice not only to the views of minority groups within Israel, but also to moderates all over the world who support peace, Palestinian rights and a two-state solution.
In December, MK Odeh embarked on a groundbreaking visit to the United States, his first as well as the first of its kind for a political leader of Israel’s Palestinian community, where he met with many politicians, community leaders and activist groups. The trip, which was supported in part by the Foundation for Middle East Peace, demonstrated that there is a significant opposition in Israel, and that Palestinian citizens of Israel, like MK Odeh, believe themselves to be a part of the country and instrumental to charting a better future for both the citizens of Israel and the Palestinians living under occupation.
Appearing on Walla! TV in Israel, Yuli Novak, the Executive Director of Breaking the Silence lays out, in a clear manner, the case Breaking the Silence is making. She takes on the tough questions of why the group speaks abroad and its attitude toward BDS, and shreds the opposition’s arguments about Breaking the Silence’s EU funding.
It’s worth praising Walla! as well. This is the sort of TV journalism we do not see in the United States. The interviewer asks the tough questions in a respectful manner, and neither party shies away from the issues. Yes, the voices are raised, but anyone who has been to Israel knows this is standard fare.
The interview is in Hebrew, but the accompanying English subtitles are very good. Yuli Novak, and the rest of Breaking the Silence are the best of Israel. It says a great deal not only about radical rightists like Im Tirzu, but also about the Netanyahu government itself that they are hostile toward or ashamed of Breaking the Silence. They should, instead, be treated like the patriotic heroes they are.
Recently, the right wing Israeli group Im Tirtzu created a highly inflammatory video singling out leaders of four leading Israeli human rights groups as “plants” by foreign powers seeking to undermine the State of Israel and supporting terror attacks. The video has been widely condemned as incitement to violence against these individuals and their organizations. The Foundation for Middle East Peace quickly moved to support our Israeli colleagues, as did many other organizations.
Still from Im Tirtzu’s video showing mock “files” on Israeli human rights leaders
The groups – B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Hamoked, and the Public Committee Against Torture In Israel – are among the many peace and human rights NGOs that are increasingly targeted by hateful rhetoric and even by anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, much of which has been spurred by Im Tirtzu and their allies in the Likud and Jewish Home parties, the two largest parties in Israel’s governing coalition.
Defenses of these human rights workers and condemnations of Im Tirtzu have come not only from the Israeli left and its supporters, but also from key officials in the Israeli government, military and intelligence communities. Read more at “Facts on the Ground,” FMEP’s blog