Breaking the Silence Responds to Unfounded Allegations

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.1446906402_152994b6ec_z

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 response to these attacks, Breaking the Silence has published a response, and answers to some of the questions that these accusations have raised:

How does Breaking the Silence collect testimonies?

Since the founding of Breaking the Silence in 2004, we have interviewed over 1,000 Israeli soldiers who testified about their service in the occupied territories. These testimonies serve as the basis for our public outreach. We’re very proud of our thorough, meticulous research methods, for which our researchers, all former soldiers who broke their silence, undergo an extensive professional training process. Each testimony undergoes a rigorous process of corroboration and is examined by both our legal advisors and the Israeli military censor.

To date not a single testimony has been disproven, which attests to our reliable and professional verification process. In fact, there have been four unsuccessful instances in which the right-wing settler organization Ad Kan attempted to submit false testimonies to BtS through four different moles: Amir Beit Aryeh, Oren Hazan, Haim Fremd and Roy Peled. None of their testimonies successfully passed our corroboration process, thus none were ever published.

Does BtS plant soldiers in the IDF to spy for the organization?

Of course not. BtS does not “plant” soldiers in the IDF, nor do we send anyone to covertly collect information in any forum. The vast majority of the over 1,000 soldiers who have broken their silence testified after having been released from the IDF.

BtS explicitly does not collect classified information. Prior to conducting an interview with IDF soldiers, we always forewarn them not to discuss classified information or military secrets. Everything BtS publishes is sent to the military censor prior for approval. Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be published without undergoing this process.

Did BtS urge a young female solder to serve in a specific unit of the IDF?

Ad Kan attempted to stigmatize a young woman, who sincerely wished to serve the country in a meaningful framework of her own volition, as a spy for BtS. The woman in question is a recently hired employee of BtS. She was secretly filmed by an Ad Kan mole. Their conversation was reduced to a shallow sound bite by Channel 2.

The following is a summary of her heartfelt account, regarding her deliberations prior to enlisting in the IDF. Having studied in a modern Orthodox high school and pre-military academy, she could have easily received an exemption from the IDF. However, she felt compelled to serve the country through truly meaningful service.

Prior to enlisting she was offered a wide variety of roles. She struggled with that choice. As a young woman with a strong political awareness, she wondered whether it would be possible to serve as a “good soldier” within the complex reality of occupation and whether she could contribute to the best of her ability.

While deliberating what to do, she conducted an earnest discussion with a former member of BtS who she had met during a tour. She expressed that she was considering whether or not to serve in the civil administration in the occupied territories, or rather in a position within the education corps, like the majority of her friends did. Seeking guidance regarding her own doubts, she asked the former BtS member whether he believed it to be possible to change the occupation from within. He advised her to serve where she believed she would have the most meaningful service and joked that she should not simply serve in the occupied territories in order to be able to testify later before BtS. After further consultations with additional people, she decided to enlist in the civil administration, so that she may pursue a humane path in improving, even if not changing, the process from within. Even if merely through warmth, generosity and professionalism, she preferred to confront the reality of occupation, rather than avoid it. Years later, she indeed returned to provide testimony before BtS, completely on her own accord.

Does BtS collect classified information?

BtS explicitly does not collect classified information. Prior to conducting an interview with IDF soldiers, we always forewarn them not to discuss classified information or military secrets. Everything BtS publishes is sent to the military censor prior for approval. Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be published without undergoing this process.

In the recent Channel 2 report, through manipulative editing, one of the primary claims made was that two of Ad Kan’s moles were asked by BtS researchers to share classified information:BtS explicitly does not collect classified information. Prior to conducting an interview with IDF soldiers, we always forewarn them not to discuss classified information or military secrets. Everything BtS publishes is sent to the military censor prior for approval. Nothing has ever been, nor will ever be published without undergoing this process.

  • The first mole, Haim Fremd, was interviewed regarding remotely operated weaponry on the Gaza border. Channel 2 claimed that the information was classified. However, not only did the military censor approve it, but Channel 2 had published a piece in January 2016 on the topic, aptly titled “The Unmanned Vehicles that Protect the Southern Border.”
  • The second mole, Roy Peled, continually insisted on sharing classified information relating to his service on the border with Syria, even though that is out of the realm of BtS’s scope, as was revealed in a news item by Raviv Drucker on Channel 10. His testimony was not published by BtS.

In interviews with testifiers do you ask questions that are out of the realm of your research?

The Channel 2 report accused BtS of asking broad questions that aren’t directly related to the IDF’s activities in the occupied territories before a civilian population. Moreover, they claimed that we gather tactical intelligence about how the army functions.

As most good researchers are aware, holistic research requires comprehension of the broader context at hand. By asking questions about the broader circumstances in which testimonies take place, we’re able to gauge whether the individual was indeed present during the instances he/she describes and better equipped to verify testimonies case-by-case based on specific details.

A prime example of this is indicated by one of the moles who tried to provide fabricated testimonies to BtS, MK Oren Hazan. The gaps in his interview made it clear that he was fabricating elements of his story, and thus his testimony was not publicized. This story was revealed months ago in a news item by Raviv Drucker on Channel 10.

What is BtS’ response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for an investigation of the organization by the Israeli Security Agency?

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to turn Israel’s security services into a political tool, in order to silence soldiers who oppose the occupation and thereby challenge his political agenda. Not only did he call for an investigation of BtS, but Defense Minister Ya’alon went so far as to accuse us of treason, furthering the government’s campaign of incitement against us. We’re not afraid of being investigated, as it would only prove that we work strictly according to the law. Threats to investigate BtS are merely political manipulations intended to divert the public’s attention from the government’s failures.

Who is “Ad Kan”?

Ad Kan is a right-wing organization affiliated with the (Israeli government co-funded) Samaria Settlers’ Committee, along with both the Jewish Home and Likud parties. They have been planting moles in various human rights NGOs over the past three years, to secretly document them with the purpose of “exposing” their work to the Israeli public. Their work is part of a larger campaign of incitement being conducted against Israeli human rights NGOs in general and BtS in particular.

As part of a campaign to support segregation of buses in the West Bank, Ad Kan fabricated alleged documentation of the sexual harassment of female bus passengers by Palestinians in the West Bank. This footage was later exposed to be fake in an investigation conducted by Haaretz journalist, Chaim Levinson. The woman who claimed to have been harassed had not been, and was in fact an Ad Kan operative working with another operative who was wringing out sexually-related statements from a Palestinian passenger on the bus. All this was done for the sake of promoting the separation of Jews and Palestinians on public transportation in the West Bank. This is typical of the way Ad Kan operates.

Across the Spectrum: Responses to Im Tirtzu’s Inflammatory Video

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

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

Israeli Democracy: Under Attack on Both Sides of the Green Line

It’s time to ask the question: what is happening to Israel?

While the so-called “mainstream” Jewish-American groups work overtime to deny the frightening direction Israel is taking and screaming to the heavens about the “de-legitimizers,” the Jewish state is losing its democratic identity in large steps.

Almost every day, we find more and new examples of this disease that is rotting Israeli democracy. The Anat Kam case, Im Tirzu’s fanaticism, and the aggressive attempts to squash protests in Sheikh Jarrah are examples inside of Israeli jurisdiction. The siege on Gaza, the IDF measures to prevent Israelis and internationals from participating in protests in West Bank towns against the Separation Barrier, and now new directives which will permit mass expulsions from the

Anat Kam, Israeli, IDF vet, Zionist, and patriot. But being a journalist got her into big trouble.

West Bank are examples in the Occupied Territories.

On April 9, in Sheikh Jarrah, the writer David Grossman put it better than I ever could:

“I think that we are all beginning to grasp — even those who maybe don’t really want to — how 43 years ago, by turning a blind eye, by actively or passively cooperating, we actually cultivated a kind of carnivorous plant that is slowly devouring us, consuming every good part within us, making the country we live in a place that is not good to live in. Not good not only if you are an Arab citizen of Israel, and certainly if you are a Palestinian resident of the Territories — not good also for every Jewish Israeli person who wants to live here, who cherishes some hope to be in a place where humans are respected as humans, where your rights are treated as a given, where humanity, morality, and civil rights are not dirty words, not something from the bleeding-heart Left. No. These are the bread and water, the butter and milk of our lives, the stuff from which we will make our lives, and really make them lives worth living here.” Continue reading

Knesset Attempt To Cripple Israeli Civil Society

In the wake of the public row over the attack on the New Israel Fund, many supporters of Israeli civil society are stopping to catch their breath. The support NIF received was quite impressive and speaks very well about the deep and abiding care that Jews and our friends the world over have for the best ideals among Israelis as expressed by a stunning array of groups that seek to improve conditions both in Israel and over the Green line.

But while people recover from that episode, a far more dangerous threat has emerged, this time not coming from an ultra-nationalist private group like Im Tirtzu but from the Knesset itself.

Thousands marched last December in Tel Aviv in Israel's first human rights march

A bill that has passed its preliminary first reading in the Knesset, with the Orwellian name “Bill for the Duty of Disclosure for Someone Supported by a Foreign Political Entity,”purports to close “loopholes” regarding transparency of funding for Israeli non-profit entities.

In practice, the bill selectively targets a wide array of progressive groups and would seriously impact their ability to fund their activities or even to engage in them. Any state programs funded by “foreign political entities” would not be included in the bill’s restrictions; nor would right-wing groups which are universally funded by private money.

Before I explain how this would come about, we should first understand some background about non-profit organizations in Israel. The field there is very different than what most of us are used to.

In the United States, there exists a broad network of foundations and philanthropies, encouraged through tax examptions by the government, to fund various social causes of all sorts. In Europe, government funds are dispersed through various agencies that act much like foundations in the States.

But Israel has none of this; not surprising as Israel was born with the help of support from outside funding sources from the earliest days of the Yishuv through the creation of the state and up to the present day. Thus, Israeli organizations that pursue advocacy, social services and other forms of activism depend on funding from overseas. The government itself gets help from other countries to pursue various projects, as does Israel’s education sector, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a wide variety of Jewish religious and cultural projects throughout the country. Continue reading

Stand Up For Democracy, Civil and Human Rights In Israel

How pernicious is the campaign against the New Israel Fund (NIF)?

The group that started this, Im Tirtzu, bills itself as a centrist group, although its founder and lead spokesperson, Ronen Shoval, was also a leading activist against the Gaza withdrawal and ran for the Knesset on the ticket of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party. As the campaign against NIF started to flag, such right-wing all-stars who never let facts get in the way of their ideological programs as Gerald Steinberg and David Bedein jumped into the media pool to try to prop it up.

Im Tirtzu demonstrating at Na'alin, where regular protests against the separation barrier often leave Palestinians injured

But indeed it would be a mistake to see this as a hardcore right-wing attack. The Im Tirtzu campaign is certainly hateful enough, but the real threat came up when a drive in the Knesset began to set up a subcommittee to investigate the NIF. This drive, which failed as well, was not led by a fanatical right-winger, but by Yisrael Hasson and Otniel Schneller of the “centrist” Kadima party (that Kadima can be called the Israeli center realistically says much about the rightward drift in the past decade of Israeli politics, but thatg is a separate matter).

It is also worth noting that there was a lot of opposition to this idea, and it came not only from the left but also from Kadima (by MK Nachman Shai, for example) and from Likud (including such leading figures as Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan).

The witch-hunters who have set their sights on NIF are not giving up, and Im Tirtzu and their supporters in the media (notably Ben Caspit of Ma’ariv, Israel’s second-leading daily newspaper) are still working to launch governmental probes of NIF and to revive Knesset legislation to prevent Israeli NGOs from receiving foreign funding (no similar action against settlements and settler organizations receiving foreign support is in the offing). Continue reading