Lately there have been a lot of emotional discussions as to whether the NGO - Breaking the Silence - is investigating soldiers’ testimonies on human rights abuses of the IDF on a defenseless, innocent Palestinian population and using these testimonies to bash Israel internationally. There are people, who define the activities of Breaking the Silence as treasonable or treacherous. Those who do so have no understanding of the word “treason”
This word has been used colloquially in Israel to label anybody who does not agree with the Netanyahu Coalition Government line. Netanyahu Coalition pundits are giving “treason” a very wide definition, encompassing those who oppose the government line. Labeling Breaking the Silence and weakening their activity by passing laws that are close to outlawing them is detrimental to Israel’s vibrant democracy.
Breaking the Silence does pose a problem as it can be viewed in two ways:
- It can be viewed as a watchdog for upholding human rights of innocent Palestinians in a war situation where Israeli soldiers enter Palestinian homes with search warrants for weapons or signs of hostility and prevention of looting by IDF.
- It can be viewed as an NGO whose main purpose is to gain testimony from soldiers, who had served in the various campaigns in Gaza, claiming human rights abuse that are made public, even to countries who seek every opportunity to bash Israel on these issues. Hostile countries do wait for opportunities like this.
Testimonies of soldiers made public are also available to those, who are hostile to Israel. This, unfortunately, is the price that is paid by a democratic country - the price of openness. This does not negate the importance of watchdog activity by an NGO such as Breaking the Silence. It is no less important that the IDF does examine itself in this sphere, despite the problems, and establish a committee to investigate the authenticity of these soldiers’ testimonies. It is not enough to say that “The IDF is the most moral army in the world.” The function of human rights NGO is to ensure that this statement remains true. This does not mean that all those, who serve in the IDF, have committed crimes against innocent Palestinians.
If high ranking generals in the IDF, who had served with distinction, such as General Amiram Levin, support Breaking the Silence, we must bear in mind that they know what they are talking about. I do respect the high ranking officers’ decision in supporting Breaking the Silence. If these generals feel the importance of this NGO, who are we to question. These high ranking generals are not traitors to Israel. They held responsible positions in the IDF and in the intelligence service as well as being entrusted with state secrets. In an ad in the liberal Haaretz daily titled “I too am breaking my silence,” former Shin Bet security service director and navy commander Maj. Gen. (res.) Ami Ayalon, and retired Northern District police chief Deputy Commissioner (ret.) Elik Ron wrote that Breaking the Silence, which is at the center of a fierce debate on the limits of free speech in Israel, strengthens the IDF and its morality.
Most human rights NGOs receive funds from the EU, US and some countries who have a political agenda against Israel. The NGOs involved in pro-Israeli government activities such as Im Tirtzu and other pro-settlement activity beyond the green line, receive funding from private donors (or “philanthropists” such as Irwin Moskowitz) as well as government subsidies. (In 2009, Im Tirtzu’s largest donor was the John Hagee Ministries (JHM) via the Christian-Zionist organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Im Tirtzu received US$100,000 from JHM and $34,000 from other sources. In 2010, The Jerusalem Post reported that JHM "expressed deep displeasure" with Im Tirtzu after its campaigns against the New Israel Fund and Ben-Gurion University and announced the cessation of its funding. A JHM spokesman said that Im Tirtzu "misrepresented its focus when they told us their mission was strictly Zionist education."
The group's spokesperson, Erez Tadmor, was found guilty of embezzling munitions from the Israeli military.
The organization was accused of acting in an Anti-Semitic fashion, including emulating Nazi propaganda, in its criticisms of U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk and of the New Israel Fund. From Wikipedia )
All NGOs, irrespective of political leanings, accept donations from any source sympathetic to the causes they represent. They are not concerned with the origin of donors’ funds. The main point is that the sources should be transparent and be held accountable for the amount of money they donate.
Another evil, racist organization, Lehava, is also involved in preventing assimilation of Jews in Israel with Arabs. They are more militant in contrast to Bayit Hayehudi of its leader, Naftali Bennett, and now the Minister of Education. The latter wants to instil a religious right wing Zionist education in the Department of Education and prevent students from gaining access to books or novels that are about intermarriage between Arabs and Jews. Here the similarity to the Lehava ideology is blatant.
In a democratic country, education should be non-political. Healthy discussion with responsible, objective moderation should be encouraged. The same is true of Breaking the Silence. There should be NGO monitoring of activities (not concerned with security secrets) in the IDF as well as the government law-making process to ensure that democratic values and transparency remains paramount.