Gerald Steinberg 2 (2)Naftali Balanson


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The leaders of the Israeli fringe group known as Breaking the Silence (BtS) specialize in sharp criticism of the IDF, but they show no tolerance when it comes to criticism of their own activities. Their part of the current debate in Australia has been particularly shrill, self-righteous, and lacking in substance.

Indeed, the fact that the BtS “report” first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as highlighted by President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Dr. Danny Lamm, exposes their failures in Israel. Australian journalists with a supposed “scoop” are not going to recognize the many contradictions and other central flaws in this campaign to demonize the IDF.

In its advertising and fund-raising, BtS describes its role as “expos[ing] the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” However, in reality, the NGO’s lobbying and media advocacy focus on international audiences, including presentations in Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States. BtS publications appear in English, as in the latest example. The extensive international media coverage of the recent BtS allegations against the IDF reflects the centrality of the external in BtS’ approach.

BtS also depends on external actors for its funding, and not on the Israeli public, who provide little or no support. Foreign government sources comprised 76.3% of BtS income in 2010 (the most recent financial data available). The balance is almost entirely from foundations located outside of Israel, including the New Israel Fund (NIF).

In its counterattack, BtS, which embraces the foreign aspects of and influence on its own work, ironically devotes the majority of its response to attacking Dr. Lamm for “interfering” in the “internal affairs” of Israel and for “serv[ing] his political masters.” If BtS was interested in Israeli internal affairs, they would not have launched their own attack by using uninformed Australian journalists, who made no effort to independently verify these accusations.

By the same token, the fact that the leaders of NIF-Australia immediately published the strident BtS response also raises a number of questions. How could NIF officials, in Australia, possibly examine the claims made by this organization and determine whether they were accurate, or whether they are another example of anti-Israel demonization?  Indeed when BtS accuses its critics of “beating on Israelis of other political convictions” and “pontificating from afar,” the very same accusations can and have been made regarding the New Israel Fund itself. NIF’s ad in the New York Times, which portrayed Israel as an extremist and anti-democratic society, is but one example of this widespread phenomenon of “pontificating from afar.”

BtS would be well advised to also be more circumspect about its own (non-existent) credibility. Despite claims purporting to be “investigative journalists,” BtS allegations and “testimonies” remain unverified. Nor can they be independently verified or investigated by the Israeli military because BtS does not provide the requisite details or any evidence. Most of their allegations are anonymous, and the context is generally missing. This results in highly politicized exploitation of human rights rhetoric for political propaganda, in contrast to the claimed concern for the “decline of the military system into increasing immorality.”

Before lecturing others about the importance of moral convictions and “fortitude,” BtS should recognize that its “testimonies” come primarily from individuals who failed to speak up or act when they observed the alleged misconduct. Instead of presenting the “testimonies” in a manner that would facilitate a judicial investigation in the IDF and Israeli courts, based on due process of law, these anecdotal, mostly anonymous, and unverifiable accounts of low-level soldiers are shopped to foreign journalists along with sweeping and speculative accusations about “an offensive policy that includes annexation of territory, terrorizing and tightening the control over the civilian population.”

BtS has made other contributions to immoral discourse about Israel and Israelis.  For instance, at an exhibit at the Army Museum in Stockholm in March 2011, Itamar Shapira, a member of BtS, told a NY-based TV station: “Look what we have done; look at the world price that we are paying for holding the occupied territories – basically holding millions of Palestinians, with no rights, within military occupation…. We are the oppressors, we are the ones that are violating human rights on a daily basis. We are creating the terror against us, basically… This is a war against civilians, a war against society.”

When Judge Goldstone belatedly retracted his report and the false allegations of Israeli “war crimes,” he demonstrated the courage to admit that he had been taken in by the global campaign to demonize Israel.  This political warfare, launched at the Durban NGO Forum in 2001, is designed to destroy Israel by exploiting human rights to promote boycotts, and enjoys a great deal of financial support. Indeed, it is this money, which buys publicity for headlines in Australian newspapers and speaking tours, which fuels groups like Breaking the Silence.