Breaking the Silence: Myths and Facts on Israel's "NGO Wars"
The Israeli NGO known as Breaking the Silence (BtS) is at the center of an intense Israeli political and ideological debate. Many of the details that have been published about the NGO, its funding, and activities are incomplete and inaccurate.
Based on NGO Monitor’s detailed and fully sourced research, we have prepared the following analysis to the central queries and myths.
Fact: Incorrect – BtS is not funded by a Palestinian foundation. However, one of BtS’ main funders is the The Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat located at Birzeit University in Ramallah, which is funded entirely by the governments of Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands. They provide approximately $4 million annually to 24 Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, including groups that engage in “lawfare” targeting Israelis, promote BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), and demonize Israel via “apartheid” and other frames.
In 2014 (latest available comprehensive data), BtS’ budget was NIS 3.8 million.
Click here for details on BtS’ European funding.
2. Myth: Breaking the Silence opposes BDS and distances itself from pro-BDS groups. Spokesperson Achiya Shatz told Haaretz (December 18, 2015) “We don’t support BDS, we never supported them or cooperated with them,”
Fact: BtS often works with BDS groups. In 2013, Yehuda Shaul (BtS cofounder) participated in a South African event organized by Open Shuhada Street, which promotes BDS. This NGO has signed a letter calling for the expulsion of Israeli Ambassador in South Africa and led highly politicized activities such as Israeli Apartheid Week in South Africa.
In October 2014 and June 2015, Shaul participated in a conference with Paix Juste, (Luxembourg Committee for a Just Peace in the Middle East). Paix Juste promotes BDS campaigns and is a member of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations For Palestine (ECCP). ECCP promotes BDS and “return of all Palestinian refugees” and descendants to pre-1948 Israel, effectively seeking to negate the Jewish state of Israel.
3. Myth: Breaking the Silence focused primarily on Israelis, seeking to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”
Fact: Incorrect. Much of the funding that this group receives is used for activities abroad, BtS has participated in more than 60 events outside of Israel since September 2012,)in which soldiers are demonized, and without the opportunity to present their experiences. In many cases, these events are presented to anti-Israel audiences, reinforcing already radical positions.
In his popular TV show, “Gav Hauma” Leor Shlein said:
“I don’t think we should call Breaking the Silence ‘Agent Provocateur’ or ‘traitors.’ They aren’t that. What they are, is unwise. Seriously, Breaking the Silence, instead of working exclusively in Israel with all the means available to you to influence and to fight for purity of arms you are undermining your own objectives. You’re abandoning the Israeli democratic arena – you’re abandoning the political left wing. You take foreign money and present your embarrassing exhibits abroad and are causing millions of Israelis that could have listened to you to fear and distrust you instead.”
Hundreds of reservists signed an open letter calling for BtS to cease its activities abroad, and to stop taking funds from BDS groups. With centrist MKs they stated that “criticism is essential for Israeli society, however there is a huge difference between criticism and demonizing the IDF abroad.”
4. Myth: Breaking the Silence’s funders seek to promote human rights discourse in Israel.
Fact: NGO Monitor research has revealed that a number of funders made their grants conditional on the NGO obtaining a minimum number of negative “testimonies” to publish outside of Israel. This belies the donors claims that they seek to promote universal human rights, and indicates that they are more interested in creating a negative image of Israel and the IDF, as opposed to promoting human rights. Some of the donors are also directly involved in BDS and lawfare.
5. Myth: Breaking the Silence gives presentations throughout the world because “the occupation isn’t an internal Israeli matter…[it is] maintained and supported abroad.”
Fact: Since the founding of BtS in 2004, the group has shifted to the fringe of Israeli politics, while also employing ever more demonizing rhetoric towards Israel and the IDF, marginalizing them further. Instead, BtS is attempting to seeking to impose its views via external pressure. According toYehuda Shaul: “Sometimes, when you want to deliver messages to the inside, you must go outside.”
More from Leor Shlein of Gav Hauma:
“I think they do it — for love. It’s fun… It’s real fun to talk to the guy from Pink Floyd [Roger Waters – prominent BDS activist]. It’s cool when English speaking, suit wearing people tell you that you’re brave and right. It’s exciting to get the red carpet treatment at European conferences. But, Breaking the Silence, what you’re doing on these carpets is immoral…All of your criticism and testimonies should be heard here in Hebrew, in Israel. That is truly the way to make sure the IDF is moral.”
6. Myth: Breaking the Silence claims that “The only Israeli voice that is heard overseas is that of the settler-right and they tell the world supporting Israel is supporting the occupation.”
Fact: Incorrect: Many individuals and groups, with varying political opinions, travel the world talking about Israel, including former diplomats and officials who lobby for BDS and lawfare.
In Europe, where BtS holds many events (and what is the source of much of its funding, particularly church groups budgeted by governments), the dominant Israeli voices being circulated are those opposed to the current Israeli government and its policies. Political advocacy NGOs, such as Adalah,Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, have a paid lobbyist in Brussels. Such organizations, with support from their funders and partners, regularly participate in events in European Parliaments.
7. Myth: Breaking the Silence is being attacked as part of a wider campaign against human rights organizations
Fact: Breaking the Silence attempts to portray itself as part of a “beleaguered” Israeli “human rights community.” However, its core objective (“ending the occupation”) is political, using the language of human rights. BtS spokesman stated that “The only thing that will bring us security is ending the military occupation.”
While advocating for political positions is legitimate, funders and the public should be aware that the objectives of this group are not to create a public debate on the “cost of the occupation” but to advance its political goals.
8. Myth: The testimonies provided to Breaking the Silence prove that the Israeli army violates international law.
Fact: BtS testimonies are anecdotal, anonymous (in most cases), and unverifiable accounts from low-level soldiers. They reflect understandable confusion among soldiers, junior officers, and low-level units. Higher-ranking officers, who have information and perspective on general policies, are entirely absent. While alleged acts of misconduct committed by IDF soldiers are reprehensible, if true, they stand in sharp contrast to blanket accusations that “the IDF threw it’s code of ethics out the window.”
9. Myth: NGO Monitor wants to ban and shut down Breaking the Silence.
Fact: Incorrect. Within the framework of Israeli democracy, BtS activists can exercise their right to free speech and freedom of association. This does not render it immune to informed criticism. The label of human rights used by this group as a cover for a partisan political stance, as well as the massive foreign european funding, should be part of the debate, including with BtS foreign government funders.
10. Myth: All criticism of Breaking the Silence is legitimate, as are any steps taken against them.
Fact: Campaigns that attack individuals, and accuse them of “supporting terror” or being “agent provocateurs” are offensive. Proposals that would limit the freedom of expression and association of groups such as BtS are also counterproductive. But, as with all other segments of Israeli civil society, the Israeli government is under no obligation to provide a platform for BtS within the public school system, the IDF or other institutions.
11. Myth: Right wing organizations also receive foreign funding.
Fact: Many right wing, left wing, and non-ideological NGOs receive foreign funding that influences Israeli society. Funds provided by private individuals and foundations are fundamentally different than foreign government budgets. States exercise sovereign power on an exclusive basis, and state interference or manipulation of civil society organizations in other states violates that sovereignty and the democratic process. Private individuals and funds distribute their money transparently (in accordance with tax regulations in Western governments) and as an expression of free choice, governments do not consult their citizens before deciding on grants to selected foreign NGOs.