Today at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, where I am a student, we heard speakers about Hebron, the occupation, and the IDF. One of these was Shai Davidovich, educational director of the group Breaking the Silence.
I asked him a question. Not very well. I tried to explain my problem. As you may have seen from other blogs of mine, I read (and worry) about Israel as reported in the English language press overseas.
Now, I admire his organisation. I am not so convinced by its story – but then I was not brought up in Israel and I was not in the IDF. There are one thousand Breaking the Silence testimonials of misconduct. But I also would have thought that my friends and their kids and my kids’ friends, many with impeccable liberal credentials, might have at least once have shared such concerns about the IDF’s conduct with me.
I also admire Breaking the Silence because the IDF should be encouraged to correct itself and Israeli society should debate hard issues.
To get back to my problem. During and after the Gaza conflict the most frequently quoted Israeli voices in British newspapers were not from the Prime Minister’s office. Rather they were from B’Tselem, Ha’aretz in English – and Breaking the Silence. They were presented as the authentic voices of Israel, the brave voices that dared to confront the evil Zionist regime that controls Israel.
A recent example, from the online Independent, a liberal British national newspaper last Thursday. There were two stories, put together. One was Abbas protesting the closing of the Temple Mount. The other was from a Breaking the Silence spokesperson, headlined ‘Ex-Israeli soldier: ‘IDF does not view Palestinians as ‘Human”’.
Think about it. Israel is accused not of being racist, i.e. Palestinians are inferior, but of something even worse – that it considers them as not even human. And this must be true, since it was said not by a possibly ignorant Brit, but by a heavily involved Israeli.
If you read beyond this headline, this ‘important’ news item was actually a summary of an interview given in the past by a Breaking the Silence spokesperson to a Moscow based, English language newspaper. It was not topical. It was not even the Independent’s own story. It was dredged up from the archives of another newspaper to be used as anti-Israel propaganda!
It actually gets much worse. By putting the stories together the Independent offered an explanation of and justification for the anger of Abbas about closing the Temple Mount. That is, Palestinians are being denied access rights because Israel does even not view then as humans.
So my clumsy question today was first: whether Breaking the Silence is concerned about how they are represented in the English language press, (This example was one of the worse, but not untypical, cases I have seen.) And second: whether they intend to do anything about it.
In today’s forum I failed, I admit, to communicate my question with precision. Afterwards I talked to two of their representatives. They said, with some validity, that the truth should be told about the corrupting influence of the occupation.
I agree that Breaking the Silence understand Israeli culture much better than me, and are conducting a valid and useful debate in Hebrew in Israel. But I think they are dangerously naive when dealing with the non-Israeli media.
I would argue that I understand better than they how the debate is framed and conducted in English speaking cultures. I see their voices stolen by anti-Semites and by those who want to deligitimise Israel. The English speaking spokespeople and the English language website are being mined for quotes by those that want to destroy Israel.
What should be done? Breaking the Silence should monitor more carefully how they are represented overseas. They should object and and not cooperate if the Western media misrepresent them. And they should do this using people attuned to the nuances of media in the English speaking world.
The English proverb says ‘He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon’. And even more so if the devil is the Independent newspaper!