The non-profit organisation Index On Censorship presented its annual Freedom of Expression Awards on Wednesday at London’s Unicorn Theatre. In the Campaigning category, Breaking the Silence was one of the four individuals/organisations on the short list. (In the event it didn’t win. The winner was Ildar Dadin of Russia, an LGBT rights activist who was the first (and remains the only) person to be convicted under a notorious 2014 public assembly law).
Around 12 of us protested outside the theatre about the choice of Breaking the Silence (including Harry Markham who recently featured in Jewish News’ ’Eighteen Under 18’ list).
The protest was organised by Campaign4Truth.
Here are my remarks delivered outside the theatre:
“So Breaking the Silence is tonight shortlisted to receive an Award for ‘Freedom of Expression’
I think they’ve got the wrong Organisation and the wrong Award.
It should be ISRAEL which is getting the Award for ‘Freedom of Expression’.
Israel – which has a vibrant free Press and a vibrant democracy.
Israel – whose society is strong enough to accommodate many university Professors there who every day criticise the government.
Israel – whose society is strong enough to accommodate Hanneen Zoabi, the Arab Party MK who has called IDF soldiers ‘murderers’ and who participated in the Gaza flotilla.
Israel – where you talk to two people and get three opinions. Israel where you CAN criticise the Army.
Israel – where Army Generals routinely DO criticise government policy when they retire.
Israel – the only country in the Middle East where Christians and gays have Freedom Of Expression.
Israel – where despite facing the most horrific threats every day for 69 years, freedom of expression, democracy and the Rule Of Law has not only survived, it has prospered.
Israel – where despite the vast range of its population, from Charedi Jew to secular Jew, from Muslim to Christian to Atheist, freedom of expression has thrived.
According to Freedom House, Israel is the only free country in the Middle East, scoring 80 on a scale of 100. That compares favourably with other countries in the region such as Turkey (38), Jordan (37) and Kuwait (36). It compares even better with Iraq (27), Iran (17), Saudi Arabia (10) and Syria (-1). And you can bet that after the referendum, Turkey’s score has declined significantly.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION – DESPITE THE THREAT EVERY DAY FOR 69 YEARS.
THAT IS TRUE FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. WHERE IS THE AWARD FOR THAT?
Now to Breaking the Silence. Index On Censorship claims it’s “an Israeli organisation consisting of ex-Israeli military conscripts, it aims to collect and share testimonies about the realities of military operations in the Occupied Territories.”
Let’s unpack that shall we?
“An Israeli organisation” ….. If it’s an Israeli organisation why are most of its reports published in English as well as Hebrew? Why is most of its funding from abroad? Look who funds it: According to annual reports, donations from foreign countries comprised 65 percent of total donations, from 2012 to 2014.
If it’s an Israeli organisation, why between September 2012 – June 2016 did it hold more than 80 lectures, exhibitions and events across Europe, America, South Africa and Australia?
Why following the 2009 Gaza conflict did several donors reportedly make their donations conditional on the gathering of a minimum number of incriminating “testimonies” against the IDF?
How about the claim that Breaking the Silence “aims to collect and share testimonies about the realities of military operations in the Occupied Territories”?
Let’s look at that one shall we?
Well most of the testimonies are anonymous and do not give the time or place of the alleged incident – so they cannot be checked.
And why are they not reported to the IDF so that action can be taken against soldiers who break the rules? Despite being ‘the most moral army in the world’ (Colonel Kemp) the soldiers are young and they are human. Just like Marine A in the British Army, Alexander Blackman. And when cases are reported they are investigated and if found to be justified, soldiers are punished. So why does Breaking the Silence not report the cases?
Indeed sometimes Breaking the Silence obstructs investigation. In May 2016 it refused to comply with a government request for information. This has resulted in a legal case against it.
And why – when the accounts of Breaking the Silence can be identified – are they often radically different from those of soldiers who served there? See for example the testimony of Ehud Amiton in one of the fliers were are giving out tonight.
And some of these former soldiers draw salaries from Breaking the Silence – How can they then be independent?
And why does Breaking the Silence focus almost exclusively on Hebron, presenting it as typical? The group does not offer tours to any other settlements in Judea/Samaria. This one city, they say, is a “microcosm of occupation”. But Hebron is the exception rather than the rule. Most settlements are far more peaceful and less abusive. A few even have supermarkets where Arabs and Jews shop side-by-side.
So many Questions about Breaking the Silence. Did the judges for Index On Censorship even ask these questions – let alone answer them? What do you think?
My friends, I submit to you that Breaking the Silence is an outfit that plays fast and loose with the truth, purely in order to feed the Israel bashers and the BBC, Ha’aretz and the Guardian.
As such it’s no more deserving of an Award for “Freedom of Expression” than is the Dear Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.”