Last Tuesday, the award-winning investigative Channel 10 TV show, HaMakor (The Source), aired an hour-long report on Breaking the Silence (BTS), an Israeli NGO which has come under sustained criticism over the last year. The report was comprehensive, meticulous and I highly recommend watching it in order to truly understand how Breaking the Silence works. Although the reporters’ sympathy towards the work of Breaking the Silence and their importance in Israeli society was clear (as one of the reporters, Itay Yarom openly mentioned on his personal Facebook page), the report raises a number of indisputable conclusions regarding Breaking the Silence:
A substantial number of Breaking the Silence testimonies are not true or are distorted
The report shattered the most powerful card BTS has: Its credibility. Two myths regarding Breaking the Silence were ‘busted’ in an indisputable manner:
The first myth Breaking the Silence likes to propagate is that “none of our testimonies have ever been refuted”. For over a decade since being founded, BTS has declined to disclose its sources. However, HaMakor reporters were given unprecedented access to the “Holy Grail”, BTS’s testimony sources. What the investigative team found deserves to be noted by anyone taking an interest in the moral state of the IDF – the report explicitly stated that Breaking the Silence publishes inaccurate and false testimonies. Out of ten random testimonies cross-examined by the reporters, two testimonies were found to be not true at all. Two testimonies were only partially true, missing substantive details or had exaggerated or misleading titles. A further four testimonies could not be verified, even after the reporters received access to the testimonies’ sources. Only two out of the ten testimonies were validated as true and not misleading.
One of these testimonies was provided by Breaking the Silence’s public relations coordinator, Nadav Weiman. The testimony, however, was refuted by Weiman’s own platoon commander, Dor Hadad. In his version of events, Weiman described how in the course of a mission he participated in while serving in the West Bank, his platoon entered a home and put a Palestinian family in the bathroom until the soldiers vacated the house. According to his commander Hadad, this is simply not true. “This has no connection to reality. Never, as a general rule, would we put a family in the bathroom”.
The second myth that Breaking the Silences attempts to sell is that Breaking the Silence testimonies are cross-referenced with two sources. The reporters found that in several testimonies there is no evidence of two sources. Even Raviv Drucker, the journalist who established HaMakor and is known for his left wing leanings, could not hide his disappointment at the poor level of investigation in BTS’s work. In response, Breaking the Silence’s CEO Yuli Novak responded that “we are not an investigative body and we do not claim to be one”. This is quite disturbing, as Breaking the Silence testimonies were widely used in the work of official international investigative bodies such as the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict (which released the so called ”Schabas” report on Gaza). Testimonies provided by Breaking the Silence appeared 32 times in the UN report’s footnotes.
In its early stages, why did Breaking the Silence turn to audiences outside of Israel?
Breaking the Silence claims to stimulate public debate in Israel and expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the West Bank. If so, of what relevance is their work overseas?
When asked why they turn to non Israeli audiences they answer that “The Occupation is not an internal Israeli Issue and should be discussed overseas”.
In fact, in 2004, a few months after the organization was founded, two of four Breaking the Silence founders left the organization after it began to appeal to non-Jewish audiences overseas. When one of the HaMakor reporters asked one of the founders why he left, the latter, replied: “when you speak abroad, the money comes with it… There was a dependency between going abroad and the budget of the. … I guess what stood before their eyes was that with more money they could create a larger effect”.
One cannot simply ignore the connection between the overseas operations of the organization and its desire to raise money from foreign governments and foundations. There is a direct link between the foreign money received from foundations, that also financially support (directly and indirectly) NGO’s that endorse BDS, and the insincere path Breaking the Silence took in the past few years. Instead of operating within the bounds of our democracy to create much needed societal change BTS turned to international campaigns of slander against Israeli soldiers.
Breaking the Silence claims that 90% of its work is with Israelis.
Using information Breaking the Silence provided, the HaMakor report also shattered the lie that “only 10% of its activities is with non-Israelis”. According to the report, approximately 20% of Breaking the Silence activity in Israel is with visitors that are non-Jewish and non-Israeli and an additional 20% are Jewish non-Israelis. After including operations abroad, approximately 50% of Breaking the Silence’s work is with non-Israelis. Of course, the number of articles in the foreign press can be quantified, but the investigation did not address this issue. This is ghard to reconcile with their stated goal of stimulating public debate in Israel. Some of these non-Israelis hold strong anti-Israel beliefs, well beyond legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. For example, one of the non-Israelis interviewed in the report during a Breaking the Silence tour to the South Hebron Hills was Martina Anderson, an Irish member of the European Parliament who has previously referred to Israelis as a “rash” and proudly supports BDS.
To be clear, if Breaking the Silence wants us to take its testimonies seriously, it’s time it steps up its investigative work and reliability. Until then, it should be described for what it is — propaganda.