The air hangs heavy in Israel on Yom HaZikaron.
Poignantly, Israel commemorates the re-establishment of the State with the pain of memorializing thousands of fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. The sirens wail and the nation comes to a halt. It’s a collective tribute to those heroes who have fallen so that we Israelis may live in freedom. And thus, Yom HaZikaron flows into our Independence Day celebrations.
This year, as Israelis pay tribute to their servicemen and women, a very different event will be taking place on Independence Day in London. Yachad – the British version of lobby group J-Street – together with the New Israel Fund, will be hosting “Breaking the Silence”, a notorious anti-IDF group. No one serious would suggest that Israel is beyond criticism but this is strange yet deliberate timing. Should we surmise that if Israel-bashing is a year-round sport, why should this night be different from any other?
If past experience is anything to go by, the audience will be treated to a flurry of half-truths and accusations aimed solely at blackening the name of Israeli soldiers. Indeed, “Breaking the Silence” has made its name by promoting a distorted and unfair portrayal of the IDF via its website and tours.
Breaking the Silence is hypocritical about its aims and even its name. If it wanted to present a true picture of the IDF, it would not blatantly omit the context of terrorism, the goals of Israel’s enemies, the deadly rockets fired from Gaza. It would not omit how the enemy hides behind Palestinian civilians and attacks Israeli civilians. It would raise awareness about the moral dilemmas the IDF faces. But instead, it omits this vital context in its reports, which often consist of anonymous, unverified testimony. Instead, their representatives embark on worldwide campus tours, meet with political leaders and speak at the UN in order to lobby and punish Israel.
There isn’t even any “silence” to “break.” Israel is an open and democratic society that regularly criticizes its own actions, and anyone is free to present complaints and findings to government officials and the courts.
Funders of Breaking the Silence include Christian Aid and OXFAM, who have both launched vitriolic anti-Israel campaigns, as well as the European Union, which has funded them for years to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to “contribute to an atmosphere of human rights respect and values” and “to promote prospects for peace talks and initiatives.”
The EU is deceiving taxpayers if it is telling them that the funds used to support this organization help promote peace. (It’s worth reading Jake Wallis Simon’s Daily Telegraph expose of what he calls “a radical group”.)
Indeed, as Haaretz writer Amos Harel has written:
“Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’ Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the ‘corruption which permeates the military system’ is not a neutral observer. The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices.”
The truth is, as the hosts of the London event should know, no army faces the same kind of complex regional strategic threats as Israel’s Defense Forces. Few armed forces inculcate the need for the highest of humanitarian values and compassion for those in the conflict zone in their soldiers training (“in Hebrew: tohar haneshek”). And this, when facing off against the asymmetric warfare perpetrated by some of the worst terrorist groups like Hamas, Hizbollah and Islamic Jihad who fight out of uniform and embed themselves deliberately among civilians.
Let’s say an event similar to the Yachad-New Israel Fund evening was held in London on Remembrance Sunday weekend, when British fallen soldiers are remembered. What would we say about an event aimed at smearing the actions of the British Armed Forces in Afghanistan? We would likely say that it was ill-timed at best, and seditious at worst. The Breaking the Silence event should summon up a comparable response.
And let’s lay to rest the accusation that sometimes comes as a defense of these type of events: criticism of Israel is fine. No-one is stifling debate. (To the contrary: does anyone really claim that there is not enough criticism of Israel?). Israel is a robust enough democracy to take on the debate.
But here’s a question for supporters of Yachad and the New Israel Fund: Is it too much to ask you, on Independence Day, to celebrate Israel? Yachad’s motto mimics J-Street’s “pro-Israel, pro-peace” slogan. But doesn’t being pro-Israel mean celebrating as well as criticizing, at the very least at this time of year?
After all, these organizations profess to love Israel but don’t you sometimes – just sometimes – have to show that love rather than relentlessly bash Israel? One look at the events, the statements, the social media posts of these Jewish organizations who are ultra-critical of Israel, yet claim to care about Israel, gives a different impression than one of love. If anything, it’s like the love of a wife-beater: “I love you”, he says as he hits his wife; “I love you” he says as he pushes her down the stairs. A relationship built on criticism alone, surely, is not a healthy one.
And yet, it is this kind of a relationship that certain groups are espousing to young people on university campuses, to high-school students, to the Jewish community and to the wider public. Conditional love of Israel based on their arrogant view that only they know what is best for Israel’s future. It is a worrying position that aims to link the next generation’s relationship to Israel to positions which may be very wrong and over which Israel, in any case, only has partial control.
As we approach Israel’s Independence Day, there is much to celebrate. The thriving, modern and diverse democracy, 3,000 years old and 66 years young, that we see today did not just happen. It came about because of the actions of determined individuals, the Zionist pioneers and those who supported them. It came about through immense personal sacrifice in the face of incredible odds and opposition. And it came about due to the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers who consistently put themselves in harms way so that my family and countless others in Israel can live freely.
We owe it to them to celebrate their service with gratitude, especially at this time of year.