Why Yachad UK should break ties with Breaking the Silence

Yachad, the pro Israel – pro peace voice of Anglo Jewry, have for the past few years maintained a strong partnership with Breaking the Silence. Breaking the Silence are a group of ex-IDF soldiers who seek to raise awareness of the moral costs of occupation, by collecting soldier testimonies, running tours of the West Bank, and putting on speaker tours in Israel and abroad. Yachad run regular trips in the West Bank lead by Breaking the Silence, and last week, Yachad presented a joint session with Breaking the Silence at the Limmud Conference.

This partnership is deeply flawed, and Yachad should end it immediately. Breaking the Silence do not play by the rules of the democratic process, they seek to demonise rather than to inform, and they hold Israel to an unethical moral code — and Yachad, according to their own ideology, should not partner with such an organisation.

Israel is a democracy, in which citizens have the right to free speech, and in which the rule of law is sovereign. Citizens have numerous avenues through which to raise issues, affect policies, and change minds — television, radio, newspapers, the electoral process, online campaigns and courts to name just a few. Israeli democracy also works — just last month, a Likud cabinet minister and a Jewish home MK were both forced to resign after a public outcry, following reports of sexual impropriety. Breaking the Silence, however, show no respect for Israeli democracy or its institutions. Breaking the Silence do not present the testimonies they collect to press charges in Israeli or military courts, allowing judges to assess the veracity of their claims. The soldiers in their reports are anonymous, making fact-finding by the press impossible.

Most gallingly, Breaking the Silence spend an inordinate amount of attention talking about IDF conduct outside of Israel — since September 2012, they have run more than 60 events in USA, South Africa, Germany, Sweden and other countries. One book of soldier testimonies produced by Breaking the Silence was translated into Dutch, German and Swedish. If Breaking the Silence wish to raise issues regarding IDF soldier conduct, why are they telling their stories to Swedish students and German parliamentarians rather than Israeli courts? Imagine someone in Britain wishes to change policies in schools to prevent sexual abuse of students. If they went around the world, translating anonymous testimonies into foreign languages but not working with our legal or educational system to make change, would we consider them legitimate activists?

Breaking the Silence is a radical and extreme organisation. It does not merely claim that there are issues with Israel`s conduct, or changes that must be made, but it paints a picture of Israel as pure evil.

Itamar Shapira, a Breaking the Silence activist, said at an event in Sweden that the occupation is “a war against civilians, a war against society.”

Professor Nurit Feld Elchanan, a board member of the Breaking the Silence board between 2009 and 2011, said in 2009 that “All the terrible things that anti-Semites say about Jews can be found in the Israeli leadership — Cunning, trickery, murder of children and love of money.”

Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, said in 2014 that the “horrors of the occupation are not the exception but the norm,” (with no attempt to back up that hugely significant statement). Breaking the Silence seek to blacken Israel`s image, rather than to raise legitimate issues.

Amos Harel, a Haaretz journalist wrote of Breaking the Silence that “Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the “corruption which permeates the military system” is not a neutral observer.”

Asa Kasher, author of the IDF ethics code, recently wrote that the goal of Breaking the Silence is the “achievement of political goals through demonisation.”

Breaking the Silence claim IDF conduct is immoral, yet the alternative moral code they present is simply shocking. Last year, Yuli Novak and Avner Gvaryahu, the director and spokesperson for Breaking the Silence, were interviewed by the Israeli newspaper Maariv. Gvaryahu said that “I am not talking about the legal issue, but the moral one…..What bothers me is that they changed the morals of the IDF after the Second Intifada — they said that citizens of Israel come first, followed by Israeli soldiers and only then enemy citizens.” When the journalist asked the obvious question – what exactly is immoral about such a policy, and whether putting your soldiers ahead of enemy civilians is against any international law or norm, Novak said “I don’t think the Jews should learn their values from the non-Jews…. We have our own values.” For anyone who does not believe in the sacrificing of oneself on the altar of the Other, the IDF ethic that Gvaryahu and Novak dislike is a moral, not an immoral, policy. The irony is also exquisite — the head of Breaking the Silence openly says that she holds Israel to a higher standard than international norms, but her organisation goes around telling people how immoral Israel is.

Yachad`s website says that they “stand against those who defame Israel,” but they are currently partnered with an organisations who runs tens of events around the world doing just that. Yachad support a two state solution because that will provides Israel`s “best hope for safety and security,” whereas Breaking the Silence support an end to the occupation because Israel is consistently “crossing red lines,” and acting “without rules” in the West Bank and Gaza. Yachad call on British Jews to harness the “energy and goodwill” to fight for a two state solution, but Breaking the Silence harness anonymous testimonies and international demonization to force that reality on Israel. Breaking the Silence represent so much of what is wrong with contemporary debates about Israel — and Yachad should break ties with them, immediately.

About the Author
Aron White, 22, is currently studying and teaching in Yeshivat HaKotel, whilst studying for a degree in Politics and International Relations through LSE.