Breaking the Silence and NIF tell Australian Jews to “pay up and shut up”

August 30, 2012 by  
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The leaders of the Israeli fringe group known as Breaking the Silence (BtS) specialise in sharp criticism of the IDF, but they show no tolerance when it comes to criticism of their own activities. Their part of the current debate in Australia has been particularly shrill, self-righteous, and lacking in substance….write Gerald Steinberg and Naftali Balanson.

Gerald Steinberg

Indeed, the fact that the BtS “report” first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as highlighted by President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Dr. Danny Lamm, exposes their failures in Israel. Australian journalists with a supposed “scoop” are not going to recognize the many contradictions and other central flaws in this campaign to demonize the IDF.

In its advertising and fund-raising, BtS describes its role as “expos[ing] the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” However, in reality, the NGO’s lobbying and media advocacy focus on international audiences, including presentations in Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States. BtS publications appear in English, as in the latest example. The extensive international media coverage of the recent BtS allegations against the IDF reflects the centrality of the external in BtS’ approach.

BtS also depends on external actors for its funding, and not on the Israeli public, who provide little or no support. Foreign government sources comprised 76.3% of BtS income in 2010 (the most recent financial data available). The balance is almost entirely from foundations located outside of Israel, including the New Israel Fund (NIF).

In its counterattack, BtS, which embraces the foreign aspects of and influence on its own work, ironically devotes the majority of its response to attacking Dr. Lamm for “interfering” in the “internal affairs” of Israel and for “serv[ing] his political masters.” If BtS was interested in Israeli internal affairs, they would not have launched their own attack by using uninformed Australian journalists, who made no effort to independently verify these accusations.

By the same token, the fact that the leaders of NIF-Australia immediately published the strident BtS response also raises a number of questions. How could NIF officials, in Australia, possibly examine the claims made by this organization and determine whether they were accurate, or whether they are another example of anti-Israel demonization?  Indeed when BtS accuses its critics of “beating on Israelis of other political convictions” and “pontificating from afar,” the very same accusations can and have been made regarding the New Israel Fund itself. NIF’s ad in the New York Times, which portrayed Israel as an extremist and anti-democratic society, is but one example of this widespread phenomenon of “pontificating from afar.”

BtS would be well advised to also be more circumspect about its own (non-existent) credibility. Despite claims purporting to be “investigative journalists,” BtS allegations and “testimonies” remain unverified. Nor can they be independently verified or investigated by the Israeli military because BtS does not provide the requisite details or any evidence. Most of their allegations are anonymous, and the context is generally missing. This results in highly politicized exploitation of human rights rhetoric for political propaganda, in contrast to the claimed concern for the “decline of the military system into increasing immorality.”

Before lecturing others about the importance of moral convictions and “fortitude,” BtS should recognize that its “testimonies” come primarily from individuals who failed to speak up or act when they observed the alleged misconduct. Instead of presenting the “testimonies” in a manner that would facilitate a judicial investigation in the IDF and Israeli courts, based on due process of law, these anecdotal, mostly anonymous, and unverifiable accounts of low-level soldiers are shopped to foreign journalists along with sweeping and speculative accusations about “an offensive policy that includes annexation of territory, terrorizing and tightening the control over the civilian population.”

BtS has made other contributions to immoral discourse about Israel and Israelis.  For instance, at an exhibit at the Army Museum in Stockholm in March 2011, Itamar Shapira, a member of BtS, told a NY-based TV station: “Look what we have done; look at the world price that we are paying for holding the occupied territories – basically holding millions of Palestinians, with no rights, within military occupation…. We are the oppressors, we are the ones that are violating human rights on a daily basis. We are creating the terror against us, basically… This is a war against civilians, a war against society.”

When Judge Goldstone belatedly retracted his report and the false allegations of Israeli “war crimes,” he demonstrated the courage to admit that he had been taken in by the global campaign to demonize Israel.  This political warfare, launched at the Durban NGO Forum in 2001, is designed to destroy Israel by exploiting human rights to promote boycotts, and enjoys a great deal of financial support. Indeed, it is this money, which buys publicity for headlines in Australian newspapers and speaking tours, which fuels groups like Breaking the Silence.

 

Gerald Steinberg is professor of political science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution dedicated to promoting universal human rights and to encouraging civil discussion on the reports and activities of nongovernmental organizations, particularly in the Middle East. Naftali Balanson is the Managing Editor of NGO Monitor.

 

Comments

9 Responses to “Breaking the Silence and NIF tell Australian Jews to “pay up and shut up””
  1. Paul Winter says:

    Wow Nathan, you sure have a lot to say! But just try to focus on BtS.

    As Prof Steinberg points out the “Israeli” group BtS receives its funding from outside Israel and it presents its anti-Israeli invective to non-Israeli audiences. It would be fair to describe the acitivity of any group that is paid by foreigners to preach against its country as treason.

    If BtS’s stories had any merit it would tell them to Israelis. It doesn’t because it knows that Israelis know that tales of BtS are just BS. No names, no places, no dates = no pack drill. Or, put up or shut up.

    Now your plaintive cry for justice for Israeli women being abused by heredi thugs, that is supported by NIF is really more anti-Israel propaganda. There are religious nutters in Israel, but the NIF is not needed for the authoritites to act against them. It is as dishonest to try to excuse NIF’s undemocratic activities by pointing to its socially progressive ones as it is to portray Hamas and Hizballah as just socially movements because of their charitable work. And let us not forget that the Hitler Jugend were fine boy scouts when they were not robbing, raping and murdering Jews.

    NIF’s good projects are just a mask for its true motivations: the undermining of Israel. Its origins in Breira and Coname reveal its agenda. The only thing that has changed is that NIF now paints itself in Zionistic colours to better insinuate itself into Jewish communities. The NIF’s true face is BtS.

  2. pam says:

    When it comes to demonising Israel, verifiable facts are not important.
    The aim is to play on the emotions of the target audience, which in the case of The Age,
    is people who don’t have time or inclination to do background reading, and mostly get their
    information on world affairs from their newspaper.

    This is how propaganda has always worked.
    Unfortunately, as we have seen from recent history, it has been very successful in turning
    people against the Jews.

    What puzzles me is that progressive Jews seem to think they will be immune from the
    inevitable results of this process of vilification of Israel and Jews that they helped to bring about.

  3. Nathan says:

    Gerald writes”the very same accusations can and have been made regarding the New Israel Fund itself. NIF’s ad in the New York Times, which portrayed Israel as an extremist and anti-democratic society, is but one example of this widespread phenomenon of “pontificating from afar.””

    Here is the link to see the advertisement (http://action.nif.org/p/salsa/web/common/public/content?content_item_KEY=11512)

    Here is the full story…..

    Today, a full-page advertisement supporting the New Israel Fund will appear in the New York Times. Paid for by a generous donor who is launching a matching-gift campaign, the ad features a news photo of an actual billboard in Jerusalem, with a poster of a woman’s face that has been clawed and defaced by ultra-Orthodox extremists. The ad specifically references the troubling growth of gender segregation and the exclusion of women in Israel, a phenomenon now in the public eye but not yet defeated.

    In his defense of Israeli democracy last week, Ambassador Michael Oren wrote that “gender equality, not prejudice, remains an Israeli hallmark,” and cited the numerous women serving in the Knesset and in other leadership roles. Stipulated and granted. And it was heartening to see, after Secretary of State Clinton criticized gender-segregated buses and other evidence of a troubling turn towards repression of women, that so many Israeli leaders stepped forward to defend women’s equality as intrinsic to Israeli society.

    But words and deeds differ. The Israel Broadcasting Authority just permitted Kol Barama, the haredi radio station, to reduce the number of hours of women on the air from six to four – weekly. Groups of ultra-Orthodox men are approaching female passengers on El-Al, requesting to switch seats. Israeli women still earn only 66% of men’s wages, and women with higher education degrees earn 77% of the wages earned by their male counterparts. And a special report commissioned by Cabinet Minister Limor Livnat and an inter-ministerial committee on the subject of exclusion of women is filled with high-sounding declarations, but very little in the way of policy change or budget.

    In this atmosphere, the organizations supported by the New Israel Fund are more important than ever. Long responsible for various aspects of feminist social change, these organizations find that their strategies must now take the growth of religious extremism into account. Organizations focused on women’s education are responding to the increase in single-gender schools in the religious sector, or schools that attempt to exclude Mizrachi or Ethiopian students. The Israel Religious Action Center, the activist arm of the Reform movement in Israel, researched and published an exhaustive report on gender segregation. Kolech, the feminist Orthodox organization, staffed a hotline for Orthodox women to report involuntary segregation on buses and other public spaces, and led the successful attempt to persuade the Israeli Medical Association to boycott a conference on women’s fertility issues in which women were barred from speaking.

    The new pluralism group Yisroel Hofshit (Be Free Israel) has established local activist groups in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Haifa and Ra’anana, and is working closely with NIF to restore the sight and sound of women to the public sphere in Israel. Yerushalmim (“Jerusalemites”), a vibrant coalition of secular and pluralistic Jerusalem residents, ran a public campaign to restore images of women and girls to the streets of the city, hanging pictures of women from balconies in the city. (One of these defaced campaign posters is the centerpiece of the New York Times ad.) This campaign was later expanded by New Israel Fund supporters overseas who sent their photos for a “Woman Should Be Seen and Heard” campaign, resulting in another 50 posters of women’s images appearing in Jerusalem.

    With the current governing coalition heavily dependent on ultra-Orthodox support, it appears that official measures against gender segregation will be cut to fit political reality. Since many ultra-Orthodox commentators have claimed that the new push to exclude women is a fringe phenomenon, NIF and its civil society groups hope to find ways to work with the mainstream Orthodox community on gender issues in ways that are respectful of the community’s traditions. In the meantime, we continue to monitor, respond to and publicize the continuing and disturbing trend of gender segregation and exclusion in Israel.

  4. Nathan says:

    I would strongly recommend to any Australian visitor who cares about what is happening in our country to try to join a “Breaking The Silence” tour of Hebron.

    It is eye opening and disturbing even for the most ardent supporters of the Settler Movement.

  5. Nathan says:

    Gerald writes
    “Indeed, the fact that the BtS “report” first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as highlighted by President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Dr. Danny Lamm, exposes their failures in Israel. ”

    He forgot to mention that it was also published as a lead story Y-Net ISRAELS leading internet new service (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4272830,00.html)

    Their coverage includes a detailed account by a named soldier Avner Gvaryahu. The issues that he raises are real and they are of immense concern many people here.

    Making Palestinian lives hell

    Breaking the Silence’s report is different from its predecessors in the fact that it focuses entirely on the way that troops treat Palestinian minors. While the group initially struggled with the decision to expose Israeli high school students to the grim incidents so graphically described in the report, the activists deemed the move “necessary.”

    “Exposing our teens to this reality is not a trivial matter,” says Avner Gvaryahu, a former soldier who now works for the organization. His own testimony is featured in the latest report.

    “I have a 16-year-old brother. He’s super cute… He recently received his first draft summons, and it is my first instinct to shield him from the bad stuff.

    “The group hesitated to distribute the brochure among high school students… but it was eventually decided to go through with it. I’m queasy about it even though I understand that it’s necessary… If you’re old enough to enlist and carry a weapon, you’re old enough to know what’s really happening in the territories.”

    Gvaryahu, 27, studied social work and now works for Breaking the Silence as a Hebron tour guide. He spent his army service with the Paratrooper Brigadge’s Orev Unit.

    “They trained us to fight a real army, to shoot anti-tank missiles,” he says. “No one prepared us for the routine activity.

    “For us it’s routine, but for them it’s an impossible reality, hellish even. And I’m referring to the children.”

    Hatred in the kids’ eyes

    This so-called routine activity, according to Gvaryahu, included the almost nightly seizures of homes for operational purposes, a procedure known as the “Straw Widow.”

    “The homes are inhabited, full of children; everyone screams and cries,” he recalls. “You enter with your troops, and each weapon is charged. You’re sure that someone is going to shoot you at any moment. You forget that you’ve got nothing on the family that resides in the home. Sometimes you sit there for six hours, sometimes it takes two or three days, depending on the army’s operations in the area.

    “You put the entire family in one room, close the door and designate a soldier as a guard. The adults don’t go to work, the kids don’t go to school, and no one goes shopping. They can eat what they have in the pantry.”

    Gvaryahu says that he was raised in an environment that didn’t question the army’s activities and their significance for Israel’s security. But performing several “Straw Widow” procedures made him acutely aware of the toll his actions take on the Palestinian families.

    “I suddenly began noticing the kids’ eyes,” he says. “(…) They were full of disgust, full of hate. And the frustration is immense when you realize you’re not the first soldier to enter their home.”

    While the situations described in the report aren’t new, their effect is magnified when the tales are bound together. Even so, the group insists the brochure isn’t meant as a provocation. The group doesn’t aim to deter teens from enlisting in the army.

    “I support army service, I think it’s very important, but at the same time I believe that teens must be informed about what goes on in the territories,” says Sagi Tal, 25, another former combat soldier whose statement is featured in the report. “I knew nothing when I got there, and I was shocked.”

    A bit of preparation ahead of time would have changed his attitude, he says.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      “Nathan”, 1st I don’t know why ( just an expression, because I DO know why ) I get the impression that you are not a bloke, but a woman. It is in the style you write. This detail may not be that significant, unless “little” tactics are important in conveying the bigger picture.
      More importantly, as a lady you write in an articulate manner, that is because you also seem to have been educated in UK or even Australia. Definitely NOT a Sabra. Sorry but your “style” compared to Ms Gollan ( a word that means “thug” in my native Romanian ) is far calmer. You also seem to me to be well in excess of 40 years of age. All in all you are an activist that has quite a bit of time on her hand. You are also less careful with your own logic. Just look at the last sentence, the actual conclusive idea of your “exposee”. The claim you are making is that soldiers involved in what you describe as unwanted behaviour would not object to what they are ordered to do – I suppose that you imply that those are orders from superiors, not erratic subjective initiative by the said soldiers – would be totally acceptable if ONLY soldiers would be trained, allerted, made aware of the situation on the ground and what is necessary for the IDF to do. Then, once trained comprehensively, hakol beseder !
      You realise that such a “coda” kills the moral argument of the IDF plaintiff. It implies that the ethical objections, as seen in the “testimonies” of the BtS activist IDF veterans, will be dealt with.
      Objectively you may say, as an over 48 English born lady with heaps of time to kill, ethics do not occur just to fit a subjective argument, True, but ethics are imperatively based on comprehensive facts, most importantly CAUSATION, determinants that define the acceptable behaviour, in our cases, of what we may comfortably call necessary reaction. It also means that, without you and your BtS mates, whatever their place of birth, age and gender, addressing also the psychological and physical and paramilitary training of the said palestinians, INCLUDING children and women, the truncated tendentiously extrapolated stories of abuses have no value at all. And this is precisely why your BtS as well as the entire NIF exercise shall NEVER attain the effect sought and also why in Israel NIF and its extention NGOs, including BtS are dead in the water. You DO irritate mostly the Diaspora Jews, but, also, look, you give ME, at least, the satisfaction, of dealing, yet again, with such easily detectable flaws in the “armory” of people that I enjoy tremendously to engage in wonderful dialectics. A typical Israeli pastime, you may say, yet, although an Israeli citizen by previous alia, I am an unassuming, quiet Australian bloke, yes, over 55, as mentioned born in Bucharest, were ridiculing the obvoiusly ridiculous was the obligtory ingredient in the daily chollent. And it tastes like heaven, Nathan mate-lad-lass-love.

  6. michael says:

    I guess the Rabbi and Progressive LBC, Academics at Monash ACJC , Palestinian activists AJDS all supporters of these extremist groups along with the Palestinian lobby will disagree with respected Gerald Steinbergs views.

  7. Ben says:

    And NGO monitor is an ultra-national, far right fringe group, so why do they have be read ?

  8. Ben says:

    Why is a “fringe group” not allowed to speak the truth ? Their response to the smear by Lam and others was partly personal and excessive, but they exposed the unsubstantiated charges and smear against the report with factual evidence.

    The point is whether they are speaking the truth or falsehoods ? Lam clearly was not speaking the truth as exposed by those who read through the reports and by BTS. Galelio was in a minority too, that doesn’t make him wrong and the inquisition right.