Breaking the Silence: Sabotaging Israel from within
Breaking the Silence: Sabotaging Israel from within

“Why do so many Israelis hate Breaking the Silence?” asks Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist and political activist, who focuses on the Israeli “occupation.” According to the group’s website, Breaking the Silence (BtS) “is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. Our work aims to bring an end to the occupation.” [1]

Matar sees BtS as a legitimate way to force Israelis to examine their country’s role in Judea and Samaria. For that reason, BtS should not be under relentless attack from the Israeli Right, since the organization does not support BDS, advocate Israeli officers be tried for war crimes, urge Israelis to refuse army service, or excuse Arab violence. Only Israeli political leaders should be held accountable, he opines. [2]

When BtS published a 242 page report in May 2015 entitled “This is How We Fought in Gaza, Soldiers testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge ̋ (2014),” it generated major headlines in Britain, the U.S. and much of Europe. The headline in The Washington Post set the negative tone against Israel: “New report details how Israeli soldiers killed civilians in Gaza: “There were no rules.” [3] 

The report contained testimonies from more than 60 IDF active and reserve soldiers who participated in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip, approximately a quarter of whom are officers ranging up to the rank of major.

A key allegation:

 “The guiding military principle of  ‘minimum  risk  to our  forces,  even  at  the  cost  of  harming  innocent  civilians,’alongside  efforts  to  deter  and  intimidate  the  Palestinians,  led  to  massive  and unprecedented  harm to the population and the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Policymakers could have predicted these results prior to the operation and were surely aware of them throughout.”  [4] 

Questions about BtS tactics, methodology, motivations, funding, disproportionate media attention, and the certainty of future clashes with Hamas, ensures continued scrutiny and discussion.

Gerald M. Steinberg, the founder and president of NGO Monitor, that documents questionable funding and actions of many NGO's that support Israel-based reporters, explained how BtS operates. With approximately 10 staff members, BtS issues unnamed and unsubstantiated testimonies from Israeli soldiers claiming to have witnessed fellow soldiers committing war crimes. BtS representatives repeat these false allegations in European parliaments, before UN agencies, on university campuses and in the media. [5] They even met with members of the White House National Security Council at the offices of an American nonprofit in the capital. A separate meeting was held with senior officials at the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. [6]

Those with no combat experience in dealing with terror groups are moved by these disturbing and highly emotional reports. [7] Audiences are left with the impression that the alleged, “errant act of one solider, proven or not, is indicative of the ethos and the norms of the I.D.F. entire. This is false and libelous,” asserts Ron Ben-Yishai, a retired Lt. Colonel in the IDF paratroopers division and a journalist for over 46 years. Of particular concern is the fallacious perception promoted on American college campuses. [8]

Those with no combat experience in dealing with terror groups are moved by these disturbing and highly emotional reports.
The report, is “one of the biggest [pieces of] propaganda … that you might find,” former Israeli national security adviser Maj. Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror declared. Amidror, who also directed the Israel Defense Forces military intelligence research department under Prime Minister Netanyahu, described the report as “evil,” and charged that the goal of BtS “is to destroy Israel, for sure.” [9]

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon viewed the accusations against the IDF as “a struggle between the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizens who seek to live normal lives, and the minority that is trying to drag us into the abyss. This is not a battle between left and right, because … all the sane forces in Israeli society, from all sides of the political map, must be united.” [10] 

Israel, he said, is “fighting for the country’s image and its values,” which is why these attacks are more damaging than “another truck filled with missiles making its way from Syria to Lebanon. It’s worse than the terror of knives and car-rammings, and it threatens us no less, and possibly even more, than Iran’s nuclear program.” [11]

Benny Ziffer, an Israeli author and Haaretz journalist, also took issue with BtS’ destructive approach. Though he has “boundless admiration for the conscience and high morality of Israel Defense Forces soldiers who testify to criminal acts,” he was angry that BtS uses these testimonies to influence individuals and groups outside the country who exploit them “to vilify Israel and strengthen its enemies.” [12]

Ziffer recognized that treating “the testimonies of these exceptions as objective reality is simply misleading. Especially when the testimonies are presented abroad, to people who aren’t familiar with the Israeli reality….There are no innocent testimonies – a fact well known to everyone who is even slightly acquainted with the theory of narrative. Every story is in large measure a fiction, or at least a fictitious arrangement of reality. And when Breaking the Silence sells us ostensibly primary testimonies that is misleading.”[13]

Addressing a special session of the Knesset committee on global anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel, Jewish Agency chairman and former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky charged that the organization “is not a human rights organization but a BDS organization.” He urged institutions involved in public diplomacy “to fight against those who try to use the flag of human rights to slander the State of Israel.” [14]

Sharansky and other Israeli leaders are concerned that a number of groups have been persuaded by BDS supporters that one cannot advocate for women's rights, academic freedom or oppose racism without recognizing Israel's suppression of Palestinian Arabs. [15]

Not surprisingly, the editorial board of Haaretz had a different position. They viewed BtS as “a legitimate organization,” whose “activities should be encouraged, not silenced,” since apparently it is “one of the few groups that considers the IDFs’ Defense morality as a priority.”  Rather than the information being used to discredit Israel, Haaretz asserted the evidence helps the IDF “maintain its moral character, which is being eroded by the occupation.” [16]

BtS goes beyond human rights to classified information

After Israeli TV Channel 2 aired a segment in which BtS activists were caught interviewing soldiers no longer serving on active duty about “classified tactical and operational procedures” that were clearly not relevant to human rights issues, Ya’alon ordered an investigation to determine if any laws had been violated.

Among the questions Ron Zaidel, the chief investigator for BtS asked, were: “The mortar detachments are they positioned, like, inside the checkpoint compound?” and “The company deployed there, are they, like, not a part of the security detail around the fence?” He also asked a soldier: “What were the missions in the sector?”

Zaidel also wondered: “What kind of tunnel work do you mean?” referring to Hamas tunnels used to infiltrate Israel, and whether Israel’s activities to detect the tunnels are “operational or experimental?”

Zaidel tried to assure the interviewer that no red lines had been crossed. “The things we ask,” he claimed, “it’s like for our own knowledge. It’s just, you know, for our professional knowledge and for … Things that sometimes have significance that’s a little hard to see, questions that may appear irrelevant,” he said.

The investigation concluded that while some of the information was classified, it was at the comparatively low level of “confidential.” [17] Why BtS needs to know about IDF’s military capabilities, including the type of equipment it employs, field security and ammunition has not been answered. [18]

One woman revealed that she enlisted into the IDF’s Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria specifically to obtain information, since she had been in touch with BtS before she joined. [19] Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet and a Likud MK, said the footage “looked like information-gathering by the handlers of an agent. I didn’t hear a word about Palestinians or Gazans.” One female revealed to an agent that she enlisted into the IDF’s Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria specifically to obtain information, since she had been in touch with BtS before she joined.  [20]

Unexpected Defense of BtS

Former Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin, a harsh critic of Netanyahu, [21] countered that although he opposes the activities of NGOs and journalists “who don’t love their country…,” Diskin is convinced “their contribution is very important and helps us to maintain the required vigilance about the most sensitive human issues.”  This is true “even if they are aggravating, even if they are often inaccurate and don’t always do their work properly from a professional perspective.” [22] 

Others who joined Diskin in supporting BtS, included former Shin Bet security service director and navy commander Maj. Gen. (res.), Ami Ayalon, retired Northern District police chief Deputy Commissioner (ret.), Elik Ron and Amiram Levin, Head of the IDF Northern Command, commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit and deputy director of Mossad. Levin added: “The IDF must encourage ‘Breaking the Silence’ and those like them, to speak out without fear in the IDF and in Israeli society.”[23]

This defense of BtS is confusing.  If IDF soldiers do not have appropriate means to air their grievances, why weren’t procedures initiated or suggested by these members of Israel’s military and security elite? If they attempted to institute these measures, did they fail? If so, why? And why support an organization that maligns their country? Aren’t there better ways to affect change in the IDF than to provide ammunition to those seeking to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state?  Is the problem so urgent that no other means exists?

Journalist Matti Friedman’s Response

Israeli-Canadian journalist Matti Friedman, the former Jerusalem bureau reporter for the Associated Press, whose articles exposed the media’s bias against Israel, [24] cautioned that the authors of the report are not “journalists, and their report is intended not to explain but to shock. It’s propaganda. That’s fine if you understand what you’re reading, but I suspect most people don’t.”[25]

He urged journalists reviewing these unverified statements from unnamed soldiers ask how IDF procedures compare to those of other armies: “open-fire regulations, which are lax – compared to what? Civilian casualty rates are high – compared to what? Compared to the U.S. in Fallujah? The British in Northern Ireland? The Canadians in Helmand Province? ‘Lax’ and ‘high’ are relative terms.” How is Israel being judged? Unless we know the comparable circumstances and criteria, the criticism has no meaning and is irresponsible.” Of course, he knew the journalists would not invest the time or energy to find answers to these questions. [26]

Friedman does not question that some of the incidents described in the report occurred. Others did not. From his own experiences, he found that infantrymen, who are at the low end of the chain of command, “often don’t understand what they’re seeing, or the reasons for what they’re doing.” What makes little or no sense to a private, sergeant or a lieutenant sometimes-- but not always--is clear to those further up in the hierarchy. Young soldiers frequently do not understand the rationale behind the plan of attack, especially during combat or thereafter. [27]

Despite the severe criticism in the report, he noted the soldiers openly discussed the procedures they were required to perform to prevent harming civilians including: “warning leaflets, ‘roof-knocking’ rockets, phone calls, warning shells, warning shots, lists of protected sites like U.N. facilities, and drones vetting targets for civilians before an airstrike.” All of the action occurred in areas where the IDF had warned Gazan civilians and Hamas terrorists that soldiers were on their way. These constraints were taken for granted, as if they were standard practices of every army, when “in fact many are unique to Israeli military practice.” Furthermore, many, if not most of the soldiers, probably did not entirely understand with whom they were talking or how their testimony would be used outside of Israel. [28]

Analysis by Leading International Military Experts and Political Leaders

To provide additional insight into IDF conduct, it is instructive to examine the conclusions reached by Richard Kemp, the former commander of Britain’s military forces in Afghanistan, and leading world military experts and political leaders. In practically every Israeli conflict, the IDF is accused of using disproportional use of force to subdue their enemy. [29]

“Proportionality is not… a relationship between the numbers of casualties on either side in a conflict,” notes Kemp, “but a calculation that considers whether the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in an attack. I know that their commanders place great emphasis on adherence to the laws of armed conflict. This includes the principle of proportionality, which is set out in Israel’s manual of military law and is recognized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.” [30]

There was “no other realistic and effective means of suppressing an aggressor’s missile fire than the methods used by the IDF,” he said, “namely precision air and artillery strikes against the command and control structures, the fighters and the munitions of Hamas and the other groups in Gaza. Nor have I heard any other military expert from any country propose a viable alternative means of Defence against such aggression.” [31]

With regard to the Laws of armed conflict and minimizing civilian casualties in Gaza, he found the IDF took exceptional measures to avoid them. Though many politicians, U.N. officials, human rights groups and NGOs demanded Israel do more to minimize civilian fatalities, not one of them advised how this might be accomplished. Kemp claimed “Israel to be world leaders in actions to minimise civilian casualties; and this is borne out by the efforts made by the US Army, the most sophisticated and powerful in the world, to learn from the IDF on this issue.” [32]

U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with Kemp, when he said, "I actually do think that Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.” He added, "In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you're going to be criticized for civilian casualties….The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They're interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel."[33]

Dempsey revealed that three months earlier, the Pentagon sent a "lessons-learned team" of senior officers and non-commissioned officers to consult with the IDF to determine what could be learned, including “the measures they took to prevent civilian casualties and what they did with tunneling." [34]

While on duty at a checkpoint between Israel and Judea and Shomron, an 18 year-old woman in labor arrived yelling in pain. Rather than let the ambulance into Israel without being examined, Lital decided to have the vehicle checked. She found an explosive hidden under the seat.
Other military leaders reached the same conclusion. From May 18-22, 2015, the High Level International Military Group, composed of 11 former chiefs of staff, generals, senior officers, political leaders and officials from the U.S., Germany, the United Kingdom, Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia and Colombia visited Israel to study the 2014 Gaza conflict. Their report stated that, “We agree with…General Martin Dempsey.”[35]

Furthermore, “Our overall findings are that…in the air, on the ground and at sea, Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard. We saw clear evidence of this from the upper to the lower levels of command. A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the laws of armed conflict is that in some cases Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives.” [36]

A task force of former senior U.S. military leaders commissioned to evaluate Hamas’s strategy and Israel’s response found that Hamas used Israel’s citizen’s “aversion to excessive or unjustified casualties” in an attempt to undermine the war effort by describing the IDF’s tactics as “indiscriminate and disproportional.” [37]

Furthermore, “Contrary to accusations of widespread unlawful military conduct,” the Task Force “observed that Israel systemically applied established rules of conduct that adhered to or exceeded the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) in a virtually unprecedented effort to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, even when doing so would have been lawfully permitted, and to satisfy the concerns of critics. However… Israel’s military restraint unintentionally empowered Hamas to distort both the law and facts for their own purposes to the ultimate detriment of civilians’ safety, for which Hamas bears sole responsibility.” [38]

Significantly, the Task Force opposed this level of Israel’s restraint, which they said should not become the standard of U.S. armed forces. “The ever-increasing level of restraint implemented by the IDF reflects the inherent risk in conflating law and policy,” they concluded. “Unless there is a clear demarcation between law and policy-based restraints on the use of combat power, raising standards in one instance – even if done as a matter of national policy and not as the result of legal obligation – risks creating a precedent to which military forces will likely be expected to adhere in the future. The result will not only be a greater danger to national security, but also an increased risk to civilians, since unconventional enemies will (like Hamas) deliberately seek to instigate civilian casualties in order to portray them, usually erroneously, as the result of unlawful attacks by their opponents.” [39] 

Determining What Constitutes Legitimate Self-defense

The rejection of Israel’s level of restraint by some of the military experts raises the question of how should the IDF respond to enemies that no longer recognize the principle of distinguishing between civilians and combatants. This moral dilemma was posed to Tel-Aviv University professor Asa Kasher, an Israeli philosopher and linguist, who authored the IDF's Code of Ethics.

The first problem is that though the Arabs glorify death; the Israelis venerate life. “We must free ourselves from the attitude that regards others’ lives with fear and trembling while holding the lives of our own combat soldiers in complete contempt,” Kasher advised. “International law wants to impose a position on us whereby soldiers are a consumable resource and that the lives of enemy civilians must be protected more than the lives of our own combat troops. Bandages are a consumable resource. Water is a consumable resource. Human beings are not.”

“If we warned the terrorists’ neighbors to leave the area…why are they staying? Because they choose to be human shields for terrorists,” Kasher concluded.  “I do not want to kill a human being only because he is a human shield, if he is not a threat to me. But should a soldier of mine risk himself for him? Is the blood of a human shield any redder than the blood of my soldier? A soldier has no choice other than to be in Gaza, in that alleyway. But to be sent inside — why? In the battle in Jenin, in the middle of Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF knew that the refugee camp was booby-trapped. But they still insisted on not bombing from the air in order to keep from harming civilians, and they suffered terrible losses. That was a mistake. They should have made an effort to get the civilian population out of the terrorist environment, and then there would have been no need to send in the infantry.” [40]

In other words, Kasher asserts, “Israel cannot forfeit its ability to protect its citizens against attacks simply because terrorists hide behind non-combatants. If it did so, it would be giving up any right to self-defense.” One must remember that most of the IDF soldiers, especially in the army and navy, “are conscripts. As citizens in military uniform, they are entitled to ask the state, as well as the IDF and its commanders, whether they are being placed in greater jeopardy to save the lives of enemy non-combatants who have been repeatedly warned to leave the scene of battle. An affirmative answer to this question would be morally unacceptable.” [41]

The Need for Transparency

If the Breaking the Silence genuinely expects the allegations to be taken seriously, they should provide the soldier’s names to the IDF Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism (FFAM) assets Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and now Foreign Ministry director-general. FFAM, directed by a major-general and comprised of operational and legal experts, was created during Operation Protective Edge. [42]

One soldier who came forward is Nadav Weiman, who served in the sniper team of the reconnaissance unit of the Nahal Brigade from 2005-2008 and is an active member of Breaking the Silence. Weiman claims that by “sharing our experiences,” the members want to generate “genuine public debate on the way we fight in Gaza, and the moral price we pay for ongoing military control over the occupied territories.” [43]

By using the terms “military control” and “occupied territories” Weiman reveals his ignorance of the issues and his biases.  Since 1993, the Palestinian Authority has had jurisdiction over the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria. Hamas has jurisdiction over the entire Gaza. Thus most Palestinian Arabs are not subject to the Israeli military administration or Israeli law.  Their laws, courts, police, prisons, taxes are under Palestinian Arab jurisdiction, not Israeli. [44]

If the Palestinian Arabs sincerely want peace, their leader must have the authority to sign an agreement with Israel. Neither Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas nor any other Arab leader has such a mandate. Acknowledging the Jewish connection to the land of Israel and Israel’s right to live as a Jewish state is a sine qua non. Educating their people that the Western Wall has no religious status to Jews, but is a holy Muslim site, that Jews commit “war crimes” and genocide guarantees hostile views toward Israel will continue. [45]

Funding of BtS

Funding of BtS is another issue. According to Gerald Steinberg, the donors are involved in anti-Israel activities in Ireland, Britain and the Netherlands, and actively subsidize and work with organizations promoting BDS. Tens of millions of dollars are donated directly or indirectly. The amount donated to Breaking the Silence depends on the number of damaging statements that could be used. The Dutch church organization ICCO, for example, insisted on a minimum 90 highly critical interviews, while Oxfam (which claims to foster a humanitarian program) required "as many interviews as possible" regarding "immoral activities." These requirements clearly illustrate the significant financial incentive they had to record as many harmful testimonies as possible. [46] 

BtS is one of approximately 20 comparable organizations that were established by the New Israel Fund. [47] The goal is to “bolster attempts to bring charges against Israeli officials at the International Criminal Court.”[48] 

After interviewing members of BtS, English journalist Jake Wallis Simons, a features writer for The Telegraph, concluded that if “the goal of Breaking the Silence was simply to clean up the Israeli military, it wouldn’t be such a problem. Instead, the aim is to ‘end the occupation,’ and on this basis it secured its funding. It appeared, therefore, that these former soldiers, some of whom draw salaries from Breaking the Silence, were motivated by financial and political concerns to further a pro-Palestinian agenda. They weren’t merely telling the truth about their experiences. They were under pressure to perform.” [49]

Friedman added to the list of funders, none of which are Israeli: the Danish Lutheran organization Dan Church Aid, the French Catholic group CCFD-Terre Solidaire, the governments of Norway and Switzerland, and many others. None of the financial backers are Israeli. He asked whether Norwegian citizens support an organization that presses British soldiers to expose British army misconduct to the international media. Or does the Swiss government encourage Hamas soldiers to reveal what acts they have committed in the war? [50] 

In June 2015, the Kukturhaus Helferei, Zurich, hosted an event with BtS consisting of an exhibit and testimonies from former Israeli soldiers alleging that the IDF carried out excessive killings of Palestinian Arabs. According to the brochure for the event, the Department of Finance of the City of Zurich is listed as a sponsor, which the city justified because it was open to a large audience in Zurich. [51] 

At the Capital Fringe Festival 2015 in Washington, D.C., "It's What We Do:": A Play about the Occupation,” the performance received the best production award. Written and directed by U.S. playwright Pamela Nice, the play is based on Our Harsh Logic, published in 2013 by BtS. Characters in the show, which dramatizes the experiences of three IDF soldiers—two male and one female-reply to questions raised by members of the audience. ” [52]

“I think the scenes are important because Americans don’t really know what the occupation looks like. It’s just a word in the media to most of us,” Nice told Haaretz in a phone interview. “The play gives a picture of this reality, and many who have lived in the West Bank and seen the production say we have recreated that reality in a chilling way.”  [53] 

Haaretz journalist Yair Ashkenazi commented that this experience makes “the entire space feel like an interrogation room.” Due to popular demand, the number of performances had to be extended. BtS avowed no connection to the production, stating that “all the testimonials provided by the organization are published on our website and are open to the public to use as it wishes.” [54] 

Countering the Lies

To counter the lies about Israel and the IDF, soldiers like Eldad and Lital, tour the country to tell the issues they encounter. Lital, who studied economics and management at Ben Gurion University, is part of COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. [55] The official mission of COGAT “is to promote and implement the policy of the Israeli Government in civilian matters, to facilitate humanitarian issues and economic and infrastructure projects in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza. In addition, the unit leads the coordination and liaison with the Palestinian Authority and with the Palestinian population in the 'West Bank' and Gaza.”[56]

While on duty at a checkpoint between Israel and Judea and Shomron, an 18 year-old woman in labor arrived yelling in pain. Rather than let the ambulance into Israel without being examined, Lital decided to have the vehicle checked. She found an explosive hidden under the seat.

Ron Ben-Yishai, military journalist, asserts that “the very name, Breaking the Silence is a deliberate, wanton misnomer.” Israel is an open society where substantive grievances are reviewed and investigated.
On campuses they encountered student groups claiming to be "pro-Palestinian" when their real goal is to defame Israel. Engaging in a serious dialogue is of no interest. All they want is to holler their message, and stage a "walk-out." Eldad and Lital wanted to inform people about the conflict, since they believe dialogue is the only approach to achieve peace in the region. “We were dismayed,” they said, “that some of the worst anti-Israel activists were Jewish and Israeli; two other soldiers experienced this at Washington University in St. Louis from Jewish Voice for Peace.” [57]

A number of veteran soldiers have publicly repudiated the attempts to slander the reputation of the IDF. Ron Ben-Yishai asserts that “the very name, Breaking the Silence is a deliberate, wanton misnomer.” Israel is an open society where substantive grievances are reviewed and investigated. Normally these complaints are handled by the Military Advocate General’s Corps. (M.A.G.), an organization that is largely independent from the chain of command; especially with regard to conduct, ethics and the laws of warfare. The M.A.G. Corps commonly presents the results of its investigations to leading foreign legal authorities. [58]    

Michael Maoz, a major in the reserves who commands a patrol division in the Artillery Corps, said he did not have to join BtS to report any injustice. Whenever he witnessed violations of military behavior, he reported the abuses, which were immediately resolved. [59] 

His examples included a noncommissioned officer who demeaned passengers in a car he had stopped for inspection; a soldier who accepted a beverage offered to him by the driver whose documents he had been checking at the time; a military driver who tried to beat a detainee after he had been neutralized and handcuffed, and more. The NCO was tried, imprisoned and dismissed from the battalion; the beverage was returned to the driver along with an apology; and the military driver, a reservist, was tried and confined to his base. He added, “The IDF does not order its soldiers to be cruel to a civilian populations for the sake of satisfying some sadistic urge. And when morally questionable orders are given, there is always someone to turn to who can rectify the situation in real time -- this I know from experience.” [60]

A group IDF officers and combat soldiers, who proclaimed war on "Breaking the Silence," joined Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid in a press in December 2015 to announce new attempts to thwart the organization.  Lapid pledged to introduce legislation to prevent pro-BDS organizations from funding Israeli non-profits that smear the Jewish state abroad.

"I stand here surrounded by the representatives of 600 IDF officers and soldiers, the best of our sons, including company and battalion commanders who represent what the IDF stands for - values and leadership," Lapid asserted. "They are standing here to defend those values. The IDF defends those values."

"Criticism builds us as a society, but there is a fundamental difference between criticism and the vilification abroad of IDF soldiers and officers," he asserted. "This is not criticism but an erosion under the foundation of the state. Organizations like Breaking the Silence have crossed the red line between criticism and sabotage," Lapid declared. [61]

Moshe Arens, who served three times as Israeli Defense Minister and once as Minister of Foreign Affairs, asked if these “self-appointed do-gooders” believe that without their vigilance, the Israeli public would be ignorant of these “infractions.”  This is in country where Haaretz provides relentless attacks against the IDF and its soldiers.

The proof that Israel’s enemies recognize IDF high moral standards and its determination to minimize civilian fatalities is Hamas and Hezbollah’s strategy of positioning their command centers among the Palestinian Arab civilian population, hospitals and schools knowing Israel’s reluctance to attack these targets. “This is unprecedented in the annals of warfare,” Arens argues. “Armies in past wars saw no use in hiding behind civilians, knowing well that both sides to the conflict had little concern for civilian casualties.”[62]

The ‘NGO transparency’ Bill

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked responded to the interference by NGOs in Israeli politics by introducing legislation seeking to tax or eliminate foreign funds donated to NGOs that are involved in the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict. She denounced the “blatant intervention in internal Israeli affairs,” by foreign governments. [63] Approximately 70 NGOs either from the European Union or individual governments, including Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Norway, she said, are “eroding the legitimacy of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.’”[64]  

Opponents accuse the legislation of being undemocratic, “McCarthyite,” and an effort to stigmatize left-wing groups. NGO representatives equate the legislation to the restrictions used by Russia’s Vladimir Putin Russia and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Representatives receiving more than half of their funding from foreign governments will be required to wear tags with the name the organization they represent while conducting business in the Knesset, just as Knesset lobbyists are expected to do.[65] 

Documents submitted by nonprofit groups must identify their foreign donors or be fined. [66]  The level of attacks against the legislation and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked have reached a dangerous level of vilification.[67] 

The EU views the proposed law a part of a “worrying trend of naming and shaming certain NGOs, especially in the area of human rights, which could contribute to a general decline of the appreciation for human rights as a universal and fundamental value in public discourse.” [68]

After meeting a meeting between U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro and Shaked in January 2016,   the U.S. embassy issued “a highly irregular” statement about the Shapiro-Shaked meeting: “The Ambassador noted that Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy, which gives substantial voice to all points of view and promotes a thriving, transparent civil society.  He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”

Shaked acknowledged America’s sincere concern, but assured them it was unnecessary. “Israel is a strong democracy and as such there is no need for other nations to intervene in internal legislation. Our door is open to dialogue with friends.”

Shaked noted that an EU fund had recently transferred €30,000 to B'Tselem to oppose the proposed legislation. "It is the right of any organization in Israel to object to any legislation," she said. "But it is very strange to me that foreign governments extend their long arms into internal legislation processes." [69] 

She could have added that dissenting statements about the legislation from the Union for Reform Jews, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Congress were also unwelcome interference. [70] 

Gerald Steinberg rejected the comparison and concerns raised by opponents of the legislation. He remarked that the proposal will not restrict debate within Israel or criticism of the IDF, no matter what the consequences. The objective is to address the external threat from NGO campaigns of demonization and boycotts, which will further intensify. “Legislation on ‘foreign agent’ restrictions may soon come to pass. European-funded campaigns attacking the country’s moral standing and exploiting the language of human rights” are crossing too many red lines for Israel. “The dangers of being turned into a pariah state through these international campaigns outweigh the costs of stigmatizing NGOs and limiting their travel.” [71]

Financing BtS and other NGOs by foreign states is viewed as an assault on Israel’s national sovereignty, a very sensitive issue among Israelis. This has prompted centrist politicians to join in denouncing BtS and its European-state donors, increasing the support for the Shaked bill or other legislation which support even stricter restrictions.[72]

Denis MacEoin, a lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies, asked why it is a threat to liberal ideals if Israel decides to “exercise some degree of control over the rights of its citizens not to be exposed to such unrelenting disinformation, hatred and ruin. No other country in the world would stand for it; why should Israel? Israel, a beacon for human rights in a region of war, prejudice, denial of free speech and opposition to democracy, should be singled out for its humanitarian commitment to these values.” [73]

Israel is not the only country trying to protect herself from outside influences.  On February 25, 2015, the Austrian parliament passed a law that reforms Austria’s century-old Islam Law (Islamgesetz), regulating the status of Muslims in the country.  Most importantly, Paragraph 6.2 of the new statue seeks to decrease external interference--presumably Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states-- by barring foreign underwriting of mosques, imams and Muslim organizations in Austria.

According to the University of Vienna, the Muslim population in Austria now surpasses 574,000 (or approximately 7 percent of the total population), an increase from an estimated 340,000 (or 4.25%) in 2001 and 150,000 (or 2 percent) in 1990.

Austria's Minister for Integration and Foreign Affairs, Sebastian Kurz, explained the justification for the change in the law, which dates back to 1912: "What we want is to reduce the political influence and control from abroad and we want to give Islam the chance to develop freely within our society and in line with our common European values." [74]



[2]Haggai Matar, “Why do so many Israelis hate Breaking the Silence?” +972 (December 14, 2015).

[3] William Booth, “New report details how Israeli soldiers killed civilians in Gaza: “There were no rules,” The Washington Post (May 4, 2015); Adam Levick, “Matti Friedman comments on Breaking the Silence report,” The Guardian (May 5, 2015); David Shulman, “Gaza: Killing Gets Easier,”New York Review of Books (May 29, 2015); Robert Tait, “Israeli soldiers describe 'losing their sense of morality' during the Gaza conflict,” The Telegraph (May 4, 2015); Neve Gordon, “The Day After,” The London Review of Books (May 4, 2015); Matti Friedman,” The Latest "Breaking the Silence" Report Isn't Journalism. It's Propaganda,” Mosaic (May 14, 2015). 

[4]This is How We Fought in Gaza, Soldiers testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge ̋ (2014),”16,; “License to Kill,” +972 (May 9 2016); Friedman,” The Latest "Breaking the Silence" Report Isn't Journalism. It's Propaganda, op.cit.

[5] Gerald M. Steinberg, “An Irresponsible Civil Society Harms Israel,” The Wall Street Journal (December 23, 2015).

[6] Ilan Lior, “Breaking the Silence: Why take the message abroad?” Haaretz (December 18, 2015); Barak Ravid, “Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence meets Obama aides in Washington,” Haaretz (June 5, 2015); Times of Israel Staff, “In first, US officials meet with IDF whistle-blowing group,” The Times of Israel (June 5, 2015).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Benjamin Anthony, “Breaking the Silence abroad: A statement by Our Soldiers Speak and Ron Ben-Yishai,” The Times of Israel (December 22, 2015). By the time these accounts are proven false, significant political damage has resulted. Steinberg, “An Irresponsible Civil Society Harms Israel,” op.cit; Roz Rothstein and Yitzhak Santis, “How ‘Breaking the Silence’ fails Israel,” Mabat Israel (April 18th, 2016).

[9] Eliezer Sherman, “Former Israeli National Security Adviser Calls on Breaking the Silence Soldiers to Reveal Identities,” the Algemeiner (June 9, 2015).

[10] Gili Cohen, “Former Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin Defends Breaking the Silence,” Haaretz (December 16, 2015).

[11] Ibid; Marissa Newman, “Ya’alon bans Breaking the Silence NGO from engaging soldiers,” The Times of Israel (December 14, 2015).

[12] Benny Ziffer, “The problem with Breaking the Silence,” Haaretz (June 26, 2015).


[14] Judy Maltz, “Sharansky blasts Breaking the Silence as a ‘BDS organization,’” Haaretz (December 29, 2015). 

[15] Jared Samilow, “This is what happens when BDS infiltrates social causes that have nothing to do with Israel,” Haaretz (December 29, 2015); Judy Maltz, “Sharansky blasts Breaking the Silence as a ‘BDS organization,’” Haaretz (December 29, 2015).

[16] Haaretz Editorial, “Breaking the Silence is a legitimate group that should be encouraged, not silenced,” Haaretz (July 28, 2015); Ariel David, “WATCH: Israeli Soldiers Speak Out Against Rules of Engagement in Gaza,” Haaretz (May 13, 2015); Tal Niv, “Breaking the Silence is a legitimate outlet for Israeli military whistle-blowers,” Haaretz (March 20, 2016).

[17] Gili Cohen, “Probe into Breaking the Silence finds it only low-level classified information,” Haaretz (March 25, 2016); Gili Cohen, “Breaking the Silence Accuses Israeli Politicians of Incitement,” Haaretz (March 27, 2016); Zeev Sternhell, “Human rights groups must demonstrate solidarity with Breaking the Silence,” Haaretz (March 24, 2016); Haaretz “Backtracking, Minister Ya'alon says Breaking the Silence isn't committing treason,”Haaretz (March 24, 2016). 

[18] Aaron Lerner, “NGO Breaking the Silence collected info on IDF tunnel discovery operations not related to human rights,” IMRA (March 18, 2016).

[19]Gil Ronen, “Shock: Video shows Breaking the Silence apparently spying on IDF,” Israel National News (March 18, 2016).

[20] “Left-wing group probed for quizzing Israeli soldiers on secrets,” JTA (March 18, 2016).

[21] Jodi Rudoren, “Former Israeli Security Chief Calls Netanyahu a Poor Leader,” The New York Times (January 4, 2013).

[22] Cohen,” Former Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin Defends Breaking the Silence,” op.cit; Gideon Levy, “Hooray for the snitches of Breaking the Silence,” Haaretz (December 16, 2015); Anshel Pfeffer, “Why Breaking the Silence Became the Most Hated Group in Israel,” Haaretz (December 17, 2015); Mira Sucharov, “Left-wing NGOs in Israel: Wear your 'badge of shame' with pride,” Haaretz (December 31, 2015); Ari Shavit, “Why I broke my silence,” Haaretz (December 16, 2015).

[23] Times of Israel staff,   “Ex-IDF general takes out ad to support Breaking the Silence,” The Times of Israel (December 18, 2015); Times of Israel staff, “Ex-Shin Bet chief, -top cop support Breaking the Silence,” The Times of Israel (December 22, 2015); Marissa Newman, “PM, opposition chief spar over Breaking the Silence, anti-Rivlin comments,” The Times of Israel (December 16, 2015); see also Haaretz Editorial, “Israel needs Breaking the Silence,” Haaretz (March 20, 2016).

[24] Matti Friedman, “An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth,” Tablet (August 26, 2014); Matti Friedman, “What the Media Gets Wrong About Israel,” The Atlantic (November 30, 2014).

[25] Friedman, “The Latest "Breaking the Silence" Report Isn't Journalism. It's Propaganda,” op.cit.

[26] Levick, op.cit; Dan Smith, “Assessing The UN's OCHA “Gaza Crisis Atlas 2014″ Report,” Israellycool (August 24, 2014); Two examples of blaming Israel without historical background or perspective, Alice Su, 'Gaza Is Hell,'” The Atlantic (May 2, 2015); Ari Yashar, “Abbas's Fatah Brags of Terror Attacks in Gaza Operation,” Israel National News (September 16, 2014).

[27] Levick, op.cit.

[28] Friedman,” The Latest "Breaking the Silence" Report Isn't Journalism. It's Propaganda,” op.cit; for a description of what the IDF to limit civilian casualties, see Lt. Col. (res.) David Benjamin, “Israel, Gaza and Humanitarian Law: Efforts to Limit Civilian Casualties,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (2014); Elad and Lital, “Why I Tour The U.S. As An Israeli Soldier,” The Jewish Week (May 15, 2015); Adam Taylor, “‘Roof knocking': The Israeli military’s tactic of phoning Palestinians it is about to bomb,” The Washington Post (July 9, 2014).

[29] Marvin Kalb and Carol Saivetz, "The Israeli-Hezbollah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict," Shorenstein Center John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (February 18, 2007): 10-11; Margaret Sullivan, “The Conflict and the Coverage,” The New York Times (November 22, 2014).

[29] Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, “Submission to the United Nation Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict,” (February 21, 2015); Pnina Sharvit Baruch, “Operation Protective Edge: The Legal Angle,” Antat Kurz and Shlomo Brom, Eds. “The Lessons of Operation Protective Edge,” (Tel-Aviv: The Institute for National Security Studies, 2014), 66-70; Ami Ayalon, “Israel’s Response Is Proportionate to Hamas’s Threat,” The New York Times (July 23, 2014); Janina Dill, “Applying the Principle of Proportionality in Combat Operations,” Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, University of Oxford, (December 2010),; Eric H. Yoffie, “The Bizarre Moral Criticism Against Israel – What Does It Mean to Say that Casualties Are ‘Disproportionate’?” TIME (July 14, 2014); Stephanie Gutmann, “The Body-Count Cliché – The Victim-Loving Western Media Have a Weakness for Palestinians,” National Review (July 11, 2014).

[30] Kemp, “Submission to the United Nation Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict,” op.cit.

[31] Ibid.

[32]David Alexander, “Israel tried to limit civilian casualties in Gaza: U.S. military chief,” Reuters (November 6, 2014).

[33] Reuters, “Dempsey: Israel Went to 'Extraordinary Length' to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Gaza,” Haaretz (November 7, 2014).

[34] “Key Preliminary Findings of the High Level International Military Group on the Gaza Conflict,” Human Rights Council (June 12, 2015).

[35] Ibid.

[36] “2014 Gaza War Assessment: The New Face of Conflict: A report by the JINSA-commissioned Gaza Conflict Task Force,” (March 2015): 7. 8, 10, 32-33.

[37] Ibid. 7.

[38] Ibid. 12.

[39] Emily Amrousi, 'We do not sanctify death,'” Israel Hayom (June 22, 2012).

[40] Asa Kasher, “The Ethics of Protective Edge,” Jewish Review of Books (Fall 2014).

[41] Dore Gold, “New “Breaking the Silence” Report Maliciously Defames Israel,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (May 5, 2015); Sherman, op.cit.

[42]Nadav Weiman, “Why I Broke the Silence,” Haaretz (June 30, 2015).

[43] Robbie Sabel, “The Campaign to Delegitimize Israel with the False Charge of Apartheid,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (2009); Hi Matar, “Why do so many Israelis hate Breaking the Silence?’ op.cit.

[44] Alex Grobman, “Recognizing Israel as the Jewish State: Part I,” Israel National News (May 8, 2016); Khaled Abu Toameh, “Why Palestinians Cannot Make Peace with Israel,” Gatestone Institute (July 13, 2015); Chloé Valdary “An Unwelcome Palestinian Reformer,” The Wall Street Journal(July 29, 2015); Khaled Abu Toameh, “Who Is Destroying the Palestinian Dream?” Gatestone Institute (August 3, 2015).

[45] “Gerald Steinberg, “Publication of Israeli soldiers' accounts clouded by political agenda,” Sydney Morning Herald (May 9, 2015); “Breaking the Silence: Details of European Government Funding,” NGO Monitor (December 20, 2015).

[46] Steinberg, “An Irresponsible Civil Society Harms Israel,” op.cit.

[48] “Europe to Breaking the Silence: Bring Us As Many Incriminating Testimonies As Possible,” NGO Monitor (May 4, 2015); Jake Wallis Simons, “Why are European powers (and Oxfam) funding a radical Israeli group?” The Telegraph (December 17, 2013);Breaking the Silence (Shovrim Shtika) NGO Monitor (March 15, 2015); Lori Lowenthal Marcus, “Behind Breaking the Silence: Foreign Funding, Bounty Hunting, and Hypocrisy,”The Jewish Press (May 11, 2015); “Watchdog: ‘Breaking the Silence’ was Paid to Incriminate IDF,” The Tower (May 6, 2015); see also, “Analysis: I Don’t Trust the AP’s Report on Civilian Deaths in Gaza and Neither Should You,” the Algemeiner (February 14, 2015); “Investigate Israel’s political leadership over civilian deaths in Gaza,” Haaretz (May 6, 2015); Booth, “New report details how Israeli soldiers killed civilians in Gaza,” op.cit; Peter Beaumont, “Israeli soldiers cast doubt on legality of Gaza military tactics,” The Guardian (May 4, 2105).

[49]Jake Wallis Simons, “Why are European powers (and Oxfam) funding a radical Israeli group?” The Telegraph (December 17, 2013).

[50] Friedman, “The Latest ‘Breaking the Silence’ Report,” op.cit; (

[51] “Correspondence Between NGO Monitor and Zurich Municipality Regarding Breaking the Silence, NGO Monitor (May 20, 2015); http: //; David Daoud, “Public Funding for Swiss ‘Breaking the Silence’ Event Stuns Local Jewish Community,” the Algemeiner (May 20, 2015).

[52] Yair Ashkenazi, “Breaking the Silence in Israel by treading the boards in Washington,” Haaretz (August 3, 2015);

[53] Ibid.

[54] Ibid.

[55]Elad and Lital, “Why I Tour The U.S. As An Israeli Soldier,” op.cit.

[56] The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Unit (COGAT) (

[57] Elad and Lital, op.cit.

[58] Anthony, “Breaking the Silence abroad: A statement by Our Soldiers Speak and Ron Ben-Yishai,” op.cit.

[59] Michael Maoz, “No need to break the silence,” Israel Hayom (December 24, 2015).

[60] Ibid; see also Yoni Kempinski, “'The IDF is the most moral army in the world,'” Israel National News (December 21, 2015).

[61] Yoni Kempinski, “'Breaking the Silence has crossed the line into sabotage,'” Israel National News (December 20, 2015).

[62] Moshe Arens, “Breaking the Silence's smear campaign only serves Israel's enemies,” Haaretz (January 18, 2016).

[63] Raphael Ahren, “Why does Europe fund left-wing Israeli groups?” The Times of Israel (January 7, 2016).

[64] Raphael Ahren, “Why does Europe fund left-wing Israeli groups?” The Times of Israel (January 7, 2016).

[65] Haaretz editorial, “NGO bill: Assault on democracy or legitimate effort to guard against foreign intervention?” Haaretz (December 27, 2015); Allison Kaplan Sommer, “When John Kerry Was the Soldier 'Breaking the Silence',” Haaretz (December 21, 2015); Steven Klein, “Labeling Jews: Left-wing NGOs, wear a yellow star in the Knesset,” Haaretz (December 30, 2015); Asa Fitch, “Israeli Measure Would Require Disclosure From Foreign-Funded Nonprofits,” The Wall Street Journal (December 27, 2015); Washington Post Editorial Board “A danger to Israeli democracy,” The Washington Post  (January 2, 2016); Uri Keidar, “Calling out the two liberals who can stop Israel's NGO bill,” Haaretz (January 11, 2016); Barak Ravid, “Ambassador Shapiro tells Minister Shaked: U.S. concerned by 'NGO transparency bill,'” Haaretz (January 11, 2016).

[66] Steinberg, “An Irresponsible Civil Society Harms Israel,” op.cit; Jonathan Lis, “Israeli ministers to vote on bill seeking to out foreign-funded NGOs,” Haaretz (December 24, 2015).

[67] Henry Siegman, “Does America really "share values" with today’s Israel?” Haaretz (December 30, 2015); Don Futterman, “Defame, don't engage: The witch hunt against Breaking the Silence,” Haaretz (December 20, 2015); Jonathan Lis and Sharon Pulwer, “Justice Minister Shaked is 'Neo-Nazi scum,' says Hebrew University professor,” Haaretz (December 28, 2015).

[68] Ahrens, op.cit.

[69] Barak Ravid, “Minister Shaked to U.S.: Israel is a strong democracy, do not intervene in our legislation,” Haaretz (January 11, 2016); Herb Keinon, “EU-linked group gives B’Tselem 30,000 euros to fight ‘NGO transparency’ bill,” The Jerusalem Post (January 10, 2016).

[70] “URJ President: We're Opposed to Israeli Legislation on NGOs,” Union for Reform Judaism (January 12, 2016); Cynthia Blank, “ADL joins chorus of US 'concern' over NGO Transparency Law,” Israel National News (January 12, 2016); AJC Statement on Proposed Israeli NGO Law,” AJC Global Jewish Advocacy (January 5, 2016).

[71] Steinberg, “An Irresponsible Civil Society Harms Israel,” op.cit.

[72] Ibid; Gerald Steinberg, “The Issues Behind Israel's NGO Law,” (January 6, 2015).

[73] MacEoin, op.cit; “New legislation targets Israeli NGOs,” op.cit.

               [74] Soeren Kern, “Austria Passes Reforms to 1912 Islam Law,” Gatestone (February 27, 20