Once again the fallacies of the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS) are making headlines, this time directly from the IDF. Barak Raz, spokesman for the IDF's Judea and Samaria Division, correctly blasted the group and its actions, stating that "Breaking the Silence is an organization that engages in nothing – but nothing – other than a smear campaign targeting the IDF. This smear campaign has nothing to do with rooting out their observed problem. Furthermore, none of their work helps the IDF (or Israel, for that matter) provide a solution."
Notwithstanding such criticisms, BtS has become the poster child for groups like J Street and others on many North American campuses that want to engage in "honest debate" about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In reality these groups do nothing more than fuel a skewed view of Israel in order to pressure Israel to succumb to Palestinian demands, thereby only contributing to the isolation of the Jewish state. Further, it is also the pervasive tactic employed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in their political warfare against Israel.
The adaptation of soft power by the pro- Palestinian camps and far-left Jewish groups is one of the main vehicles used in this political warfare. Breaking the Silence plays a central role in this agenda, now spearheaded by J Street. In 2008, before J Street was founded, BtS was disseminating its message on campuses like the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard through a photo exhibit showing the "egregious acts" of the IDF, mostly in Hebron.
At the time, I wrote that the exhibit was completely one-sided and portrayed Israel unfairly. The presentation lacked any context or proportionality whatsoever.
It did not present – or even attempt to present – the complexity of the political and military situation in the West Bank and Gaza. Rather, the exhibit sought to present a distorted image of Israel, its people and its defense forces. Since then BtS has produced a 431-page publication entitled Occupation of the Territories – Israeli Soldier Testimonies 2000-2010 that claims to "describe an offensive policy that includes annexation of territory, terrorizing and tightening the control over the civilian population."
J Street, which was founded in April of 2008, is now using the group to cascade its message of "peace and co-existence" to students through BtS. J Street has attempted to sell its agenda as the alternative to the "mainstream" and demand that the tent of the Jewish community stretch to include views that at times are harmful to State of Israel under the guise of openness.
Consequently, according to a statement written by J Street in The Daily Pennsylvanian this past March, "Breaking the Silence is an organization of former Israel Defense Forces soldiers who speak openly about their experiences serving in the West Bank and Gaza. They shed light on the price of military occupation for both Israelis and Palestinians and argue that bringing it to an end is in Israel's best long-term interests. The most important goal of Breaking the Silence is to foster dialogue and awareness about the facts on the ground. This, above all, is why we wanted to host them."
The fact of the matter is that Breaking the Silence, as IDF spokesman Raz underscores, is hardly representative of the IDF, and its goal is not to foster dialogue.
Rather, it is an Israeli fringe group funded by mostly non-Israelis to collect testimonies from soldiers who shared their "horrific experiences" while fueling an image of Israel as the worst violator of human rights. A concomitant message used by the pro-Palestinian supporters to sell to the Western media outlets. The difficulty here is that these myths are now being perpetuated by former Israeli soldiers.
Journalist Amos Harel wrote about the group in Haaretz (Gaza testimonies/Diverting the debate from the real issue, July 16, 2009): "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 BtS campaign has taken its cues directly from the Durban playbook, with the goal of discrediting the IDF using repeated accusations of "war crimes," "genocide" and "apartheid" – all of this is at the core of the Palestinian weltanschauung which is now subscribed to by groups like BtS.
Notwithstanding the above, BtS is welcomed by Hillels and other Jewish groups in order to offer its students a "diverse" point of views when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While diversity and openness is a positive attribute of academia this program does not represent a true discourse of the reality but rather one that is aimed to demonize and isolate Israel by Israelis.
Benjamin Franklin once said that "we are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid."
It would behoove such groups to remember Franklin's words when they consider such "educational programs."
Mainstream Jewish groups have a responsibility to their stakeholders to establish clear lines that they will uphold while affording their constituents a wide range of opinions that fall within the realm of legitimate debate and public discourse. Being a "big tent" shouldn't mean killing yourself.