Why did Obama National Security and State Department officials meet with Israeli leftist NGO Breaking the Silence to provide maligned ‘testimonies’ of IDF reservists about allegations of “revenge firing” on Palestinians during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge? Especially, since testimonies of fellow serving IDF reservists who appeared on IsraelChannel 2 in early May 2015 said the ‘testimonies” were a pack of lies. Earlier this week Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called out the Swiss Foreign Ministry for funding a photographic exhibit mounted by Breaking the Silence. This is not the first time for an Israeli objection to foreign programs funding programs of the leftist group. A prior episode occurred following the 2009 Operation Cast Lead when groups in The Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK launching similar disinformation efforts maligning IDF self-defense operations against the rocket wars in Gaza perpetrated by Hamas.
Breaking the Silence was formed in 2004 during the Second Intifada. NGO Monitor reported the following sources of the group’s funds:
2013/4 donors include the European Union, Misereor (Germany), Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Norway, AECID (Spain), Dan Church Aid (Denmark), ICCO (Netherlands), CCFD (France), Human Rights and International Law Secretariat (joint funding from Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands), Sigrid Rausing Trust (UK), SIVMO (Netherlands), Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Open Society Institute, New Israel Fund, and others
Based on financial information submitted to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, in accordance with the Israeli NGO transparency law, BtS received 992,901 NIS from foreign governmental bodies in 2014 and 1,271,368 NIS in 2013 (accessed March 15, 2014).
Received two grants from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund totaling $145,000 (2012-2015).
Matt Duss, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, known for its agitation against Israeli settlement policies in the disputed territories, escorted the Breaking the Silence representatives to both Obama NSC and State Department Human Rights meetings. This is another instance of Israeli leftists being given entre by the Obama Administration seeking to delegitimize the conduct of IDF front line soldiers during combat in Gaza against the rocket and terror tunnel wars of Hamas. This has infuriated Ministry of Defense and IDF commanders from the platoon level on up to the Chief of Staff.
Here are excerpts from a Ha’aretz report about yesterday’s Breaking the Silence meetings in Washington:
Senior White House officials met this week with members of the left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence. The meeting, the first of its kind, dealt with testimonies that the organization had collected on alleged human-rights violations by the Israel Defense Forces during last summer’s war in Gaza. The meetings were held a few days after Israel’s Foreign Ministry tried to get a Breaking the Silence exhibition to be held in Switzerland canceled.
Matt Duss, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, organized the meeting between Breaking the Silence representatives and members of the White House National Security Council.
The meeting did not take place at the White House but at the offices of an American nonprofit in the capital.
A Breaking the Silence representative also held a separate meeting at the State Department with senior officials in its human rights bureau.
Duss told Ha’aretz that during the meetings, Breaking the Silence presented its recent report last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. Obama administration officials reacted with a great deal of interest, Duss said, asking “many questions about the vetting process of the witnesses, the testimonies and the fact-checking.”
According to Duss, the fact that both White House staff and the State Department held meetings with Breaking the Silence shows that the organization has an open door to the administration.
“It is in line with what Obama said recently. These are the shared values between Israel and the United States – wanting to improve our society,” said Duss. This is Washington recognizing “they are young Israeli patriots who are trying to improve their society,” he added.
An Obama Administration official said: “U.S. Government officials met with Breaking the Silence, as we routinely meet with a range of actors from official and non-official international groups, including from civil society.”
The State Department also responded, “Officers from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with a representative from the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. The State Department regularly meets with a broad array of political and civil society organizations from various countries worldwide.”
Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, Yigal Caspi, lodged a protest with the Swiss Foreign Ministry over it, and asked that donations and support for a group that deals with the “defamation of Israel” be halted.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who this week called for action against the Breaking the Silence exhibition, said the organization “is working against Israel from within,” adding, “We will not ignore it when an organization whose whole purpose is to defame IDF soldiers works in the international arena to seriously damage Israel’s image.”
In early May 2015 several soldiers and officers who served in a tank unit appeared on Israeli Channel 2. The Algemeiner reported their contrasting comments disputing testimonies acquired by Breaking the Silence. The soldiers spoke on Israel’s Channel 2 to give their side of the story to counter the testimonies compiled by Breaking the Silence.
One soldier called the report “a wicked story” and a “stab in the back.”
Another soldier, Lt. Oren (a pseudonym), was a platoon commander in the 7th Brigade during the previous Operation Cast Lead, which began in late 2008. The Breaking the Silence report claimed that one of the tank commanders in Oren’s platoon carried out a “revenge attack” by targeting civilian houses in Gaza.
Oren refuted the claim, saying “this nonsense about ‘fire on the house that you want for revenge’ is simply a total lie.”
He said “it is very hard for me to believe that one of ours said something like that, definitely not someone who was there.”
Oren, who was personally involved in the operation, told a different story.
He said that any “revenge” incident might have occurred after Armored Core Capt. Dmitri Levitas (26) was killed in battle, but that the Breaking the Silence testimony “simply is not true.”
He said despite the fact that he and his fellow soldiers were severely affected by the death of Levitas, “we maintained combat ethics.”
“While it’s true there was heavy [IDF] fire, this fire was directed at positions from which we were being fired upon, or suspicious locations,” he recalled.
IDF tanks only fired “in accordance with procedure, and after a very strict identification process,” he said.
Oren emphasized that despite “losing a great commander and friend … we still abided by shooting procedure.”
A decade ago I attended a presentation at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut by an IDF Sgt, a refusenik reservist. Anti-Israel and BDS leftist group Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) sponsored the event at Wesleyan. The IDF reservist had served a term in a military jail for refusing to serve with his unit in the disputed territories during the Second Intifada. The packed amphitheater lecture hall was filled with attentive students and some faculty listening to the reservist rationale about why he refused to serve because of alleged human rights problems occasioned by Israeli occupation. When it came time for Q&A I raised my hand, was recognized by the moderator. I asked the refuseniks IDF Sgt. if he knew anything about the group he was marching with at his next stop in San Francisco. He said, “no”. I told both he and the audience that ANSWER, the sponsoring group was rabidly anti-Semitic. I explained that the ADL considered A.N.S.W.E.R one of the leading anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic groups in the US. A.N.S.W.E.R stands for Act Now to Stop War and Racism. The ADL also considered the JVP on the leading anti-Zionist groups in the U.S. The refusenik sheepishly smiled and scurried off in a clutch of admiring students and faculty for refreshments shepherded by his JVP minders.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.