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BtS and their ilk only serve to feed BDS’ fire




Breaking the Silence: abusing human rights, foreign funding and feeding Israeli boycotts

Following Operation “Defensive Shield”, launched by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in April 2002 after the intensification of terrorist bombings including the infamous Passover Seder suicide attack in Netanya, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) helped spread the false blood libel that the IDF committed a massacre in Jenin. As an English-speaking oleh (I made aliyah from South Africa in 1998 and served in the IDF soon after), 

Sacks Shaun TVI was invited to participate in a privately-funded speaking tour of North America, meant to promote a better understanding of Israel and its people by speaking about our experiences as military reservists.

RIGHT: Sacks is a commentator who frequently appears in Israeli media and around the world

We shared the moral dilemmas we faced, including booby-trapped civilian structures and complex situations that included armed terrorist mixing with non-combatants.

As our delegation was privately funded, completely separate from any government agency or political party, we freely expressed ourselves and demonstrated the diversity within Israeli society.

Today, a new storm is brewing in Israel, focused on the impact of political NGOs and “civil society” groups that receive funding from foreign governments. 

Unlike private funding from philanthropic individuals and foundations, governments exercise sovereign power, and state interference or manipulation of civil society organisations in other countries violates that sovereignty.

At the centre of Israel’s intense political debate surrounding NGOs and their generous government funders is the Israeli organisation “Breaking the Silence” (BtS).

Abandons society and alienates supporters 

BtS is an NGO comprising former soldiers, which publishes testimonies from combatants claiming to have witnessed or heard about wrongdoings during their military service. BtS activists travel the world appearing in parliaments, on university campuses, media platforms, and absurdly biased UN frameworks, all while claiming to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”.   

Rather than focus exclusively in Israel to influence and advance genuine discussion on concerns such as the military’s role in Israeli society or the question of IDF activities, Palestinian civilians, and open-fire procedures, BtS turns outwards. The group abandons Israeli society and alienates its supporters by presenting anecdotal, anonymous (in most cases), and unverifiable allegations of misconduct committed by soldiers to an international audiences unfamiliar with Israeli military nuance and the complicated nature of combatting terror groups.

Instead of working in Israel, BtS world tours feed the vicious BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) campaign targeting Israel, by working with groups that support BDS. For example, in 2013, Yehuda Shaul (BtS cofounder) participated in an event organised by Open Shuhada Street, a South African organisations that has sponsored activities such as Israeli Apartheid Week, signed a letter calling for the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador, and openly support boycott campaigns against Israeli corporations and South African companies that source products from Israel. They also protested musician Pharrell Williams for acting as a spokesperson for Woolworths (which sources products from Israeli companies – the logic of BDS is dizzying).

Another example took place in 2015, when Shaul participated in a conference with Paix Juste, (Luxembourg Committee for a Just Peace in the Middle East). Paix Juste promotes BDS and is a member of the European Co-ordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP). ECCP promotes BDS and a “return of all Palestinian refugees” and their descendants to pre-1948 Israel, effectively seeking to negate the Jewish state of Israel. 

Demonising IDF, not promoting human rights


BtS attempts to portray itself as part of a “beleaguered” Israeli “human rights community”. However, its core objective (“ending the occupation”) is political, using the language of human rights to advance its cause. This is belied by the fact that significant BtS funders conditioned their grants on the NGO obtaining a minimum number of negative “testimonies” to publish outside of Israel.

This conditioning indicates they are more interested in demonising Israel and the IDF, as opposed to promoting human rights.

While advocating for political positions is legitimate, foreign government funding and use of NGOs to advance political goals is a form of neocolonialism, whereby foreign officials are trying to use their NGO allies to circumvent the Israeli electorate. 

Many individuals and groups, with varying political opinions, travel the world talking about Israel. This includes former diplomats and officials who lobby for both BDS and lawfare against Israel, as well as pro-Israel groups that speak about the diversity of Israeli society and urge audiences to educate themselves, so they can speak up against verbal attacks, defamations and false blood libels against Israel.

BtS activists are free to exercise their right to free speech and association, but this does not render them immune to informed criticism and repercussion. But it also must face the consequences of soliciting funds from foreign governments that wish to force political change on Israeli society and associating with BDS supporters. Accordingly, Breaking the Silence is regarded by the majority of Israelis, including centrist politicians, as merely another politicised NGO using the language of human rights in order to tap into the lucrative market of hostile NGOs that travel the world demonising the Jewish State.  

  • Shaun Sacks is a researcher at NGO MONITOR, a Jerusalem-based research institute. He is on the European Desk. More of his work can  be found HERE

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. nat cheiman

    Jan 5, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    ‘Traitors. To inform on fellow Jews is a sin for which there is no pardon.’

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