Members of the pro-Israel community are outraged at the decision of St. Louis Hillel at Washington University to host the Israeli Defense Force-bashing group Breaking the Silence (BtS). Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, was critical of the decision to host BtS. She told TruthRevolt, "It's a mistake to host the group, Breaking the Silence, because they promote ill will toward the State of Israel through their presentation of half-truths and lies."
When reached via email, NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg told TruthRevolt that Breaking the Silence receives part of its budget from individuals who support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement:
The central issue is how tainted money buys preferential influence and skews the Israel debate on campus, particular in Jewish venues such as Hillel. Tiny radical groups like "Breaking the Silence" are able to flood the market of ideas through travel and PR budgets from hard-core Israel-bashers and BDSers. Hillel has an obligation to provide equal access to some of the thousands of IDF veterans who can expose the false claims from self-promoting fringe groups and their allies. Without such access, the claims of free and open debate are hollow and readily abused for incitement.
In an article titled "Hillel is Not The Place For Anti-Israel Discussion," Russell Robinson, CEO of Jewish National Fund, expressed concern about anti-Israel events in Hillel:
I have witnessed time after time, speakers that condemn Israel do so without being properly vetted and fact-checked. Often listeners absorb every word as though it were based on facts when it is nothing more than biased opinion and misinformed rhetoric.
David Eden, Chief Administrative Officer at Hillel International, defended the decision of St. Louis Hillel at Washington University. He told TruthRevolt via email that Breaking the Silence (BtS) falls within the National Hillel Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities:
The Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis followed appropriate procedures in deciding to host a representative from the group known as “Breaking the Silence.” They did so after careful deliberation, and within our Israel guidelines, as did the Hillels at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Maryland when they hosted persons from this group. Hillel International believes it is important to provide a diversity of opinions, across the broad political spectrum, for students, so they can see and hear for themselves and therefore make informed judgments. The staff at the Washington University Hillel is taking special care to frame this program appropriately in an educational fashion and in a safe space, which is so important on today’s college campuses.
The current guidelines prohibit speakers who “Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel; Support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; Exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”
Executive Director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), Asaf Romirowsky, wrote against Breaking the Silence in June 2013 in the aftermath of former IDF Spokesman Barak Raz's criticism of the NGO:
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."