In violation of the National Hillel Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities, St. Louis Hillel at Washington University is hosting Israel bashing group Breaking the Silence (BtS). The group is invited by J Street U Wash U, which is a student group affiliated with Hillel according to the organization's website. The event is scheduled to take place on March 31st at 7:30 PM in the Hillel house.
The event description on Facebook states: “Former Israel soldier Oded Na'aman speaks about life in the occupied territories. Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military and have taken it upon themselves to expose the public to the reality of everyday life in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.”
However, Breaking the Silence demonizes the State of Israel, oftentimes with anonymous and unverified testimonies. Founder Itamar Shapira has stated that “We [Israelis] are creating the terror against us.”
Ironically, in J Street’s attack of the new film The J Street Challenge, the organization stated that the movie contains “numerous inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies.” J Street U Wash U has made no such claim regarding Breaking the Silence. The Jewish Student Union at the University of California at Berkeley elected to reject J Street U from its organization in part due to J Street U's association with BtS.
The current National Hillel Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities prohibit speakers who “Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel.”
In December, Hillel International president Eric Fingerhut stated:
Let me be very clear – “anti-Zionists” will not be permitted to speak using the Hillel name or under the Hillel roof, under any circumstances. Hillel recognizes, of course, that “organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice” violate these guidelines may well be welcomed on campus, according to the policies of the particular college or university. The Hillel on campus, however, may not partner with or host such groups or speakers.”
Haaretz reporter Amos Harel has stated:
“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."
In January 2014, Josh Bacon of The Jewish Chronicle Online wrote an article, "Breaking the Silence is part of the problem in the Israel debate." He said:
Instead of working against demonization, Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence is part of the problem, providing a thin veneer of Jewish justification for campaigns that single out Israel by exploiting human rights and other moral claims."
Bacon described Breaking the Silence's political agenda and the organization's affliliation with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement:
This political agenda is widely supported by blatantly anti-Israel groups such as the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, which hosted a “special event” in co-operation with BtS on October 21 2013. Jewish Voice for Peace, which promotes boycott, divestment, and sanctions, and seeks to “drive a wedge” within the Jewish community, co-sponsored a BtS event in California."
In June 2013, former IDF Spokesman Barak Raz took to Facebook to condemn Breaking the Silence:
I debated for quite a while whether or not to share my thoughts on the organization "Breaking the Silence. While I can stand a lot, "I can't stands it no more" - so here it is:
"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.
I don't know about you, but I was always taught that if you are not a part of the answer, you are a part of the problem!
And why do I say this? For several reasons - among them are two that jump out at me:
1. We at the IDF (commanders, military advocates, military police investigators, and even spokespeople) have called on the organization several times to provide us with the means to respond to their claims - be it by providing us with drafts of their reports prior to publications, or by providing us with more, accountable details. Either of these steps would allow for thorough investigations, possibly leading to the opening of criminal investigations and legal proceedings. "Breaking the Silence" has not answered our (sometimes even public) calls.
2. The information used by "Breaking the Silence" by and large seems to derive from two sources - unverifiable hearsay or accounts from anonymous former soldiers who, sometimes, they themselves deserve to be behind bars in military prison for what they did! (That's right... I said it! And that's right, if I had the authority to, I would jail them myself!!)
Also - some things worth mentioning about the IDF:
1. Did you know that the IDF has standing orders, regulations, and an ethical code (Spirit of the IDF:http://bit.ly/RORWvx)? These not only require soldiers to act according to the law, but also to report instances when things were otherwise.
2. Did you know that the IDF also has a standing order that PROHIBITS soldiers from following illegal orders, and requires them to report it... immediately?
These two points lead me to ask why these anonymous soldiers didn't "break their silence" to the right authorities accordingly, properly, and in a timely manner.
The IDF is a military that holds itself to the highest of standards and prides itself on its ability to self-investigate through processes that are NOT subordinate to any military commander. Even the IDF Chief of the General Staff can't prevent or stop an investigation!
Furthermore, as has been communicated publicly in the past, the Military Advocate General and IDF commanders honor reports submitted by NGOs, IGOs, and other human rights organizations as a way to obtain information about instances that SHOULD be investigated.
While we don't necessarily see eye to eye on all issues with some of the organizations we are in contact with - there is one critical thing we do see eye to eye with - BEING IN CONTACT!
There is a certain level of integrity and accountability on the part of both, the IDF and the organizations who meet with us, that helps each of us do what we feel is right to help solve complex, and sometimes problematic, issues.
Certainly with the complex security situation we face in Israel, there won't necessarily always be perfection on the ground. But, in light of our critical mission to defend Israel and our nature of being a military of the people - it is imperative that we strive for it!
So while I can honor organizations that speak with us, meet with us, share information with us - I cannot say the same for "Breaking the Silence," which, as I said earlier, is not seeking to be a part of the answer. I can only be left with the understanding that they are, in fact, a part of the problem.