Suspicions Raised that Breaking the Silence May Have Sought Classified Information

Israel’s Channel 2 has aired an investigation alleging that Breaking the Silence, a group with the stated goal of ending the occupation of Palestinian territories, collected potentially classified information about IDF operations, I24 News reported on Thursday.

In its investigation, Channel 2 cited unpublished testimonies from Israeli soldiers that were obtained by the right-wing NGO Ad Kan, which sent some of its members to join Breaking the Silence undercover. The report claimed that Breaking the Silence collected “operational and intelligence” information about IDF activities from both current and former soldiers.

Channel 2 also broadcast videos of Breaking the Silence asking soldiers “questions [that] appear to revolve more around their operational activity rather issues regarding Palestinians and human rights.”

While Breaking the Silence says it gathers anonymous testimonies from Israeli soldiers about the IDF’s purported human rights abuses, these testimonies have been previously criticized as being unsubstantiated and lacking context. In recent months, the group has come under increased scrutiny over the ethics of its practices.

In the wake of the new Channel 2 report, Breaking the Silence denied any wrongdoing and emphasized that it works closely with Israel’s military censor. Breaking the Silence CEO Yuli Novak added that several organizations and members of the Knesset were trying “to silence” her group.

Channel 2 ran a report in January, also based on evidence gathered by Ad Kan, which led to the arrest of prominent left-wing activist Ephraim Nawi. In secret recordings, Nawi was heard boasting that he helped the Palestinian Authority identify Palestinians who sold land to Jews. Selling land to Jews is a capital offense under the PA’s penal code.

Last year, the watchdog group NGO Monitor released the terms of a deal Breaking the Silence signed with the British organization OxFam, which showed that Breaking the Silence was being explicitly directed to incriminate the IDF.

Ron Ben-Yishai, a decorated IDF veteran and journalist who covered Israeli security affairs for 46 years, wrote in December that Breaking the Silence “actively cultivates, perhaps unwittingly, both anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism among those with an already strong prejudice against the State of Israel and its citizens.”

In How Non-Governmental Organizations Became a Weapon in the War on Israel, which was published in the February 2016 issue of The Tower Magazine, Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, wrote about a subsequent investigative report involving Breaking the Silence and Nawi.

The broadcast became headline news and the fallout continued for weeks. Nawi was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport when he tried to flee the country. A few days later, a follow-up program aired more hidden-camera footage, this time showing Nawi with officials from two other prominent “human rights” NGOs—Breaking the Silence (BtS) and Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR). Both groups were shown giving money to Nawi, who then handed out checks to Palestinians, apparently for taking part in violent demonstrations. RHR claimed that Nawi was paid for providing transportation services. BtS denounced everyone involved in the program as “Stasi,” a reference to the notorious East German intelligence service.

Steinberg observed that even before the broadcast of Nawi with representatives of Breaking the Silence, there was growing criticism of the group across the political spectrum in Israel.

Prior to the Uvda broadcasts, BtS and its patrons were the particular focus of growing anger among many Israelis on the Right, center, and even the center-Left. This anger followed a major jump in the visibility of BtS, which reflected the group’s million- dollar budget. BtS events in churches, universities, and national parliaments around the world featured “anonymous testimony” that alleged systematic immorality by IDF soldiers, with no corroborating evidence.

In response, hundreds of IDF reserve officers petitioned the Minister of Defense, demanding that BtS activists be barred from speaking on military bases. In parallel, relatives of terror victims and fallen soldiers demanded that Education Minister Naftali Bennett prohibit BtS from speaking to high school students. NGOs like B’Tselem were also criticized. On Israel’s popular Saturday night satire program Gav Hauma, host Lior Schleien did a ten-minute routine based on the issue, primarily lampooning BtS and related NGOs.

[Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90 ]