Whenever someone tells me that they want to better Israeli society, I’m all on board. I get excited about helping the Jewish State improve itself. There’s still a lot to do, and every time I can do something, I know I am helping many future generations. So, when Breaking the Silence (BtS) came to my campus, I should have been thrilled. Knowing what I did about the organization, though, I was upset that an organization which de-legitimizes Israel through its routine obfuscation of the facts (and its funding) was coming to campus.
The goal on their website is to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” Yet, many Israeli soldiers have come out claiming that their testimonies were recorded without their permission, falsified, or taken out of context. Its website has a whole section on transparency, but fails fails to mention that some of the interviews were done without the soldiers’ knowledge. “They didn’t mention that they were going to record me,” said Josh Levitan, a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Even soldiers who served with BtS’s main Diaspora spokesperson, Avner Gvaryahu, have claimed that he is making claims up. As it is best put in the Algemeiner: “I was there every night during the period he [Gvaryahu] talks about,” says one former member of Gvaryahu’s staff, at the opening of the video. Nothing happened “the way he describes,” he said.
Recently, a video came out where a group former soldiers tells a man who served with them, Dean Issacharoff, a member of BtS, that he has lied when describing his army experiences when on tour with the organization. And it is not just those who served under him who are in this video — it is his direct commander, crew commander, and soldiers; it is other fighters in his unit, soldiers who saw his testimony, and his company commander who tell him that the story that he tells audiences across Israel (and through BtS’s videos, across the world) is false. A whole unit, full of people of varying political leanings and backgrounds, came out against one person’s false testimony.
If all this information is public, I have to wonder why student organizations which claim to advance the cause of peace are so interested in bringing BtS to campus, an organization which holds opposing goals. BtS says that it has the same goal as these students, but has consistently shown that they want to “improve the state” by using false or coerced testimonies. By bringing them to our campuses, we tacitly support their work. We should support any endeavor that encourages transparency and truth-telling in Israel. BtS does not encourage either.
BtS is so uninterested in transparency and truth-telling in Israel that a large swath of their funders is foreign, meaning that BtS has to cater to their political interests. Some of their funders include the Danish Lutheran organization Dan Church Aid, the French Catholic group CCFD-Terre Solidaire, the governments of Norway and Switzerland, and other similar organizations. If BtS truly wanted to reform Israeli society for the better, wouldn’t it keep the interests of the Israeli — not Swedish, Norwegian, Danish or French — public and government at heart?
BtS is so interested in foreign audiences that it spends enormous amounts of time and energy translating its reports into English so that they can be published in international newspapers, like the Washington Post, instead of Israeli papers which can reach the audience that supposedly needs to hear the organization’s exhortation to change. BtS is so interested in foreign audiences that it sends it representatives to speak all around the world, in places like American campuses, with a large majority of American students, where students allegedly “need” to learn about BtS’s message. Students, then, need to ask themselves, if they are helping Israel or if they are being used by BtS if they are listening to their representatives come to their American campuses.
Please note that censoring BtS is not my intention, as it certainly has the right to tell students about their views. But students must absolutely question the validity of everything they gear. If they truly want to help Israelis and Palestinians, they have to do the research research. If students want to do good, they cannot rely on whatever an organization is telling them, regardless of political affiliation. They must rely exclusively on the facts.