Cynics would quote the old joke about the man lying on his deathbed and begging his doctor to write in his death certificate that he died of syphilis rather than of dysentery, so that he would at least be remembered as a man rather than as a nobody. President Reuven Rivlin, who is increasingly turning out to be the sane response to our leadership, had no problem meeting with German Minister Sigmar Gabriel, although Rivlin’s views cannot be seen as more leftist than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s. They are simply smarter.
What did Netanyahu achieve from this crisis he created with the German government? Or is it possible that he is also sensing that Germany is about to nix the submarine deal, and he wants it to be engraved in the national memory that the deal was cancelled due to firm national standing rather than because an investigation raised alleged suspicions of corruption and perks involving his cousins and associates.
The German response to the prime minister’s condition was levelheaded and sensible—it would be unfortunate if Netanyahu cancels the meeting, but it won’t be a catastrophe. Eventually, Netanyahu cancelled the meeting, and it wasn’t a catastrophe. Not for the Germans, anyway.
For us, it’s an entirely different story. When Netanyahu telephoned the German foreign minister on Tuesday afternoon to try to explain to him why he set conditions for their meeting, Gabriel refused to accept the call. Could there be a greater humiliation than this, especially as it is clear that the foreign minister receives his orders from above, straight from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose wonderful friendship was such a source of pride for Netanyahu until recently?
It’s enough to see who voiced support for Netanyahu’s move to understand what a mistake it was: Far right party Alternative for Germany (AFD), whose members hold anti-Semitic, homophobic and chauvinistic views and which spreads fear and hatred toward foreigners in Germany. One of this party’s members, Björn Höcke, said in January that the Holocaust memorial in Berlin was a “monument of shame” in the heart of the German capital.
Gabriel’s decision, on the other hand, received broad support from the German government and even from the conservative faction. Gerd Müller, the minister of economic cooperation and development, noted that even the Chinese government allowed representatives of foreign countries to hold talks with human rights activists.
And all this over what? Over the German foreign minister’s desire to meet with Israeli groups which may not be part of the consensus, but which have not been outlawed. These are people who under different circumstances, which may still exist one day, would have been considered heroes here.
Let’s remind ourselves who we’re talking about: The members of Breaking the Silence are combat soldiers who saw the IDF’s activity in the territories, in the annual operations in Gaza and in the checkpoints with their own eyes, and who even took an active part in these operations. We are not talking about non-combat soldiers who never set foot there, or even about the elite soldiers from Unit 8200 or soldiers serving in the Military Censor’s Unit or in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit. These are soldiers who were sent on operational missions in Judea and Samaria, who saw what was going on with their own eyes, and whose conscience would not let them keep quiet.
We can argue with them and criticize the way they are operating, vis-à-vis foreign countries, foreign diplomats or on US campuses, in every place where it doesn’t take much to convinced the already convinced. We can understand those—although we don’t have to agree with them—who argue that they are slandering IDF soldiers, that not all the testimonies are accurate, that there are exaggerated testimonies which are irrelevant to the time they were given. Nevertheless, we cannot call these young people traitors, and we should definitely denounce Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who compared the left-wing organizations to Hamas without batting an eye.
Fortunately, I am proud to say that I know one of the key Breaking the Silence activists very well. His name is Nadav Weiman. His father was a paratroopers officer, his mother is a highly-esteemed educator, both his brothers served in the IDF’s finest units and he himself was a fighter in the Nahal Brigade. He once shared what made him break his silence. He spoke about one of his missions as a fighter, which was given the name “mappings.” He and his friends were ordered to patrol a certain street in Nablus and map the houses—in other words, enter Palestinian houses in the middle of the night, wake all the family members up, including the children and the elderly, take pictures of each and every one of them and write down the names and occupations of each of the household members.
When he returned to his base at the end of this mission, the brigade’s intelligence officer told him that he could throw all the “mappings” in the trash, as the sole goal of the operation was to create a sense of persecution among the Palestinians. To make them afraid, to make them feel that the IDF is constantly breathing down their necks, because that’s one of the IDF’s ways to control the population.
That’s what a combat soldier, a son and grandson of IDF officers, experienced. A man who was raised on glorious values in his parents’ home and as a scout, who volunteered for a pre-army service year at the Mevo’ot Yam Youth Village in Mikhmoret, where he counseled children with difficulties, some of whom he escorted until they joined the IDF. Later, he studied education and worked as an instructor at the Tel Baruch boarding school.
The huge gap between the defense ethos I was raised on, he once said, and the reality I encountered as a soldier executing our control policy in the territories made me realize that the picture that was painted for me as a child was distorted.
A light unto the nations
When Israeli rightists want to boast that we are the only democracy in the Middle East, a villa in the jungle, they don’t tell the world’s gentiles about an Israeli minister called Miri Regev, or about a Knesset member called Bezalel Smotrich. They say that the six finalists for the Man Booker International Prize include two Israelis, Amos Oz and David Grossman. Two of six nominated novelists from around the world, whose language is not English are Israeli novelists. They may be leftists, but they are Israeli.
The right’s speakers further boast that Israel has so far cared for more than 2,000 wounded Syrians (who returned to the horror later on) and decided to adopt 100 Syrian orphans (and froze the decision a week later). They accuse the neighboring countries of ignoring the disaster: Jordan, which has taken in more than a million and a half refugees; little Lebanon, which has taken in close to one million; and Turkey, which is accommodating more than two million. Even European countries, which have taken in more than half a million refugees, are being scolded by righteous Israel for focusing on Israel’s sins rather than on the Syrian disaster.
They don’t take pride in the fact that there is an organization in Israel called Im Tirtzu, perhaps the only organization in the world which has been referred to as a fascist organization in a court ruling. They do state that organizations like Ta’ayush, B’Tselem and mainly Breaking the Silence are operating under Israeli democracy.
They don’t take pride in the activity of Honenu, an organization which provides legal aid to Jewish rioters. It was revealed last week that this NGO, which receives an exemption from tax on donations from the state, had provided thousands of dollars in grants to Yosef Ben-David, the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Even people in the Right understand that such matters should be concealed. They would rather report that an Arab, a good Arab of course, has been selected to light a torch on Independence Day.
On a week in which veiled settlers were documented attacking Palestinian shepherds with stones and clubs, as well as left-wing activists who were trying to defend them and even IDF soldiers, while military and police forces stood aloof—on this week, the Right’s gang of wolves, led by Netanyahu, chose to attack Breaking the Silence again.
A week in which Machsom Watch women were attacked with stones by settlers, likely from Yitzhar, requiring the protection of Palestinians from the village of Urif—this week is the time to pick on those who see silence as the main threat to the Israeli society.
They are accused of being funded by foreign countries and bodies, as if receiving a donation from an Irish Catholic organization and democratic governments is wrong, while it’s okay for settlements and right-wing organizations to receive millions from Protestant and Evangelical missionaries.
Following an order from the former defense minister, the IDF preferred to sever ties with Breaking the Silence instead of investigating and refuting or confirming its testimonies. The authorities are demanding that the organization reveal the identity of those who testified, claiming that it would allegedly be impossible to investigate without knowing who they are. Every Israeli knows, however, what will happen to such a person if his identity is exposed. The state even went as far as asking the court to force the organization to disclose its sources. Luckily, the court rejected this thuggish claim.
Breaking the Silence receives broad support from the world Jewry, from former defense establishment officials, from academics and jurists. The supporters are being degraded too. Members of the J Street organization, which represents a significant part of the US Jewry, mainly the young members, are denounced as leftists. The opposition leaders are renouncing them and the academics are closely being excluded.
The Hebron Police, which are strictly protecting the settlers, have banned the organization’s tours of the city, arguing that these tours are inflaming the situation—rather than, God forbid, Anat the spitting settler or other hooligans. Not a single person in the army or in the police intervened, and these tours were allowed to continue “in a retrained manner” only thanks to the High Court.
At the end of Operation Cast Lead, the organization released 54 testimonies, and at the end of Operation Protective Edge, it released 60 additional testimonies on events in which innocent people had been harmed. The IDF’s response, from its attorney at the time, today’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, was a rejection of the testimonies for being anonymous. As if it would be impossible, with a little good will and some creative thought, to protect the testifiers’ identity and investigate the truth.
The German foreign minister was only the beginning. More and more foreign diplomats, who will arrive to meet with Israeli politicians, will be asked to meet with those who are exposing the other side of the coin. These organizations, like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, are ensuring that we don’t lose our humanity. They are the mirror on the wall, the one reflecting how ugly we are.