Maj. Amit Deri (res.), manager at a pre-military program, served as a company commander in Hebron. There he came across the activities of Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of ex-IDF soldiers. Deri started to look into exactly what they were doing. The result was an incendiary tape. Deri recorded shocking stories that Avner Gvaryahu, from the organization's leadership, told journalists, diplomats and foreign visitors. Gvaryahu created the impression that the IDF fired machine guns over a "massive radius" as a matter of routine, killing innocent civilians.
Where did this happen? When was this mass killing? The organization has published testimonies from Yehuda Shaul, the organization's founder, describing incidents like this. Is this really the case? For years in the West Bank, and particularly in Hebron, there have been five cameras per square meter. How is it that no one has photographed these insane shooting incidents?
Gvaryahu talks about IDF soldiers who enter houses and blindfold the family so that they can watch a soccer match. The organization referred to a soldier's testimony in response to Deri's recording. In the testimony there is no mention of most of the details provided in Gvaryahu's story. In order to add an extra sin to the crime, and in order to dodge the heart of the matter, the organization published a message stating that Deri is a "right-winger." And even if we assume that Deri is on the Right: so what? Can right-wingers not make serious claims? I asked Deri, by the way. He has no idea where they got it from. I asked them too. They didn't respond. It's understandable. Their mission is to turn Israel into a monster. And that won't happen without lies.
It's possible that Gvaryahu is telling the truth. If so, there must be an investigation and indictments against all those who have committed a war crime. It's possible that Gvaryahu is lying. If so, he should be brought before the law for hate crimes and incitement. There's a third possibility. Over a decade ago, at the height of the intifada, shots were fired from a certain neighborhood towards a settlement. The IDF returned fire in the direction of the original shots. No one was killed, and there was certainly no mass killing. Nothing. But Breaking the Silence manipulated it brilliantly. They took an event with no injuries, an event that takes place on every battlefield, and created the impression that the IDF, as a matter of routine, carries out mass killings of civilians.
The massacre that wasn't is just one example, from which we understand the overall process. There are exceptions. The IDF isn't perfect. Breaking the Silence looks for the exceptions, inflates them, fogs up the background and creates a portrait of an army that commits crimes non-stop.
In every comparison between the behavior of the IDF and the behavior of other armies in similar clashes, it is revealed that the IDF is responsible for far fewer innocent casualties than all other armies. They're not perfect, but they're much more careful and far more moral.
The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has stated that the US army takes lessons from the IDF on how to avoid innocent casualties. He knows what he's talking about. But members of the anti-Israel campaign, such as Breaking the Silence, draw the inverse picture with only kernels of truth.
Eran Efrati, who was a senior member of Breaking the Silence, tells Americans an amazing story about how every police officer in the US has undertaken a continuing education program in Israel. And what are they taught there? Well, just as Palestinians are "the enemy," so every innocent American civilian becomes an "enemy" following the program. "The next one to die as a result of police brutality will be one of your sons or daughters," Efrati says, to frighten them. This time they're frightened of Jews. The police spokesperson, by the way, clarified that there is no such course for American police officers in Israel.
I have been listening attentively over the last few years to slanderous speeches against Israel. The speeches of Breaking the Silence's representative are a new low. The man speaks with the intensity of an anti-Semitic preacher. Efrati, a well-oiled accusatory propaganda machine, goes from city to city in the United States. He is doing several things at the same time: systematically undermining the idea of Zionism; opposing any dialogue with the Israeli public ("it's a waste of time"); unequivocally supporting BDS; and presenting Israel as an apartheid state. Hamas doesn't need a propaganda department: it has Breaking the Silence. And members of the organization are invited to give lectures to the army as well as benefitting from volunteers as part of the national service program. They have won official legitimacy. We've gone mad. Israel is giving legs to lies. This is not a democracy. This is an episode in a parade of stupidity. Even if the organization shakes off Efrati, the man has represented them for years, developed in their nursery, and there is not much difference between him and Gvaryahu.
Every democratic country needs to be proud that entities critical of the state operate within it. These bodies, as Amit Deri himself states, can point out the exceptions. The problem is that for some time it has no longer been criticism, but rather the spreading of propaganda. These bodies get funding from foreign countries. Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked has proposed a law that would make it compulsory for representatives of these NGOs to wear a tag saying which countries fund them when they take part in Knesset debates.
Shaked is mistaken. The fact that Norway, Switzerland, Germany, the UK and the European Union funded, or still fund, an organization such as Breaking the Silence is not a secret. Foreign funding is displayed, by law, on the websites of these NGOs. The problem lies elsewhere. It's an anomaly. Similar organizations, which are critical of the state in which they operate, have been established in other democracies. Thus, for example, the US has an outfit under the name of Veterans for Peace, the UK has the Stop the War Coalition, and Germany has the Federation of Expellees, which advocates for the millions of German speakers who were expelled from neighboring countries following the Second World War. It's a little like the Palestinian refugee organizations. These bodies are allowed to operate. This is how it is in Israel and in other progressive countries.
So what can be done? There is another way – the democratic and normative way. All Israel needs to do, Madam Justice Minister, is this: adopt the customary rules between states. They don't fund bodies such as these in other countries. The day that Sweden funds the Stop the War Coalition in the UK, the Swedish ambassador will be requested to pack his bags. Obviously that's not going to happen. Sweden is not donating funds. The UK is not expelling anyone. But Sweden is funding a similar organization in Israel. Why?
Israel needs to operate in the exact same way as other progressive countries. If they don't fund similar outfits in other countries, they don't have the right to fund them here. Representatives of inciting organizations scream that Israel is fascist. Yes. Of course. Just like France, the US and the UK are fascist.
This is, by the way, exactly what happened in Norway. Five years ago Saudi Arabia wanted to donate money to help establish two mosques. According to Norwegian law, the Foreign Ministry needs to approve funding from abroad. We welcome this donation, said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, but on one condition: that Saudi Arabia lift its ban on building churches in its territory.
So straightforward, and so right. The principle set out in democratic Norway is also suitable for democratic Israel. But how can Israel complain to Sweden or Norway when Israel itself is assisting such organizations?
Amit Dery and his colleagues bear the burden of a warning bell. They have no problem with criticism. They are not prepared to be turned into criminals. Every sane person in Israel, on the rational Right and the Zionist Left, needs to support them.