Australian Zionists fear Israeli group Breaking the Silence and its message on IDF immorality

This is an instructive story of how mainstream Australian Jewish groups are petrified that a) the public will hear critical and truthful views about Israeli behaviour in the West Bank and b) a desire to “protect” Jews from even understanding what Israeli occupation means.

A feature appeared in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald last week by Ruth Pollard which detailed shocking new allegations by IDF personnel and their behaviour against Palestinian children. Murdoch’s Australian also covered the revelations. The Australian Jewish News was outraged, providing a space for Zionist spokespeople to damn all the allegations:

“Another Israel-bashing headline”, “a flagrantly one-sided piece” and “threadbare and unsubstantiated …­allegations”.

Just a handful of comments from community leaders and the Israeli embassy this week following the extensive coverage in the Australian media of a report issued by Israeli veterans group Breaking The Silence (BTS) about the treatment of Palestinian children at the hands of the IDF.

A statement was released by Danny Lamm, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry:

“How sad it is that once-great broadsheets like the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have been reduced to featuring crude propaganda on their front page.

Their story alleging maltreatment of children by the IDF relied on statements supposedly made by ex-IDF personnel to the veterans’ group ”˜Breaking the Silence’. But the thrust of these statements is a rehash of reports published in previous months by a group of British lawyers who visited Israel’s military courts and by the NGO, Defence of Children International, and they appear to be based on the same or similar sources.

The statements published by ”˜Breaking the Silence’ were characterised by the Herald and the Age as “testimonies” but in fact they are anonymous, non-specific as to times and places, devoid of critical detail and untested by any kind of cross-questioning. The photographs of crying children lack any detailed explanation or context and are calculated to play to the emotions of readers, not to inform.

It is impossible for the IDF, or any organisation, to investigate allegations of such a generalised nature, especially while Breaking the Silence insists on maintaining the anonymity of all of its sources and with-holding other relevant information. One suspects that their complaints are not being made with a view to having them investigated and… addressed but solely for their propaganda effect.

If Breaking the Silence is genuine in its complaints and is not simply seeking to pursue a political agenda, it has a moral duty to make all relevant material available to the office of the Attorney General or the Military Advocate, who have repeatedly offered to investigate any complaints as soon as they have something concrete to investigate. They have never shrunk… from investigating, and where appropriate prosecuting, specific allegations of wrong-doing that have been referred to them.

Sadly, many Australians will have read this story in a superficial way or merely viewed the headline and the photographs. They are being left with the false, indeed ridiculous, impression that the IDF is a serious abuser of children’s rights, indeed the most serious abuser of such rights in the Middle East. There is not a word in the story about the systematic indoctrination of Palestinian children at school and through the media and the deliberate use of children as combatants and terrorists by armed Palestinian organisations.

It was also telling that a genuine and substantiated report about a massacre of approximately 300 civilians by the Asad regime in Syria the previous day was relegated to a minor story on page 7 of the Herald and was unaccompanied by photographs of dead and dying Syrian… children, which are distressingly easy to find online.”

Other Jewish “leaders”, including AIJAC head Colin Rubenstein and Labor MP Michael Danby, added more sound and fury:

Michael Danby told J-Wire: “I felt The Age coverage was worse than the Sydney Morning Heralds as their headline was more biased and the graphics used were larger and more emotive.”

Speaking at the opening in Melbourne of the Israeli Film Festival, Danby said: “I was not surprised to see the Fairfax share price plummeting. On days when hundreds of civilians were being killed in Syria, The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald were rehashing unverified rehashed propaganda against Israel.” He appealed to Greg Haywood, the chairman of Fairfax to explain why his chain gave such prominence to this story.”

Colin Rubenstein:… It was profoundly disappointing to see Australia’s leading broadsheets – the Australian, Sydney Morning Herald and Age -…  so uncritically repeating the latest rehashed…  propaganda from the controversial left-wing Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.

There is little new information in the report. It is essentially a repackaging of some 30 existing so-called “testimonies” of former soldiers from the organisation’s files in a politicised attempt to portray the IDF as systematic abusers of Palestinian children, and gain headlines.

Moreover, of the 30 testimonies cited in the report, about half identify no actual wrong-doing – only that some soldiers were uncomfortable with certain perfectly legal tactical decisions such as conducting late-night arrest raids on homes.

Even in the unlikely event that the 15 or so incidents of alleged wrong-doing, occurring over six years, in this report were fully confirmed, this would not alter the fact the IDF remains probably the most moral army in the world. This is not merely sloganeering but a reality based upon the rigorous standards it imposes upon itself and the self-policing mechanisms in place.

Breaking the Silence then released a response to all the criticisms:

In response to a recent publication by the Israeli veteran organization Breaking the Silence, Dr Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, blatantly attacked us – veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces -… calling the publication “crude propaganda””¦.… 

From Dana Golan [Executive Director – Breaking the Silence]

Dr Lamm insinuates that the testimonies published by Breaking the Silence are not credible, suggesting that they are manufactured by the organization… 

“solely for their propaganda effect.” The anonymity of the testimonies and the fact that they are allegedly “untested by any kind of cross-questioning” is his sole evidence.

Breaking the Silence is an organization of over 850 Israeli veterans – male and female combat soldiers and officers who served in the IDF in the harshest days of the last decade. Our publications meet the highest standards of investigative journalism. All unusual and exceptional testimonies must be corroborated by two independent sources before publication; and anonymity, as every journalist knows, is a condition for exposure of wrong-doing. As any visitor to the website can see, dozens of veterans have in fact testified without anonymity, their names and faces revealed on camera.

Now we veterans wonder how someone who purports to be a supporter of Israel can make such insidious allegations against us, questioning our loyalty and integrity. How can someone who is supposed to have our backs then attack us from behind? From where, we ask, does Dr Lamm draw the… chutzpah… to sling mud at us, soldiers who were lying in the mud to protect the country in whose name he swears from afar?… We wonder what motivates a Diaspora Jew pretending to love Israel to discredit us, veterans who continue to risk our lives in its defense and give our time and energy to fortify its moral stature.

… Concern for Israel and its democracy cannot be the factor driving an assault on its civil society. Attacks on Israeli veterans are certainly not motivated by love for Israel and its people, for these veterans are Israel. Dr Lamm’s assault, it appears, must have a different set of motivations. Instead of serving his community and lending support to Israel, he serves his political masters. A vocal opponent of the peace process, it seems that Dr Lamm has forgotten his place as a Diaspora community leader.… We would never dare interfere with the internal affairs of his… community,… let alone in the audacious way in which Lamm interferes in ours.

While the question of whether and to what degree Diaspora Jews should advocate their views on internal Israeli affairs is an open one, beating on Israelis of other political convictions is not.… Lamm’s armchair Zionism pontificating from afar, while true Israelis put their lives on the line, imposes certain restraints on his engagement. A decent person would regard this also as reason for some humility in opinion. It is precisely because we have been on the front lines that we understand that the future of our country depends on its moral… fortitude no less than on its military might.

It is no wonder that Lamm fails to recognize this as surely the view from Australia is different from that of real-life Israelis who realize the Zionist ideal with their sweat and blood and not merely with their job titles.… Zionism, for us, is about the willingness to make bold sacrifices for the security and future of the Jewish state. For impostors like Lamm, it is an instrument for promoting a political agenda, the consequences of which we will have to bear, not him.

Representatives of Breaking the Silence on behalf of our members,

Lieutenant Dana Golan – Border Patrol (Executive Director, Breaking the Silence)

Captain Mikhael Manekin – Golani Infantry Brigade

Lieutenant Noam Chayut – Nahal Infantry Brigade

Lieutenant Oren Kalisman – Special Forces, Paratroopers

First Sergeant Yehdua Shaul – Nahal Infantry Brigade

First Sergeant Avihai Stollar – Kfir Brigade

First Sergeant Tal Wasser – Oketz

First Sergeant Achiya Schatz – Duvdevan

First Sergeant Ayal Kantz – Special Forces, Nahal Brigade

First Sergeant Nadav Weiman – Special Forces, Nahal Brigade

First Sergeant Shachar Zemach – Special Forces, Nahal Brigade

First Sergeant Hillel Cohen – Combat Engineer

First Sergeant Guy Klein – 7th… Armored Brigade

First Sergeant Yoni Levi – Special Forces, Givati Brigade

First Sergeant Gil Hillel – Sachlav, MP

The responses by the Jewish establishment are nothing short of meaningless intolerance. And paranoia. Increasingly the reality of Israeli crimes are entering the mainstream and all they can do is bleat about propaganda and Israeli morality. Fewer and fewer people believe this in 2012. The Breaking the Silence comments are interesting and strong though personally I’d rather the defence of Zionism wasn’t in there. Regardless, it’s an important organisation and challenges the concept, still laughably used by Israel defenders, that the IDF is the “most moral army in the world.”

I thought this would be the end of the story but then this week I received an email (I’ve published it all below, removing any relevant names) that reveals attempts by the supposedly more liberal wing of the Jewish community to encourage people not to attend Israel/Palestine related talks in Australia because their minds must be corrupted. Or something. It reeks of bigotry and fear.

It’s no wonder many people, including me in a new book After Zionism, now campaign for a wholesome challenge to the Zionist and Jewish communities. If even listening to different points of view from Israel is too much for supposedly sensitive Jewish ears, believing that reform of Israel and the Diaspora is possible, and the occupation ended, is dangerously delusional thinking. Zionism itself is the problem here:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From:… Daniel Crook… 
Date: Sat, Aug 25, 2012 at 2:20 PM
Subject: [melbogs] Please Read {01}

Tomorrow night Hashy are hosting an event where the audience will hear… from two speakers, one of the speakers is Micha Kurz, who is the… co-founder of a NGO in Israel called ”˜Breaking the Silence’. Hearing… this came at quite a shock to me and I want to highly encourage anyone… thinking of going to read this email before you go and show your… support. ”˜Breaking the Silence’ are highly criticised for being an… anti-Zionist and anti-Israel organisation, and are also criticised for… being left wing extremists. Taken from their website we can see that… their mission statement is to “expose the Israeli public to the… reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”, which is not… necessarily the issue at hand, but rather the issue lies in their… approach, way that they attempt to do this, and what it creates in… peoples understanding and beliefs about Israel, Zionism and the IDF.

Anti Israel sentiment is growing throughout the world, as we see on… our own university campuses, and ‘Breaking the Silence’ are… potentially fuelling a lot of this opinion. ‘Breaking the Silence’… rely on the use of very extreme examples, including interviews,… testimonies and imaging, to show and uncover what they term the… shocking realities of Israel and the IDF. They are highly criticised… for providing a non-Zionist and highly over-simplistic view of the… issues at hand and present a picture of IDF actions against… Palestinians that is completely removed from and ignores the larger… Israel-Palestinian conflict, which as a result adds in a serious way… to the world wide anti-Israel sentiment that affects our lives as… Zionists in a serious way. In short, the examples that they use to… fulfil their mission are very extreme and are taken out of context,… they criticise the IDF and the Israeli government with a very… one-sided agenda, and also include no productive stance about a more… positive direction for Israeli society.

A very difficult question resounds in me, do we really want to be… supporting an organisation that is often criticised for being… anti-Zionist and that through its actions and the lack of perspective… that they present create huge amounts of animosity and hatred towards… the State of Israel, including its defence force and its government,… as well as its people and supporters. I am not suggesting that the… examples they use should be ignored, as I believe that in Habonim Dror… we need to understand the realities of actions taken in Israel by the… IDF, but we need to place these understanding its context of the… larger historical picture and also strive to find a more active,… productive and creative answer for the future of the… Israel-Palestinian conflict, rather than the simplistic and narrow… insight that ‘Breaking the Silence’ has to present to Jews and… non-Jews around the world. In my mind what they are doing is no… better, and probably a lot more destructive than the mindless hatred… that organisations like the Socialist Alternative create towards… Israel and Jews.

I am by no means an expert on the organisation, and my understanding… is somewhat limited, so after reading this email I highly encourage… you to do your own reading and research and make up your own mind, but… I do ask that if you choose to go please think carefully about whether… you wear a Habonim Dror Chultzah as it is a big statement about our… movement and our approach and beliefs in Zionism and the future of the… State of Israel.

You can also have a look at this website for ”˜Australians for… Palestine’, who are the organisation hosting Micha Kurz and very much… connected to ”˜Breaking the Silence’.…

Below is a few quotes that I found from various articles online, but… as I said before please do your own reading, and please don’t hesitate… to talk to me about your thoughts:

The exhibit is completely one-sided and portrays Israel unfairly. The… presentation lacks any context or proportionality whatsoever. It does… not present — or even attempt to present — the complexity of the… political and military situation in the West Bank and Gaza. Rather,… the exhibit seeks to present a distorted image of Israel, its people… and its defense forces. In short, it is nothing more than anti-Israel… propaganda under the guise of art/social criticism. The fact that… ‘Breaking the Silence” includes Israelis is of no matter; they… represent a fringe within Israeli society that have come to the United… States with a misguided message in order to gain publicity and funding… not available to them in Israel. In reality, they do not care or… understand the damage that the exhibition will do to Israel.
– Asaf Romirowsky

We should have known all the facts at that time. But since we didn’t… we now are stating that our official viewpoint is that programs and… organizations that support such programs that demonize and cause… hatred for Israel should not have a place on the Israel on Campus… Coalition. For that reason, we vote to remove the UPZ from the… Coalition for its support of the ‘Breaking the Silence’ program.”
-Matthew Wagner

“Breaking the Silence,” repeats a view that is often heard on the… extreme Left of the Israeli political spectrum and speaks of the… nation’s measures of self-defence as illegitimate and illegal. The… speakers are Israeli veterans who believe that the Israel Defence… Forces counterterrorism mission is, as practiced, dehumanizing and… immoral.
– Ameinu, North America

Daniel Crook
Habonim Dror Australia Inc
Federal Rosh Chinuch (Head of Education)
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ראש חינוך

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