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

(original here)

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

By Antony Loewenstein

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’. http://www.australiansforpalestine.​net/​67184

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)
הבונים דרור אוסטרליה
ראש חינוך

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