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Why does Europe support Breaking the Silence’s radical anti-Israel agenda?

Israeli soldiers participate in a drill in northern Israel. Credit: IDF.
Israeli soldiers participate in a drill in northern Israel. Credit: IDF.

By Daniel Laufer/

Last week, the Israeli State Attorney’s office closed its investigation into Breaking the Silence’s (BtS) spokesperson. The determination that the BtS official did not tell the truth mirrors the Israeli public’s rejection of the group’s radical anti-Israel agenda. While the NGO justifies the publication of anonymous and unverifiable allegations of wrongdoing by Israel’s soldiers in the name of “ending the occupation,” most Israelis see this campaign as an immoral attack on their entire society.

In fact, what the Israeli public thinks is not very important to BtS, which instead focuses its efforts on influential foreign audiences. This focus is not surprising considering that more than two-thirds of BtS funding comes from abroad, much of it from European governments. Continued funding is a sore issue among Israelis and was in part responsible for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to meet with Germany’s foreign minister earlier this year. Whether the latest blow to the group’s credibility will convince these supporters to end their embrace remains to be seen.

The case stems from claims by the BtS spokesperson that he physically beat a restrained Palestinian during the course of his military service, and the demand that police investigate such alleged violations of military ethics. If he was tried and found guilty of having committed a crime, BtS could claim that its anonymous testimonies against the Israeli military are not simply political props.

But the spokesperson’s fellow soldiers, in whose presence he said the incident occurred, have publicly refuted the story. A five-month-long investigation came to similar conclusions, as the state attorney’s office announced, declaring that “from the evidence collected, the events described by him did not happen whatsoever.”

This is only the latest instance of BtS spreading disturbing claims. In fact, BtS spends most of its resources in touring the world, attacking Israel and promoting its agenda based on anonymous “testimonies” alleging soldier misconduct. In recent years, more than 50 such events took place in parliaments, churches, university campuses and other venues. Last year, a BtS photo exhibit was featured in a central Zurich church, accompanied by nightly “panel discussions” devoted to the BtS agenda.

This agenda is central to the growing demonization of Israel. In 2016, a BtS co-founder claimed that Israelis “basically poisoned all the water cisterns of [a Palestinian] village,” which was repeated by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a speech to the European Union Parliament. After sharp condemnation, Abbas later retracted the comments. BtS did not.

Following the U.N. Human Rights Council’s problematic “report” on the 2014 conflict in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas terror group published a press release criticizing the report. According to Hamas, the report ignored “explicit confessions on war crimes the Israeli soldiers and officers made during and after the aggression, in which they stated they had received direct instructions to target civilians. Many soldiers affiliated to the Israeli organization of ‘Breaking the Silence’ confirmed such Israeli orders.”

A 2013 BtS presentation at the virulently anti-Israel and anti-Semitic “U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People” at U.N. headquarters in New York was aired on official Iranian television under the title “Israeli War Crimes.”

These activities are made possible by the funds irresponsibly provided primarily by Western democracies, including many European Union member states.

For example, of its total budget of NIS 7.4 million ($2.1 million) in 2016, BtS received more than NIS 1 million ($290,000) from the Human Rights Secretariat, a joint funding mechanism of Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The large sums continue to flow in 2017, reinforced by the German Foreign Ministry’s new investment in BtS.

NGO Monitor inquiries led the EU to disclose that it was providing BtS with NIS 1 million from 2015-2017 under a project titled “Educating for Change: Human Rights Education in Israeli Society.” Additional European support to BtS comes from Belgium and Ireland. And in the U.K., which ceased direct funding to BtS a number of years ago, support continues to indirectly via government budgets for the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, which then passes the money on to BtS.

BtS’s anti-Israel track record would be worrying enough were it an actual grassroots part of Israeli society. But BtS’s foreign enablers, through the massive budget they provide, are ultimately responsible for the group’s international delegitimization of Israel and her people.

These European funders need to consider why they are supporting such activities. They need to ask why there is such pushback from the Israeli public. And they need to decide whether their interest is to engage with that Israeli public, or whether they will continue to support BtS’s demonization and smearing of Israel’s society.

Daniel Laufer is the international spokesperson at NGO Monitor, an independent research institute that provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of NGOs claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.

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