Beware of Breaking the Silence

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Earlier this month, the Israeli authorities planned to launch a criminal investigation into the conduct of left-wing organization Breaking the Silence for collecting classified military information. This came following an expose on Channel 2 news that showed Breaking the Silence, which collects testimonies of reported wrongdoing in the Palestinian territories from IDF soldiers, soliciting operational information. The Israeli NGO claims to be a human rights organization, but it has compelled young people to divulge sensitive information about troop movements and other operational maneuvers.

It is difficult to make a case for how collecting sensitive, classified information about the IDF can possibly help the Palestinian cause, short of planting the illusive hope in the minds of Israel’s enemies that they can defeat the Israeli militarily. And the sooner the Palestinians wake up from that corrosive illusion, the more lives will be saved, on both the Palestinian and the Israeli side of the conflict.

Yet, with a criminal investigation hanging over them, Breaking the Silence still gave a talk at the Brown University-Rhode Island School of Design Hillel and was scheduled to give another at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel on Thursday.

This is not the first time Breaking the Silence has gone on tour to distort and air Israel’s dirty laundry to American Jewish college students. In 2013, Breaking the Silence appeared at the Hillel houses of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. This is, however, the first time that they are on tour while under criminal suspicion.

American Jewish college students are under increasing attack, and Israel is habitually being demonized on university campuses, despite the many moral outrages being committed across the globe that have nothing to do with Israel. To list a few: In Syria, there is never-ending Sunni-Shiite warfare; in North Korea, an American college student, Otto Frederick Warmbier, was just sentenced to 15 years hard labor for removing a propaganda sign; in Iran, the number of executions of dissidents, minorities and gays recently hit an all-time high; in the Darfur region of the Sudan and in Saudi Arabia, people are imprisoned for practicing a different religion or a different version of Islam, and can be held in jail for years without due process.

Throughout America’s college campuses, and almost without exception, Israel is harshly criticized. Israel Apartheid Week is observed each spring with apartheid walls, mock die-ins, (featuring students costumed as “immoral” Israeli soldiers “abusing” students costumed as pregnant Palestinians), swastikas on Israeli flags and the entire map of Israel adorned with the colors of the Palestinian flag. Demonstrations often erupt into violence and many Jewish students have reported feeling scarred and physically threatened.

These days, the American college campus is not an easy place for a Jewish student.

Our nation’s Hillel houses, however, are supposed to be “safe places” where every Jew can feel welcome — even Jewish students who are Zionists.

Hillel International certainly advertises itself as a place that is conducive to Zionism. On its website, Hillel states: “Israel is at the heart of Hillel’s work. Our goal is to inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel and to Israelis. … Engaged and educated students can become committed Jewish adults who are passionate supporters of Israel.”

In fact, by hosting Breaking the Silence, Hillel violates its very own Standards of Partnership which state that “Hillel welcomes, partners with, and aids the efforts of organizations, groups and speakers from diverse perspectives in support of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. Hillel will not partner with, house or host organizations, groups or speakers that as a matter of policy or practice: Deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel; support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel; exhibit a pattern of disruptive behavior toward campus events or guest speakers or foster an atmosphere of incivility.”

Unfortunately, one quick look at the Breaking the Silence website reveals that the group demonizes and applies a double standard to the State of Israel. Breaking the Silence seeks to portray a distorted, demonized view of the IDF, with slanted, one-sided and misleading claims of “war crimes” and “ethnic cleansing.”

Natan Sharansky, former refusnik and current head of the Jewish Agency, is someone who truly understands the meaning of human rights. Sharansky recently said that Breaking the Silence “is not a human rights organization but a BDS organization.” Sharansky also wrote in Haaretz recently that the group uses “unproven allegations peddled as truths to credulous foreigners in order to override the decisions of a democratic government.”

Major General (res.) Eitan Dangot, who, until Jan. 2014 served as the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said recently that groups such as Breaking the Silence “publish partial testimonies and baseless findings,” and by doing so “are causing harm to the state.”

Dangot went on to say that “when the truth is finally revealed — and in many cases, the truthful version turns out to be completely different than what was initially publicized — it is no longer interesting and the harm has already been done.”

The IDF is the very backbone of the existence of the State of Israel. By undermining the IDF’s morale and gathering classified information about IDF operations, organizations such as Breaking the Silence may interfere with the IDF’s military operations and jeopardize the existence of the State of Israel.

A spokesman for Hillel said it plans to “provide alternative perspectives” in response to criticism for hosting Breaking the Silence. But additional programs with alternative speakers is not sufficient. Once a group like Breaking the Silence is heard under the auspices of a place such as Hillel, the organization will enjoy an air of legitimacy and the damage will have already been done.

Beyond that, the impressions formed by college students today become tomorrow’s governmental policies.

That is why I penned a letter, signed by myself and thirteen other organizational heads, to Eric Fingerhut, chairman and CEO of Hillel International, requesting that he not allow this group to hold events at Hillel houses across America.

Originally published on Israel Hayom:

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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