Diplomacy & defense

Breaking the Silence exhibition in Zurich
Allegations that left-wing NGO has been collecting operational, intelligence info leave PM, politicians fuming

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon on Friday instructed the IDF to launch an investigation to examine extracting classified information from soldiers in light of an investigation by Israel's Channel 2 into the activities of left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence has left Israeli politicians on the right fuming.

The investigation, aired on Thursday evening, alleges that Breaking the Silence has been collecting operational and intelligence information from former and current soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Breaking the Silence, an organization made up of IDF veterans, has a stated objective of gathering testimonies from members of the IDF who have served in the West Bank and Gaza, in order to document the conduct of soldiers in these areas.

The organization has come under heightened scrutiny in recent months and has been the subject of several campaigns to expose what critics say are unethical working practices and objectives.

The Channel 2 report cites numerous unpublished testimonies gathered by Breaking the Silence that were obtained by members of right-wing NGO Ad Kan, who joined Breaking the Silence undercover and worked with them for an extended period.

The report also broadcast videos showing members of Breaking the Silence gathering testimonies from former soldiers where the questions appear to revolve more around the IDF's operational activity than rather issues regarding Palestinians and human rights.

Jack Guez (AFP)

Ad Kan previously provided the materials for another Channel 2 investigation into left-wing NGOs, which led to two Israeli activists and a Palestinian activist being arrested and held for several days, before being released without charge.

Responding to the fresh allegations, Breaking the Silence denied that they had gathered classified information and said that they work closely with Israel's Military Censor.

"There are several organizations, together with members of the Knesset from the Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, who are working to silence whoever tries to criticize the government and the occupation," said Breaking the Silence CEO Yuli Novak in response to Channel 2's report.

Nonetheless, lawmakers on the right reacted furiously to the report, accusing Breaking the Silence of having nothing to do with human rights.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the organization has "crossed another red line," adding that the findings of Channel 2's investigation are being examined by the security services.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein responded that he expects the law enforcement authorities to "mount an investigation to clarify which sensitive information (Breaking the Silence) has in its possession."

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, meanwhile, accused the organization of "blackening Israel's name" worldwide and said that they had potentially "damaged state security."

MENAHEM KAHANA (AFP/Archives)

Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid struck a similar tone, saying that Breaking the Silence had damaged Israel "within and without.

"While Israel is fighting terror, Breaking the Silence is taking information and using it against the state," Lapid added. "The State of Israel must do all it can to protect its soldiers, and this organization has no right to exist in a state that is battling daily for the safety of its citizens."

Absorption Minister and Likud member Ze'ev Elkin, who is also a member of the national security council, responded: "I am shocked at the findings of the investigation… There is a real fear that Breaking the Silence is being used as a tool to spy on the IDF, and there must be an immediate investigation by the Shin Bet and the military police."

Justice Ministry to investigate whether Ad Kan used public funds

Meanwhile, a separate investigation conducted by Walla two months led to the Israeli Justice Ministry deciding that it would be investigating the source of Ad Kan's funds, it was reported on Thursday.

The investigation found that the Samaria Settlers' Committee provided part of the funding used by Ad Kan to support its work. The committee receives funds from the Samaria Regional Council, which constitute public money.

According to Walla, if the Samaria Settlers' Committee is found to have been using public money for political purposes, it will likely affect the organization's government funding.

Responding to Walla, the Shomron Regional Council said that it operates with "full transparency" and that the Samaria Settlers' Committee's activities are among numerous civil initiatives it supports.

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