Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Matti Friedman on the Breaking the Silence report



I’ve been asked a few times about the “Breaking the Silence” report that is currently being played up by the international press, as is any report that fits the narrative of Israelis as war criminals. (Contradictory reports, like the recent one I posted here from two US military experts, are not considered news.) I hope that most intelligent people have stopped taking international press coverage of Israel too seriously. But there are a few things that are important to understand.
1. War is awful and people come back feeling upset about things they’ve seen and done. Some observers are reliable, and others aren’t. Some of the things described in the report no doubt happened as they were described. Others didn’t. Infantrymen at the bottom of the hierarchy often don’t understand what they’re seeing, or the reasons for what they’re doing, and I’m speaking from experience. Things that make no sense to a private, sergeant, or lieutenant sometimes (but by no means always) make more sense if you go a few notches up the command chain. Young soldiers tend not to understand this, certainly not at the time and not immediately afterward. For example, open-fire regulations at a particular time could seem too aggressive given your limited understanding of where you are. If you have all of the information at your disposal – and no soldier does – you might understand why. A target shelled for reasons unknown to you might have been shelled for good reason after all. Or not. You don’t know, and in many cases (but not all) it’s a mistake to think you do. Drawing broad conclusions about Israeli military practice from “testimonies” of this kind is irresponsible.
2. Professional journalists looking at this report, and at similar reports, should be asking (but aren't, of course): Compared to what? IDF open-fire regulations are lax – compared to what? Civilian casualty rates are high – compared to what? Compared to the U.S. in Fallujah? The British in Northern Ireland? The Canadians in Helmand Province? “Lax” and “high” are relative terms. If Israel is being compared to other countries in similar situations, we need to know what the comparison is. Otherwise, beyond the details of individual instances the broad criticism is meaningless.
3. Breaking the Silence is described as an organization of Israeli veterans trying to expose Israelis to the nature of service in the occupied territories, in order to have a political impact on Israeli society. That's what it was a long time ago, and it once had an important role to play. But now it's something else. Today, like B’Tselem and others, it's a group funded in large part by European money which serves mainly to provide international reporters with the lurid examples of Israeli malfeasance that they crave. They are not speaking to Israelis, but are rather exploiting Israelis' uniquely talkative and transparent nature in order to defame them.

There is actually a fairly straightforward solution to this problem. Any group genuinely fighting for the character of Israeli society should do so in Hebrew, which is the language that Israelis speak. If you're expending a great deal of energy and money translating your materials into English and speaking to foreign reporters, as we’re seeing Breaking the Silence do right now, I think it's fair to ask what, exactly, you're up to. How is speaking to the international press supposed to swing Israelis in your direction? Of course it has the opposite effect.

As long as this state of affairs continues, Israelis will be correct in identifying this group and its sister organizations as people paid by foreigners to say things that a lot of foreigners want to hear Israelis say. And Israelis will continue to live without the strong left that we need – one that comes from Israel, is part of Israel, and is concerned with bettering our society, not with posturing for an audience abroad whose hostile obsession with us has nothing to do with us at all.

Read more about the new Breaking the Silence report here:


3 comments:

David Zion said...

So, if groups like Braking the Silence stopped putting out reports critical of Israel would the European money dry up? Would people potentially loose their jobs or stipends?

Dusty said...

Maybe.

See: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/ngo-monitor-negative-testimony-from-breaking-the-silence-meets-quota-for-grant-makers/2015/05/04/

"IDF veterans who provided negative testimony for the leftist NGO “Breaking the Silence” may not realize they are also participating in an effort by the group to fulfill a funding quota for bad stuff against Israel.

According to a report by the NGO Monitor, a number of grant-making agencies who provide funding to leftist organizations in Israel have made their patronage contingent upon the groups’ abilities to obtain a minimum number of negative “testimonies.”

“This contradicts Breaking the Silence” declarations and thus turns it into an organization that represents its foreign donors’ interest, severely damaging the NGO’s reliability and its ability to analyze complicated combat situations,” said the report."

NormanF said...

Israeli anti-Israel NGOs represent the modern version of the old Court Jew: Jews who would denounce and defame their own people to curry favor with their non-Jewish patrons.

They're not certainly strengthening Israel's greatly weakened Left. If anything their posturing before foreigners who want to hear the worst things about Israel has had the opposite effect.

Israeli liberal Zionists should want foreign funding to such groups banned. I'm not holding my breath waiting for them to support such a move to enhance the domestic character of Israeli civil society to be undertaken any time soon.

My point is if Israeli opposition voices want to help Israel become a better country, they should reflect its aspirations and values - not to be toadies on behalf of foreign parties whose agenda happens to be inimical to the future of the Jewish State.