- What is Breaking the Silence?
- Why is NIF Australia partnering with Breaking the Silence?
- What political resolutions do NIF and Breaking the Silence support?
- Why has the Israeli government tried to ban Breaking the Silence?
- How does Breaking the Silence work with the IDF?
- Why does Breaking the Silence work outside of Israel?
- Doesn’t Breaking the Silence’s work provide support for Israel’s enemies, including the BDS movement?
- Are Breaking the Silence testimonies checked for accuracy?
- Are Breaking the Silence testimonies anonymous?
- How does Breaking the Silence's work contribute to Israel's image abroad?
- Do Breaking the Silence testimonies undermine Israel’s security?
- Does Breaking the Silence advise soldiers to disregard military orders?
- Does Breaking the Silence support the BDS movement?
- Is Breaking the Silence funded by foreign governments?
- Why is NIF Australia, as a diaspora organisation, getting involved with Breaking the Silence?
- Does NIF Australia provide financial support to Breaking the Silence?
Q: What is Breaking the Silence?
Breaking the Silence (BTS) was founded by recently discharged Israeli ex-combatants in 2004. Its mission is to bring awareness to Israeli government decision-makers, the Israeli public, and the public generally, of what is being done in Israel’s name in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. This is achieved through:
- Testimony Collection – At the heart of BTS’s mission is the collection of soldiers’ testimonies. The testimonies undergo a thorough process of verification, legal authorisation, and military censorship before they are published. To date, BTS has interviewed over 1,100 former IDF soldiers. An attempt is made to ensure that 15% of these are women, but due to the fact that the majority of combat soldiers are men, entails that the majority of testifiers are also men.
- Advocacy –Testimonies are made available online and are distributed through public media campaigns, printed collections and social media work. BTS partakes in advocacy work with Israeli and international public figures, journalists, politicians and diplomats through briefings and field tours to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, primarily the Hebron region.
- Education – BTS carries out educational work with high school and pre-military youth, university students, the wider Israeli public, and international community with an emphasis on Jewish diaspora leaders through the provision of lectures and tours. Breaking the Silence has met with over 30,000 members of the Israeli public and Jewish leadership groups from around the world.
Q: Why is NIF Australia partnering with Breaking the Silence?
While BTS does not currently receive funding from NIF Australia, NIF globally has supported BTS since 2005, a year after its inception, and continues to do so because its work aligns with NIF’s objectives of strengthening Israel by:
- ending the Occupation, and
- reinforcing Israel’s democratic and values and institutions.
NIF Australia believes it is vital for all of us who support Israel as the national homeland for the Jewish people to be informed of the unvarnished realities – for better or for worse – of the Occupation of the Palestinian Territories, now in its 51st year.
There can be no better way than hearing the testimonies of those patriotic men and women who have worn the IDF uniform and served – with courage, and often at the risk of their lives – to keep Israel secure.
Their testimonies sometimes paint an unflattering picture of the Occupation and they can be difficult to listen to. But insisting that they be published (subject to military censorship to ensure they do not endanger Israel’s security), no matter how difficult or discomforting their content, enables a light to be shone on impact of the Occupation that the Israeli public. Further, supporters of Israel globally are entitled to know when they cast their next vote, write their next cheque, or engage in their next political discussion with family, friends, or those with political influence.
Q: What political resolutions do NIF and Breaking the Silence support?
NIF and BTS support an end to the Occupation by whatever means can be negotiated between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
We do not support any particular model for a resolution, save that we know that there can be no peace, no democracy, and no end to the conflict until Israelis and Palestinians live within their own secure, independent sovereign states, with internationally recognised borders.
Q: Why has the Israeli government tried to ban Breaking the Silence?
No government is ever happy to come under political attack, and human rights organisations around the world, for as long as they have existed, have received negative responses to their work from the governments whose policies they oppose.
Lively, robust debate of this kind is the lifeblood of any vibrant democracy, and Israel is one of the most vibrant democracies of all. In recent years, however, we have seen a trend amongst some ‘democracies’ to attempt to silence, rather than engage in meaningful policy debate with, their opponents – Russia, Turkey, Poland, the Philippines, and even Australia are examples that come readily to mind.
Attempts to shut down political debate so that government policies cannot be scrutinised represent a significant risk to democracy. NIF is committed to preserving and strengthening Israel’s democracy by doing whatever it can to ensure that all voices continue to be heard.
Q: How does Breaking the Silence work with the IDF?
BTS’s mission is to expose the realities of the indignity and injustice in occupying people for more than 50 years, including the heavy price paid by Israeli servicemen and women and Israeli society more broadly, with the ultimate goal of bringing about a change of government policy and ending the Occupation.
The IDF is an instrument of this policy, not the architect of it – its duty is to carry out the defence policies of Israel’s government of the day. It is the government, not the IDF, that has the power to make policy changes. BTS does not try to influence IDF servicemen and women about the way in which they carry out their difficult work.
Q: Why does Breaking the Silence work outside of Israel?
BTS’s primary mission is to advocate with Israelis inside Israel, and this is where it deploys most of its resources.
But its work outside Israel is also important for a number of reasons:
- Both the government and settler organisations advocate abroad – why should an anti-Occupation organisation be any different? There are many Israeli organisations, some sponsored by the Israeli government itself, who advocate fiercely in support of the settlement movement and the Occupation, including with foreign governments, policy influencers, and diaspora Jews. BTS considers it important for these people to be exposed to the alternative viewpoint. Not only settler organisations have the right to advocate abroad.
- In the age of the internet, it’s impossible to limit information to a country’s borders. Soldiers’ testimonies, once published, cannot be confined within the borders of the state. In the 21st century, it makes little sense to speak of geographic boundaries for information dissemination. It is important for overseas readers of this material to have access to BTS representatives, hear about the context in which, and the purpose for which, they do their work, and make their own informed judgments.
- The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a significant international issue, with the involvement of the US, the UK, the EU, Russia, the UN, and the Arab League, as well as of diaspora Jews. Given this reality it is important for BTS to engage with all stakeholders. In Australia, all major political parties actively consider and debate their policies vis-a-vis Israel, and Australian groups routinely weigh in to shape them according to their interests.
By its actions in advocating abroad, Breaking the Silence is demonstrating to the world that there is a broad spectrum of opinions within Israel about the occupation, and is showcasing the vibrancy and energy of Israeli democracy. Its representatives are the living, breathing reality of the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the region. We believe that demonstrating the strength of Israel’s democracy is the most effective response to those who seek to delegitimise Israel, including the BDS movement.
The BDS movement aims to silence Israeli organisations, including those, like Breaking the Silence, promoting an end to the Occupation. Breaking the Silence representatives advocating abroad demonstrates that the best way to bring about an end to the Occupation is by working alongside, rather than boycotting, those within Israel who are working to achieve the same objective.
Conversely, it is unhelpful for the Israeli government and diaspora communities to seek to silence Israeli organisations like Breaking the Silence – because that is simply doing the BDS movement’s work for it.
Q: Doesn’t Breaking the Silence’s work provide support for Israel’s enemies, including the BDS movement?
It does not:
- As outlined above, Breaking the Silence demonstrates that there are much more effective ways of fighting against the Occupation than the BDS strategy of delegitimising Israel and boycotting its organisations and thought leaders.
- In any event, if harm to Israel’s international reputation is caused by the publication of reports about its conduct in the Occupied Territories, that is not because of the reports, it is because the conduct is happening. To blame Breaking the Silence is simply to shoot the messenger. Breaking the Silence’s objective is to bring an end to damaging conduct by Israel’s occupying forces, which can only enhance its international reputation.
Q: Are Breaking the Silence testimonies checked for accuracy?
BTS understands that the success of its mission depends upon the Israeli public having confidence that the testimonies it publishes are accurate and reliable. Each testimony undergoes rigorous checking and testing by BTS staff.
This process works: after 14 years and more than 1000 testimonies, no testimony has been proven false.
The overwhelming majority of testimonies relate to mundane, everyday occurrences at checkpoints or homes in the Palestinian Occupied Territories of a kind that most soldiers serving there are well acquainted with. They are indisputable and no-one does, in fact, dispute them.
In some ways, these are the most important testimonies. They do not require investigation or charges against individual soldiers. Rather, they highlight how the existence of the Occupation creates situations where questionable or immoral acts are the norm.
Some testimonies, usually those dealing with more unusual or controversial conduct, have come under attack. However, not one BTS testimony has ever been proven false. In some cases BTS’s verification processes have determined that information given to it has been false. No testimony is published in these cases.
Q: Are Breaking the Silence testimonies anonymous?
Many of the testimonies are not anonymous. You can view a range of them on Breaking the Silence’s website.
Often soldiers do request anonymity and BTS respects this. There are many reasons for making this request:
- Speaking out against others in any context (for example against corruption in the workplace or against illegal or antisocial behaviour in family or social settings) is always difficult, and this is particularly so when the subject – the Occupation – is one of the core issues in society.
- Some soldiers are still serving.
- Others fear threats or victimisation by their colleagues, the media, or pro-occupation organisations, and unfortunately there have been a number of instances of this occurring.
- Some who have testified have become the subject of highly false and damaging slander.
BTS believes it has a duty to protect those individuals who have concerns about these potential consequences of breaking their silence.
Q: How does Breaking the Silence's work contribute to Israel's image abroad?
Breaking the Silence’s work doesn’t harm Israel. Rather, its work highlighting the effects of the Occupation on Israeli society improves Israel, by preserving and strengthening its democratic values and institutions, including freedom of speech, and ending the corrosive and harmful Occupation.
The overwhelming majority of current and former IDF generals, Mossad leaders, and Shin Bet heads have said that Israel would be more secure if it did not continue to occupy the Palestinian Territories.
Q: Do Breaking the Silence testimonies undermine Israel’s security?
Q: Does Breaking the Silence advise soldiers to disregard military orders?
No. It is not part of BTS’s role to tell individual servicemen and women how to behave, or whether they should obey or disobey orders; its mission is to expose the realities of the Occupation with a view to convince the Israeli public and the government to adopt a different policy.
Q: Does Breaking the Silence support the BDS movement?
No. The BDS movement is highly counter productive because it silences the voices - including Breaking the Silence - that are the most prominent and effective against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Because Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organisation, the BDS movement encourages people not to engage with it.
Q: Is Breaking the Silence funded by foreign governments?
Yes, amongst others. BTS is funded by a range of individuals, funds, human rights organisations and agencies, both private and state, including NIF in Israel, and a number of other Jewish and Israeli funders. It publishes the names of all donors on its website.
Foreign governments and government agencies who provide funding are countries which are long-standing good friends of Israel, like Holland, Denmark and Switzerland. They invest hundreds of millions of euros in the Israeli economy.
Unlike many settler and pro-Occupation organisations, BTS receives no funding from the Israeli government.
Q: Why is NIF Australia, as a diaspora organisation, getting involved with Breaking the Silence?
The objectives of BTS are aligned with the human rights, equality, and democracy values of NIF Australia. While we know that there are people in the Australian Jewish community who have concerns about BTS, we consider it important to showcase the extraordinary work that BTS does and to foster healthy, respectful dialogue within our community.
Q: Does NIF Australia provide financial support to Breaking the Silence?
Not presently. NIF Australia has been granted “public benevolent institution” status, which means donations to NIF are tax deductible. It is unclear whether the rules applying to such institutions permit us to fund organisations like BTS.