Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon condemned the Breaking the Silence NGO on Sunday night, arguing that the group — which documents alleged abuses by IDF soldiers against Palestinians — has “malicious motives.”
Ya’alon said he banned the left-wing group from any events attended by Israeli soldiers, and said past attempts to work with the organization to investigate and verify claims of misconduct concluded that the allegations against the military were groundless.
Addressing attempts to “vilify” Israeli soldiers abroad, Ya’alon decried on Facebook the “hypocrisy and deceitful propaganda against IDF soldiers and the State of Israel, which is part of the delegitimization campaign against us.”
“Therefore, I have instructed that members of Breaking the Silence be barred from any events with the IDF,” he said.
If Breaking the Silence were really concerned about the Israeli army’s conduct, it would “work directly with the IDF, rather than defaming our soldiers abroad,” the defense minister continued. “In the past there were attempts to investigate the incidents that the members of Breaking the Silence pointed to, but they turned out to be groundless.”
Over time, “it became clear that this is an organization operating with malicious motives,” he added.
In response to Ya’alon’s remarks, the NGO accused the defense minister of “crossing all red lines.”
“Ya’alon has appointed himself minister of silencing and intimidation, and a member of the incitement campaign waged by extreme right-wing organizations against Israeli democracy,” Breaking the Silence said, according to Army Radio.
Ya’alon’s condemnation came a day after a public uproar by right-wing activists over President Reuven Rivlin’s speech at the Haaretz conference in New York, at which members of the Breaking the Silence organization were also scheduled to appear. Dozens of IDF reservists gathered outside Rivlin’s residence on Saturday to protest his participation in the conference.
Rivlin later wrote on Facebook that he would never attend an official Breaking the Silence event, or sit on a panel with its representatives. In his remarks at the conference in New York, the president defended the Israeli army.
“From time to time the obvious should be said. Especially during these days, when we are facing a difficult and dangerous fight against terrorism. The IDF does everything in its power to maintain the highest possible moral standard, even under impossible conditions, and more than any other army in the world. This is true of its commanders, and of its soldiers. For that, we are very proud of them, and owe them all our support and appreciation,” he said.
Breaking the Silence is a group whose members are veteran IDF combatants who report, mostly anonymously, about alleged abuses they witnessed or took part in during their military service in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Since the NGO was founded in 2004, it has regularly locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass which regularly denounce its activities as harming Israel’s image abroad.
On Sunday night, amid criticism over Rivlin’s speech, the group accused the right-wing of a “silencing campaign.”
In May, Breaking the Silence angered the military establishment by publishing a report accusing the army of having caused an unprecedented number of civilian casualties through indiscriminate force during Operation Protective Edge. The IDF responded to the rights group’s report by saying it was “committed to properly investigating” all claims against it, but also cautioned that Breaking the Silence’s method of gathering evidence was faulty.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.