Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit put to bed on Monday the final appeal by right-wing groups demanding that the left-wing anti-occupation group Breaking the Silence be investigated for treason.
In a letter to an attorney for the right-wing advocacy organization Ad Kan, Mandelblit’s office said the attorney general found “no cause” to second-guess the State Attorney’s Office’s announcement in 2017 that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Breaking of Silence.
Breaking the Silence has drawn a great deal of criticism among mainstream Israelis in recent years for collecting and publicizing mostly anonymous testimony of alleged IDF mistreatment of Palestinians.
The latest legal saga began in 2016, when right-wing NGOs sent former soldiers with hidden cameras to meet with Breaking the Silence and offer inaccurate testimony, attempting to demonstrate that the organization’s methods for collecting its information was skewed by its self-acknowledged left-wing politics. Breaking the Silence said none of the attempts were successful.
The footage aired in a news report on what was then Channel 2 news (now Channel 12).
It showed the organization’s personnel asking detailed operational questions of the IDF veterans that Channel 2 insisted had no relevance to the question of possible war crimes.
The report drew anger from right-wing politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said the group appeared to be collecting secret operational information from the ex-soldiers.
On June 13, 2016, Ad Kan appealed to the attorney general’s office, urging that the organization be investigated for possible violation of Israel’s espionage and treason laws.
The appeal led to the opening of an eight-month inquiry by the criminal division of the State Attorney’s Office. It concluded that there was “no evidence whatsoever that the Breaking the Silence organization, or any of its activists, gave classified information to parties outside of Israel,” according to a letter to Ad Kan from Rachel Matar, head of the criminal division, dated February 22, 2017.
Matar said the questions about operational details were “curious,” but said the organization had explained that they were part of its process for verifying soldiers’ testimony.
She also rejected the claim that the organization had succeeded in “planting” its activists in the ranks of the army’s Civil Administration, noting “there is no supporting evidence that the organization is capable of influencing the placement” of soldiers in a way that might allow it to implement such an infiltration.
The decision was backed by State Attorney Shai Nitzan, Matar said.
Ad Kan appealed the decision a month later, on March 30, 2017.
It was only on Monday that the office of Attorney General Mandelblit, Nitzan’s direct boss, delivered his ruling on the appeal.
In Monday’s letter, Mandelblit’s office said he had gone beyond the work of the 2017 investigation and consulted “the opinions of national security officials.” All the information available to him led him to concur with the original decision, according to which there was no evidence of a crime in Breaking the Silence’s behavior.
Breaking the Silence head Avner Gvaryahu welcomed the decision and lambasted the “settler organizations” that had “lied to the media, the prosecution, the public, to all of us.”
“After three years, the truth has come out and the right’s campaign of incitement has collapsed,” he said Tuesday.
“Those trying to paint soldiers who break their silence as traitors, spies and foreign agents failed once again. It’s time they understand — the reality of the occupation is stronger than any campaign of falsehoods by right-wing organizations.”
Ad Kan did not immediately respond publicly to Mandelblit’s letter.