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Israel slams Swiss funding for exhibit by Israeli NGO

Breaking The Silence group received $16,000 from Bern government for display alleging IDF abuse of Palestinians

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel lodged a formal protest with Bern over Swiss funding for an exhibit by an Israeli NGO critical of the army’s conduct in the Palestinian territories, officials said Wednesday.

The exhibit, which will open in Zurich later this week, is being staged by Breaking the Silence, a rights group whose members are veteran IDF combatants who report, mostly anonymously, about alleged abuses they have seen or taken part in during their military service in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s newly appointed deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely is determined to prevent the exhibit from taking place, ordering both the ministry and Israel’s embassy in Bern to examine ways of preventing it, ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told AFP.

“We cannot accept the actions of an organization whose aim is to smear soldiers in the Israeli army in the international arena and to cause serious harm to Israel’s image,” he said.

Israel’s ambassador had already voiced his “indignation” to the Swiss foreign ministry, Nahshon said.

Since the NGO was founded in 2004 by soldiers who served in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, it has regularly locked horns with the political and military brass which regularly denounce its activities as harming Israel’s image abroad.

Last month, the group angered the military establishment by publishing a report accusing the army of having caused an unprecedented number of civilian casualties through indiscriminate force during the 2014 Gaza war, dubbed 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.

Gaza-based sources claimed 2,100 Palestinians were killed and tens of thousands more left homeless as the IDF battled against Hamas in the coastal enclave.

Israel, which lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict, said half the Palestinians killed were combatants and that the high civilian toll in Gaza was due to fighters there embedding their military infrastructure in residential areas.

The exhibit sheds light on the day-to-day reality of life in the West Bank, and has received funding from both the Swiss foreign ministry and the city of Zurich, officials told AFP.

A foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed Bern made a contribution of 15,000 Swiss francs ($16,000) to the exhibit.

A spokesman for Zurich’s finance department confirmed donating 10,000 Swiss francs from a fund which can be used for various non-profit organizations.

“We thought long and hard before giving this money,” said spokesman Patrick Pons, calling the exhibit “very balanced” and saying it opened the way for dialogue.

“We understand that there has been criticism,” he told AFP.

“But we think that people in Zurich who come to visit the exhibit understand this and can make up their own opinion.”

The exhibit opens in Zurich on Thursday.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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