Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said Sunday that he was planning to sponsor legislation to ban Israeli nonprofits that he said “vilify” the state from being funded by organizations that support a boycott of Israel.
Appearing at a press conference alongside a group of reserve IDF officers and combat soldiers, Lapid singled out the controversial Breaking the Silence NGO, which gathers testimonies from IDF troops about alleged human rights abuses by soldiers.
“We will lead legislation to prevent BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions organizations] from funding NGOs in Israel that help to vilify Israel,” Lapid said.
“I am standing here today surrounded by the representatives of over 600 of our finest IDF officers and fighters, among them company commanders and battalion commanders, who represent what the IDF represents — values and leadership,” he said.
“They are standing here to defend those values; the IDF defends those values. Criticism builds us as a society, but there is a fundamental difference between criticism and vilifying officers and IDF soldiers abroad. That is not criticism, but undermining the foundations of the state. Organizations like Breaking the Silence have crossed the red line from criticism into subversion.”
Since Breaking the Silence 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 denounce its activities as harming Israel’s image abroad.
At Lapid’s press conference was Amit Deri, a reserve company commander and a leading figure in the campaign against Breaking the Silence, who denounced the NGO for presuming to speak in the name of IDF soldiers.
“Who are you Breaking the Silence, that you can represent us, the fighters of the IDF, and say that we threw the ethical code out of the window? Breaking the Silence goes around spreading blood libels against us from the US to the entire continent of Europe,” he said.
“They say that the IDF deliberately targets civilians. It is permitted to criticize, but not to lie. The Breaking the Silence organization is not legitimate. We, officers and soldiers, are above politics and we will not rest — and this is our duty — until the Breaking the Silence organization ends its attacks on us.”
Last week, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he would ban the group from appearing in Israeli schools, while Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Sunday that he would prevent the organization from entering army grounds. And in a bitter Knesset face-off, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that opposition leader Isaac Herzog condemn the NGO.
In July, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely warned representatives of the European Union that Jerusalem may make their countries’ funding of left-wing NGOs illegal, Ynet news reported at the time.
European governments have contributed €100 million-200 million to groups, Hotovely said, that actively “work to blacken Israel’s name in the world, accuse it of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and war crimes.”
Some of these groups, Hotovely claimed, even contribute funds to terror groups.
B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Coalition of Women for Peace are among the organizations that Hotovely fingered for getting support from foreign governments.
A similar measure proposed by Hotovely earlier in the year would have forced any NGO that receives foreign funding to get Knesset approval for a tax exemption.
The bill was pilloried by civil society groups, which said it would be used to crack down on funding for left-leaning NGOs.