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Legislators seek to outlaw IDF-critiquing Breaking the Silence group

Bill proposed by MKs from various parties calls organization, which exposes what it claims are immoral army actions, ‘subversive,’ says its uses ‘non-democratic methods’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset committee meeting, January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich during a Knesset committee meeting, January 11, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid intense public debate over the legitimacy of left-wing NGOs operating in Israel, several coalition Knesset members have presented a bill that seeks to outlaw the group Breaking the Silence, which collects critical testimonies from soldiers about their service in the territories.

MKs Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Betzalel Smotrich from the Jewish Home party, along with Kulanu’s Meirav Ben-Ari, Shas’s Yaakov Margi and Oded Forer of Yisrael Beytenu presented a bill Wednesday evening that aims to ban the group, calling it a “subversive organization” aimed at damaging the country.

The explanation included with the bill describes Breaking the Silence as “a subversive organization acting to change Israeli policy by non-democratic methods and by exerting international pressure that causes Israel damage.”

“The NGO takes takes our ‘dirty laundry’ abroad and gives information that is either false or doesn’t give an accurate picture of Israel’s policy,” the explanation reads.

Right-wing activists protest at Jerusalem's Hebrew University against the Israeli group Breaking the Silence on December 22, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Right-wing activists protest at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University against the Israeli group Breaking the Silence on December 22, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Founded by a group of veteran Israeli army combatants, Breaking the Silence collects reports, usually anonymously, about alleged abuses by soldiers in the West Bank. It has often locked horns with the Israeli political and military brass since it was founded in 2004. Its critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.

MK Shuli Mualem, the chief signatory on the bill, said the group was using human rights as a tool to castigate Israel.

Shuli Muallem of the Jewish Home party (Miriam Alster)
Shuli Muallem of the Jewish Home party (Miriam Alster)

“They support, advance and even instigate boycotts against the State of Israel,” she said, according to Channel 10 news. “They aim to delegitimize the existence of Israel.”

Over recent weeks, Knesset members and public figures have lined up for and against Breaking the Silence as two other bills taking aim at left-wing NGOs make their way through the Knesset legislative process.

In December, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon banned Breaking the Silence from all events involving soldiers, saying “it became clear that this is an organization operating with malicious motives” that is primarily concerned with vilifying the IDF abroad. A week later, Education Minister Naftali Bennett banned its members from speaking to high school students.

In a bitter Knesset face-off, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that opposition leader Isaac Herzog condemn the NGO.

File: Illustrative photo of a lecture by a member of Breaking the Silence. (Gili Getz)
File: Illustrative photo of a lecture by a member of Breaking the Silence. (Gili Getz)

A bill requiring certain Israeli nongovernmental organizations to publicly declare their foreign government funding is moving toward passage after it was approved by a cabinet committee late last month. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who proposed the bill, said it addresses foreign meddling in Israeli affairs.

The so-called NGO Law or Transparency Law would require all Israeli groups that receive half or more of their budget from foreign governments — which is true for many left-wing but few right-wing groups — to disclose their foreign benefactors.

In a controversial video clip released in mid-December, the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization accused leading figures from Breaking the Silence and other Israeli left-wing human rights organizations of being “moles” operated by foreign countries to sabotage Israel’s counter-terror efforts.

The provocative campaign was released shortly after a bill was presented to brand organizations that are heavily funded by foreign countries as “moles,” effectively barring them from meeting with government officials and members of the Israel Defense Forces.

This bill, proposed by Likud MK Yoav Kisch, would label groups funded by foreign governments as “moles” for the sponsoring countries, prevent them from contacting government or army representatives, and levy a NIS 100,000 fine against these organizations in the event they violate Israeli law.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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