‘Stop funding Breaking the Silence,’ PM asks UK’s May
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‘Stop funding Breaking the Silence,’ PM asks UK’s May

Prime Minister's Office rushes to issue correction: UK does not fund organization directly, but indirectly via Christian groups

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street in London, February 6, 2017. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May greets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street in London, February 6, 2017. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday asked his British counterpart Theresa May to halt funding for what he called nonprofit organizations that are “hostile to Israel.”

Specifically, he mentioned Breaking the Silence, an organization that collects testimonies from former Israel Defense Forces soldiers about alleged human rights violations they witness in the Palestinian territories during their military service.

Theresa May was set to conduct a “reexamination” of Britain’s approach to funding NGOs, Netanyahu told reporters accompanying him on an official visit to the UK.

“I gave them [the British] the [names of] the various NGOs that the government of Britain funds, among them Breaking the Silence, and I asked her to stop funding them,” Netanyahu said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with representatives of the "Reservists Front" organization, at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 3, 2015. "Reservists Fronf" fights against the activities of "Breaking the Silence," a Left-wing organization of former IDF soldiers revealing stories from their service of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) met with representatives of the ‘Reservists Front’ organization, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on January 3, 2015. ‘Reservists Front’ fights against the activities of ‘Breaking the Silence.’ (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

When it was pointed out that the British government does not fund Breaking the Silence, the Prime Minister’s Office in Israel hurried to issue a clarification that said Britain funded Breaking the Silence and other NGOs indirectly, via organizations such as Christian Aid and CAFOD, the Catholic international development charity.

Breaking the Silence has been a frequent target of ire for right-wing parties in Israel.

Last year, Israeli lawmakers passed into law the controversial Transparency Bill, which dramatically increases transparency requirements for fewer than two dozen Israeli NGOs — Breaking the Silence among them — that get most of their funding from foreign governments.

A Justice Ministry analysis of the legislation showed that nearly all the existing Israeli organizations set to be affected by the law’s new requirements were groups that oppose Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Peace Now activists protest an NGO funding bill proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked outside her residence in Tel Aviv, December 26, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Peace Now activists protest an NGO funding bill proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked outside her residence in Tel Aviv, December 26, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said that by funding groups such as these, foreign governments were guilty of “blatant intervention in internal Israeli affairs.”

Critics said the law unfairly targeted left-wing NGOs critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, and sought to brand them as foreign agents.

In January, a bill that would prevent Breaking the Silence from holding events at Israeli schools passed its preliminary reading in the Knesset.

Although mainly directed at Breaking the Silence, the draft legislation seeks to give the education minister the power to ban all groups “that work to damage the Israel Defense Forces” from entering any academic institutions.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Jewish Home party unveiled the bill last December after three high school principals ignored his call to ban the organization from speaking to students.

The principal of the Alterman High School in Tel Aviv during a presentation for Breaking the Silence on December 18, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
The principal of the Alterman High School in Tel Aviv during a presentation about Breaking the Silence, December 18, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Responding to the proposal, Breaking the Silence said that Bennett was trying to create “an education system of occupation” and would fail this time as he had done before.

Founded in 2004 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 and its critics have denounced its reports as dishonest, inaccurate, and part of an advocacy campaign intended to harm Israel’s image overseas.

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