Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rose to power in Israeli politics - from being a delegate in Washington to the premiership - mainly thanks to being known as a hasbara (public relations) wizard. His command of English and his rhetorical ability turned him into a popular spokesman on foreign television networks. His policy was aggressive: Reject the claims against Israel with counterclaims against the Arabs and their supporters. But sometimes it seems Netanyahu confuses his role as the country's leader with his experience as a propagandist. That is what happened to the prime minister two days ago in London when he attacked the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence.
Netanyahu had three basic arguments against Breaking the Silence. The organization operates in Israel, the only democracy in the region, which is blessed with a legal system that investigates even the Israel Defense Forces without favoritism; the organization is funded by foreign countries, including that of his host, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (Netanyahu did not say whether he had asked Brown to discontinue the funding, and if so what Brown's response was); and it does not direct its criticism at those who deserve it, namely the Hamas government in Gaza and other regimes in the Middle East.
By placing Israel on the same moral plane as Hamas and regimes in the Arab countries and Iran, Netanyahu unjustly denigrated Israeli democracy. The strength of a nation depends not only on its ability to fight its enemies, but also on its willingness to listen to critical voices from within. Breaking the Silence acted in order to provide details to the public about IDF behavior in Gaza, behavior which the official establishment had played down. The democracy of which Netanyahu is so proud is also tested by its openness to listening to additional viewpoints, and not only by declaiming government policy.
According to Netanyahu's line of thought, criticism of the government is legitimate if it comes from the right wing - that is to say, the state is not militant enough and its excesses should be glossed over. Funding is fine as long as it comes from various foreign groups of conflict-mongers, and on behalf of settlements endangering peace and security, but not to warn of injustices. In the dictatorial regimes that Netanyahu condemns there are no organizations like Breaking the Silence, and anyone who questions the wisdom of the government is punished. It is hard to believe the prime minister envies the power of other rulers in the region to silence their critics. If that is how our most fluent speaker sounds, it's a shame that he broke his silence.
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