An organization that alleged Israeli troops used Palestinians as human shields in Gaza accused the Foreign Ministry on Sunday of "endangering democracy," following a Haaretz report that the ministry had asked the Netherlands to freeze funds to the group.
Acting on instructions from the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands, Harry Knei-Tal, met last week with the director-general of the Dutch Foreign Ministry and complained about the Dutch embassy's funding of Breaking the Silence.
The group said Sunday that the ministry and the establishment were conducting a "witch hunt...only a part of which was exposed in the Haaretz report," that it claimed was testimony to the "erosion of democratic culture in the State of Israel."
Breaking the Silence added: "The attempts to silence voices from Israeli civil society are dangerous. As opposed to reports, the IDF has never denied the [validity of the] testimonies and it and the foreign ministry's virulent reaction... only strengthens the position of the testifying soldiers, who are not willing to be exposed."
"It looks like the ministry draws ideas from shady regimes, in which those who point out internal failures are considered traitors."
In the meeting last week between Knei-Tal and the director-general of the Dutch Foreign Ministry, the Israeli ambassador suggested that the Netherlands' funding of the organization should be terminated, according to a source.
"The Dutch taxpayer's money could be better used to promote peace and human rights," the source quoted Knei-Tal as saying.
According to sources familiar with the situation, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen - considered one of Israel's staunchest supporters in the European Union - did not know that the embassy in Tel Aviv was funding Breaking the Silence. He learned about it after the organization's funding sources were published in an article in The Jerusalem Post.
Sources say Verhagen reproached senior figures in the Dutch Foreign Ministry upon learning this and gave instructions to launch an internal investigation on the matter. It showed that the embassy in Israel gave Breaking the Silence 19,995 euros to help put together its 2009 report, which discusses Operation Cast Lead and was released earlier this month. Had this figure been five euros higher, it would have required approval from The Hague.
The director-general of the Dutch Foreign Ministry told the Israeli ambassador that in light of the probe, funding for Breaking the Silence would be reevaluated because of the political sensitivities of the issues covered by the organization.
Breaking the Silence, which was founded by Israel Defense Forces veterans, has collected what it says are damning testimonies from soldiers who took part in the January offensive against Hamas in Gaza. The report contains almost 30 anonymous testimonies.
An Israeli diplomat said that in the meeting last week, Knei-Tal said Israel was a democratic country and that such funds should go to places without democracy. Breaking the Silence was a legal and legitimate organization, he said, according to sources, but its funding by the Dutch was unreasonable "in light of the political sensitivities."
According to a senior Israeli official: "A friendly government cannot fund opposition bodies. We are not a third world country."
The director-general of the Dutch Foreign Ministry said Spain had also funded Breaking the Silence. A diplomat in Jerusalem said Breaking the Silence had also been funded by the British government. Israel has not yet approached Spain or Britain on the matter.
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