Senior White House officials met this week with members of the left-wing NGO Breaking the Silence. The meeting, the first of its kind, dealt with testimonies that the organization had collected on alleged human-rights violations by the Israel Defense Forces during last summer’s war in Gaza. The meetings were held a few days after Israel’s Foreign Ministry tried to get a Breaking the Silence exhibition to be held in Switzerland canceled.
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Matt Duss, president of the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, organized the meeting between Breaking the Silence representatives and members of the White House National Security Council.
The meeting did not take place at the White House but at the offices of an American nonprofit in the capital.
A Breaking the Silence representative also held a separate meeting at the State Department with working-level officials in its human rights bureau.
Duss told Haaretz that during the meetings, Breaking the Silence presented its recent report last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. Obama administration officials reacted with a great deal of interest, Duss said, asking “many questions about the vetting process of the witnesses, the testimonies and the fact-checking.”
The briefing provided them with many details on what occurred during the Gaza operation, Duss added, “especially about the rules of engagement.”
According to Duss, the fact that both White House staff and the State Department held meetings with Breaking the Silence shows that the organization has an open door to the administration.
“It is in line with what Obama said recently. These are the shared values between Israel and the United States – wanting to improve our society,” said Duss. This is Washington recognizing “they are young Israeli patriots who are trying to improve their society,” he added.
An Obama Administration official said: “U.S. Government officials met with Breaking the Silence, as we routinely meet with a range of actors from official and non-official international groups, including from civil society.”
The State Department also responded, “Officers from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with a representative from the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. The State Department regularly meets with a broad array of political and civil society organizations from various countries worldwide.”
Founded in 2004, Breaking the Silence is a veterans’ organization that has often aroused controversy in Israel over the testimonies it collects from IDF soldiers serving in the occupied territories.
The meetings with representatives of the NGO came during a week in which the organization attracted harsh criticism from the Israeli government because of its exhibition in Zurich, partially funded by the Swiss government. Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, Yigal Caspi, lodged a protest with the Swiss Foreign Ministry over it, and asked that donations and support for a group that deals with the “defamation of Israel” be halted.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, who this week called for action against the Breaking the Silence exhibition, said the organization “is working against Israel from within,” adding, “We will not ignore it when an organization whose whole purpose is to defame IDF soldiers works in the international arena to seriously damage Israel’s image.”
This is not the first time the Foreign Ministry has taken action against Breaking the Silence. In July 2009, following publication of the organization’s report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the Foreign Ministry lodged protests with the Netherlands, Spain and Britain over their support for the group.