Breaking the Silence director spoke Sunday morning with high school students in Tel Aviv for the first time since a law seen as targeting the organization passed in July, prohibiting lectures and activities organized by groups in favor of legal actions abroad against IDF soldiers.
Avner Gvaryahu, the organization's executive director, spoke at Tichonet High School in Tel Aviv part of an event held by the school to mark the memorial day for assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. Twenty organizations were invited to speak with the students, including Zochrot, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Crisis Center for Victims of Sexual Assault, the Committee Against Torture, as well as an activist for public housing and an activist from the Jewish Voice website that is associated with settlers from Yitzhar.
The law, which received the backing of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, was perceived to be targeting the Israeli non-profit organization Breaking the Silence, which seeks to provide testimonies by Israeli veterans who served in volatile areas such as the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. It aims at clamping down on organizations critical of the Israel Defense Forces.
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Breaking the Silence claims the law does not apply to them. “Odd as it may sound, the ‘Breaking the Silence Law’ does not apply to us at all. We do not promote refusal to serve, we only provide soldiers’ testimonies. And we do not call for soldiers to be tried in international forums or anywhere else. If Education Minister Bennett wants to punish the school administration for inviting us, he’ll have to prove that the law was violated. There are other principals who want to invite us to their schools but they’re afraid of the education minister’s bullying. Now we hope they’ll see that it’s possible,” the organization's spokesman Dean Issacharoff said Sunday.
Dozens of students chose to attend the talk at Tichonet, according to Breaking the Silence. In 2016, Tichonet principal Ram Cohen invited members of the organization to the school despite a directive from the Education Ministry prohibiting principals from inviting “controversial” organizations. Cohen said at the time that he invited the organization “because there is an effort now to limit schools’ space for action and to limit thinking and expression within the schools.”
Attorney Michael Sfard, the legal adviser to Breaking the Silence, said: “Ironically, the so-called Breaking the Silence Law has nothing to do with the organizations, as this organizations does not call for refusal to serve nor does it seek to have soldiers tried in international forums - the conditions that the law stipulates for banning entry to schools. Once again Bennett is revealed as someone who invents demons and then chases after them and as someone hitching a ride on the backs of the soldiers who are exposing the daily reality of the occupation, in order to avoid confronting their testimony.”