Knesset Gives Initial Nod to Bill That Would Muzzle Breaking the Silence

Law proposed by heads of Habayit Hayehudi, Yesh Atid would ban school activities organized by groups supporting censure abroad of IDF soldiers

MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), addressing the Knesset plenum, February 12, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

A bill aimed at clamping down on organizations critical of the Israel Defense Forces won the backing of the Knesset plenum on Monday, in the first of three votes. Specifically, the draft law, an initiative of Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of Habayit Hayehudi, and MK Yair Lapid, chairman of the opposition party Yesh Atid, would ban activities at schools that are organized by groups that are in favor of legal actions being taken abroad against IDF soldiers.

The proposal passed by a majority of 35 to 23.

Breaking the Silence and all the organizations similar to it – their aim is not to set things right but rather to undermine the existence of the State of Israel, to harm IDF soldiers and officers,” said MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli (Habayit Hayehudi), presenting the proposal for approval.

“It is permissible to criticize the army but anyone who undermines the existence of the State of Israel and slanders IDF soldiers to the point where they are persecuted by international courts cannot claim innocence. The senseless attempt to attribute to IDF soldiers a lust for murdering children will not be heard in our schools,” she added.

However, according to the Breaking the Silence NGO, an anti-occupation veterans' group, the law would not apply to it because it does not act to support and promote indictment of IDF soldiers in foreign courts. Therefore, the organization told Haaretz, its members intend to continue to give lectures in local schools.

“For a year and a half now Bennett has been lurching around in endless, failed attempts to gag us and prevent us from meeting young people throughout the country,” the group said.

“Those who are harming IDF soldiers are politicians like Bennett who, on the one hand, continue to send us to rule over millions of Palestinians and to defend illegal outposts and hilltops, and on the other hand, remain silent when settlers routinely attack soldiers, police and Palestinians. We recommend to Bennett and his youths that they come down from the hilltops and start internalizing that the only way to stop us is to end the occupation.”

In response to Moalem-Refaeli remarks, MK Michal Rozin of the left-wing Meretz party, said: “It is our right to bring different opinions as well into our schools. The one who is undermining the State of Israel is you, since you are transforming us into one state under the rule of the settlers, and the Zionist vision is coming to an end.”

Breaking the Silence, Rozin added, "is an organization of soldiers and commanders in the army, some of whom serve in the reserves. The organization is calling upon the government to change the policy of the occupation. These are our sons and daughters, whom you are sending to defend your settlements at the cost of damage to the State of Israel.”

Rozin’s party colleague Mossi Raz added: “The Knesset member [i.e., Moalem-Refaeli] is a settler who does not even live in Israel. Are you and the education minister, a political figure – is he going to decide whom he will admit and whom he will expel [from schools]? And for what reason? Because they dared to speak the truth. There is a limit to how much people can be gagged.”

For her part, MK Tzipi Livni, of the oppositionist Zionist Union party, said: “I sent those soldiers into battle and the very least that I can do to is hear the ones who returned and have something to say – even if I don’t like what they are saying. I am prepared to do this even if I am called a collaborator. This is legislation of cowards and weak people.”