Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Monday that Breaking the Silence was committing treason whether confidential information it gathers through questioning of former Israeli soldiers was being made public or even if it was only being stored in the group's records.
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A report on Channel 2 on Saturday suggested that Breaking the Silence, an NGO founded by Israel Defense Force veterans, gathers information about IDF military operations while collecting testimonies from discharged soldiers who served in the occupied territories. The nonprofit said all the soldiers’ testimonies it publishes are cleared first cleared by the military censor.
Speaking to high-school students in northern Israel, Ya'alon said on Monday: "What was revealed on Channel 2 was that [Breaking the Silence] is also asking the soldiers questions that are unrelated to routine operations and morality, that [it is also asking questions] that are considered a military secret."
"So whether they are using it outside (abroad), which is very serious – if you distribute this material to the outside, it is treason," the defense minister said, adding that if Breaking the Silence was "keeping it for themselves, this is also [treason]. Who is guarding this material? Why do [they] need to know which equipment we use?"
In response to Ya'alon's remarks, Breaking the Silence said the Israeli's "expect their Minister of Defense to provide them and their children with security rather than deceitful and pitiful political incitement.
"During a time in which terror runs wild in the streets, and citizens of Israel are being stabbed and injured on a daily basis, the Minister of Defense, Moshe (Boogie) Y'aalon, whose sole job it is to protect and maintain security, has instead chosen to lash out at soldiers and combatants, citizens of Israel - some of whom are parents with children - who oppose the occupation. Breaking the Silence does not store any state secrets, and Ya'alon knows that well."
Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) cautioned against the use of the terms "traitor" or "treason," and said "Israeli society has paid a heavy price for use of words like that," in an apparent reference to slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said Ya'alon's remarks convey a message that could lead to killings. "I am concerned for the well-being of the people of Breaking the Silence, who are patriotic citizens working in support of the moral image of Israel and the end of the occupation."
The TV report on Channel 2 was based on hidden camera footage recorded by the far-right Ad Kan group, which plants activists in leftist organizations to collect incriminating information.
The footage shows Breaking the Silence activists collecting testimony from former soldiers and asking them about Gaza tunnels as well as military equipment, positions and operation protocols.
Breaking the Silence said it warns witnesses about disclosing classified information and said the questions are being asked to verify the facts. The two testimonies mentioned in the Channel 2 report had been sent by Breaking the Silence to the military censor for examination. The censors cleared major parts of one interview and made almost no comments, barring a few words, in another interview.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked the Breaking the Silence on Sunday, saying that it works against IDF soldiers fighting terrorism. "The attempt to discredit the soldiers of the IDF is wrong, but the attempt to gather intelligence on them is intolerable and is being dealt with by the relevant parties," Netanyahu said.
“Netanyahu’s attempt to shut down the NGO and harm soldiers and combatants who object to the occupation should worry all those concerned for Israel’s future,” Breaking the Silence executive director Yuli Novak said.
Novak told Channel 2 that the report unfairly accepted the version of the Ad Kan activists. She stated that her organization publishes testimonies in accordance with all of the IDF censor’s guidelines.