Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has ordered the Israel Defense Forces to investigate whether classified material has been passed onto Breaking the Silence. The nongovernmental organization responded that all the soldiers’ testimonies it publishes are cleared by the military censor.
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Ya’alon’s order followed a Channel 2 report on Thursday that claimed the NGO gathers information about military operations while collecting testimonies from former soldiers who served in the occupied territories.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blasted Breaking the Silence after the report was aired and said an investigation had been launched into the allegations. He added that the group has “crossed yet another red line.”
The TV report 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 executive director Yuli Novak accused the prime minister of “turning Israel’s security services into a political tool. That’s the real, dangerous crossing of red lines, and this is what needs to be investigated.
“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,” 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.
The group reiterated on its Facebook page that the “very classified information” mentioned in the TV report was approved for publication in full by the IDF censors.
Breaking the Silence said it warns witnesses of disclosing classified information and makes sure 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, on another interview.
Another interview – which the censor banned complete sections of – was with an Ad Kan activist trying to incriminate the NGO. The activist began his testimony by saying he wanted to talk about his experiences on the Syrian front. The interviewer told him that while these things were interesting, the NGO restricted its activity to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Only at the end of the interview (after 34 pages of script) and after the interviewer had said he had no more questions about Gaza did the two return to discuss Syria, since “we have a little time left.”
The IDF censors erased sections and sentences in the testimony given by the Ad Kan activist, more than in any previous interview, said Breaking the Silence’s Yehuda Shaul.
“Ad Kan had in fact sent a soldier to violate field security, in an attempt to incriminate us,” Shaul explained.
Ad Kan told Haaretz that Breaking the Silence “makes cynical use of soldiers’ innocence and consciences, with the intention of obtaining the information the NGO is interested in.”
The group did not respond to the fact that those who disclosed the classified information were its own activists.
The Channel 2 report drew harsh initial responses from figures across the political spectrum.
MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) said Breaking the Silence was waging “a subversive operation to collect sensitive and classified intelligence information,” raising questions about the activity’s purpose. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) said the activists conducted what appeared to be a military investigation, even though they have no security clearance. Both called for a police investigation into the report.
However, Brig. Gen. (res.) Amiram Levin, former Northern Command chief and deputy Mossad chief, came out in support of Breaking the Silence. He said the TV report about the NGO was “false and misleading,” and that the group only published testimonies cleared by IDF censors.
“Breaking the Silence is a patriotic group. It opens cracks in the wall of damages that the occupation has caused the IDF and Israel,” Levin said over the weekend. He also said the IDF must encourage soldiers to speak out without fear.
Levin said in an ad he published in Haaretz last December: “[The NGO] strengthens our morality it protects IDF soldiers in the impossible place where the politicians abandoned them The orders to silence Breaking the Silence are harming and weakening the IDF.”
Former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin also backed Breaking the Silence and said it was important to have groups that protected human rights.