Australian Jews Up in Arms About Israeli NGO Report on IDF Abuses

Jewish leaders and Breaking the Silence trade blows as the NGO's controversial report on the 'moral price' Israel is paying for the occupation hits Australian shores.

SYDNEY, Australia - Publication of controversial testimonies of Israeli soldiers' alleged abuse against Palestinians has triggered an acrimonious row in the Australian Jewish community.

The war of words was sparked August 24 by the release of some 30 testimonies by Breaking the Silence, a controversial NGO that has gathered 700 soldiers' testimonies since it was founded in 2004, in a bid to stir debate on the "moral price" Israel is paying for the occupation.

The introduction to the report, "Children and Youth: Soldiers' Testimonies (2005-2011)," claims the "harsh treatment of Palestinian children continues unabated" and says efforts to force them to act as "human shields" continue, despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling against the practice.

But Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said it was impossible for the Israel Defense Forces to investigate the claims because the testimonies were "anonymous ... devoid of critical detail and untested by any kind of cross-questioning." He added that the NGO is exploiting them "for propaganda effect."

Dana Golan, executive director of Breaking the Silence, said the testimonies "meet the highest standards of investigative journalism" and unusual cases are "corroborated by two independent sources."

In a statement co-signed by 15 ex-soldiers, she accused Lamm of "pontificating from afar."

"It is precisely because we have been on the front lines that we understand that the future of our country depends on its moral fortitude no less than on its military might," she added.

A spokesperson for ECAJ said it would not respond to "mere name-calling" by Breaking the Silence.

Yehuda Shaul, a co-founder of the group, told Haaretz: "It comes as no surprise that someone with extreme right-wing views that are pro-occupation and pro-settlements is proficient in attacking us."

Coverage last week in the Australian media - specifically in The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne's The Age - incensed Lamm and other Jewish leaders who have criticized what they call the anti-Israel bias of the newspapers.

"The IDF's arbitrary use of violence against Palestinian children, including forcing them to act as human shields in military operations, has been exposed by veteran soldiers in detailed statements chronicling dozens of brutal incidents," the newspaper report said.

Lamm slammed the "crude propaganda" published by Fairfax Media, which owns both mastheads, adding "many Australians ... are being left with the false, indeed ridiculous, impression that the IDF is a serious abuser of children's rights."

Philip Chester, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, claimed the report "inverted the reality where Palestinian leadership indoctrinate their children to hate ... Israelis."

But Peter Kerr, executive editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, stood by the company's Middle East correspondent, Ruth Pollard, saying: "Her reporting on this issue has been fair, accurate and balanced."

The dispute highlighted the divide in Australia between the conservative leadership and progressives.

Robin Margo, president of the New Israel Fund's Australia branch, emailed supporters Friday, standing by Breaking the Silence, one of NIF's grantees.

He quoted former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, a co-patron of NIF in Australia, who said Breaking the Silence is trying to "sensitize" Israelis to the effect of the occupation, which is "growing like a cancer."

Michal Fattal
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