In Targeting Breaking the Silence, Ya'alon Is Shooting the Messenger

All such tactics have the same goal: To divert discussion from the injustices that left-wing organizations expose into a debate over the organizations themselves.

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Defense Minister Ya'alon speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, February 14, 2016.
Defense Minister Ya'alon speaking at the annual Munich Security Conference, February 14, 2016.Credit: Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s accusations of treason against Breaking the Silence on Monday – like his previous call to open an investigation into the nongovernmental organization – is another stage in the “shoot the messenger” tactic being employed against those who expose the crimes of the occupation.

It’s impossible to separate this from various other initiatives, such as the Ayelet Shaked-sponsored law to mark nonprofit organizations and Im Tirtzu’s “moles” campaign against left-wing NGOs. All have the same goal: To divert the discussion from the injustices that organizations such as Breaking the Silence expose into a debate over the organizations themselves, their legitimacy, funding and practices.

The success of this strategy can be seen with the assumption that many more people will have been exposed to the materials provided by the right-wing Ad Kan organization to Channel 2 news about Breaking the Silence than the soldiers’ testimonies that Breaking the Silence has collected.

Anyone who’s read Breaking the Silence’s report on the Israel Defense Forces’ Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, published in May 2015, has seen testimonies that help explain the large number of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza.

The report quotes a soldier from an engineering unit who operated in Gaza City. “The instructions are to shoot right away,” he says. “Whoever you spot – be they armed or unarmed, no matter what ... shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.”

According to the soldier, an officer said he knew that “a situation might arise in which innocent people get killed, but ... you must shoot without hesitation.” A staff sergeant from an armored unit added, “You could shoot anywhere, nearly freely ... worst case, they’ll ask what we shot at; we’ll say it was a ‘suspicious spot.’”

An infantry officer noted that soldiers fired artillery at a certain target, even though they expected it to cause extensive civilian harm. An infantry soldier added that when he was asked whether a suspect needed to be armed or with binoculars, he was told no on both counts and was told the person just needed to be there.

I have no intention of using this article to refute the allegations seemingly revealed against Breaking the Silence: Raviv Drucker did so in his blog (in Hebrew) and defended the legitimacy of the questions the organization asked for being both relevant to the group’s work and as questions needed to verify details.

As Drucker said, the test is what is published, not what is asked – and nothing that shouldn’t have been published was ever published.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever refuted the testimonies of Breaking the Silence, and no doubt has been cast on the veracity of its reports. The fake “testimonies” of imposters, including MK Oren Hazan (Likud), have never been published because they were found to be unreliable.

I also have no intention of explaining why the use of the word treason by Ya’alon is so severe, both publicly and legally. To do so would be to play into the hands of the tactic of “shooting the messenger.” To do so would play into the hands of those who want us to talk about Breaking the Silence instead of what the organization has revealed.

Ya’alon is not alone in bringing about this situation. He, of course, has partners, including Knesset members who present themselves as representing the “center” and “center-left” such as Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union).

But media outlets such as Channel 2 are also partners to this, because instead of devoting their energies to demanding answers over what has been revealed in Breaking the Silence’s reports, they are contributing to the witch hunt against the organization.

Ultimately, the Israeli government is responsible for the occupation that is almost half a century old, where basic rights have been denied to millions of Palestinians, the lives of Palestinians have been lost on a daily basis and they have been deprived of their land, water and the rule of law. And all this is before we even start talking about the disaster that the situation has wreaked on the citizens of Israel.

The fact that, instead of dealing with the illegitimacy of this regime, we are dealing with the question of whether a specific question asked by Breaking the Silence is relevant to the group’s work or not; and the fact that, instead of accounting for the crimes that occur in the territories as the minister responsible for them, the Israeli Defense Minister dares accuse the organization of treason – all this proves how much the tactic of shooting the messenger has succeeded.

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