Breaking the Silence Is Indispensable to Israeli Democracy

Instead of giving in to incitement and violence, police must do their duty to protect the organization.

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Israeli reservist Ido Even Paz, center, guiding visitors at the "Breaking the Silence" exhibition at the Kulturhaus Helferei in Zurich, June 8, 2015.
Israeli reservist Ido Even Paz, center, guiding visitors at the "Breaking the Silence" exhibition at the Kulturhaus Helferei in Zurich, June 8, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Breaking the Silence is a critical NGO for Israeli society because it insists on revealing the occupation’s injustices and the immorality of Israeli soldiers’ actions in the territories. That’s also why it is seen as a headache by many people, even the police, who should protect the group from those threatening it and trying to harm it.

Last week the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court barred a local pub from holding a Breaking the Silence presentation, after the police had already made it hard for the pub’s owners and the group to hold the event. The police made demands including limiting the event to 40 people, keeping a list of attendees, and hiring two security guards at either the pub’s or the group’s expense.

The group complied but refused to take responsibility for events outside the pub, a demand that was illogical and unreasonable in the first place. In any case, even though talks between the parties were still underway, the police went to court to secure a restraining order.

This week the group planned an event at the Bar Kayma restaurant in Tel Aviv. A day before the event, police showed up and sought assurances that the number of participants would not exceed the limit stipulated on the eatery’s license.

According to the owners, this was the first time police had visited the place in the three and a half years since it opened. The owners also said the police took great interest in the license’s details – noting, for example, that the owners section had not been updated and the courtyard served as a smoking area even though this wasn’t noted on the license.

In the end, the Tel Aviv event took place. But despite the presence of policemen, a right-wing activist struck one of the participants. The police’s actions convey that the group doesn’t deserve a platform because giving it one exposes the venue to institutional harassment.

Police concerns about the safety of people at Breaking the Silence events is understandable given that these events are often accompanied by threats and violence. But instead of fulfilling their role of upholding democracy, first and foremost freedom of expression, the police are trying to stymie the organization rather than the people threatening it. They’re boosting the people who seek to terrorize, silence and intimidate.

Breaking the Silence is indispensable to Israeli democracy. Instead of giving in to the atmosphere of incitement and violence that has been fueled in recent months — by elected officials and media people as well — the police must do their duty and protect the organization, its activists and activities.

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