My take on the December 24 NY Times news story on Breaking the Silence is somewhat different from that published here yesterday. Of course, I’ve always been the glass-is-half-empty rather than the glass-is-half-full kind of guy. Maybe I’m just too cynical, but I read the story as a classical NY Times story on Israel: essentially dishonest—ok, maybe half-honest–but just informative enough to pass for a fair and unbiased piece, when in fact it is grievously misleading in a number of ways:
First, it’s the usual he-says, but she-says story, reporting “perspectives” when there is not the slightest doubt that one of the perspectives is clearly true and other is clearly false. Yes, it’s a good thing that the Times is discussing the growing prominence of Breaking the Silence, and its support by some retired generals and Shin Bet directors, but then such statements are “balanced” by criticism from the attackers of BTS. What’s missing is a discussion of the incontrovertible facts. For example, in yesterday’s Haaretz Zeev Sternhell, Israel’s most eminent political philosopher and commentator, says that “In not one case have reports and testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence have been proved wrong.”
Sternhell’s rebuttal of the critics of BTS could have gone much further: over many years literally dozens of impartial investigations and reporting of human rights and international organizations as well as hundreds of news stories (even in the NY Times) and long articles by journalists and academic specialists have made it absolutely incontrovertible that Israel repeatedly commits war crimes and acts of state terrorism. If anything, Breaking the Silence doesn’t go nearly far enough, though of course one can fully understand why it doesn’t.
Second, the Times story reports that the BTS opponents “question” why it’s not enough for the military to investigate itself, and quotes the defense minister as saying that it tried to, but was “unsuccessful.” The Times reports this with a straight face. Surely it knows that no serious observer thinks that Israel’s own “military investigations” of the kind of war crimes examined by BTS are anything but blatant white washes. When it comes to its methods, the “most moral army in the world” routinely lies about its behavior, and every serious, informed, and unbiased observer knows it. And of course it lies, what else can it do?: the actions it purports to “investigate” are the consequences, and usually the intended consequences, of its own attitudes and policies. Not a hint of these facts in the Times’ story.
Third, the Times story says that “critics [of BTS] emphasize that the group is partly funded by donations from European governments, which they say amounts to meddling in Israel’s internal affairs;” however, the story neglects to note that the U.S. government provides far larger and unconditional funding to the Israeli government and armed forces (despite their war crimes), or that wealthy American right wing extremists, like Sheldon Adelson, provide far more funds to the extremist Israeli groups who are leading the charge against BTS. Yet more: wouldn’t you think that Times might note that the European governments in question are liberal democracies, with all the implications that follow?
And I could add more. In the end, should we be grateful for some half-truths from the NY Times? Perhaps so, but I’m afraid that’s not how I see it.