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After 10 years of ignoring an important story, ‘NYT’ finally gets to ‘Breaking the Silence’

Is there glasnost in the New York Times Jerusalem bureau now that Jodi Rudoren has decamped for the United States? Yesterday the Times ran an article by Isabel Kershner  about the government attacks on the courageous Israeli veterans’ organization, Breaking the Silence.

[Avihai] Stollar, 32, is now the research director of Breaking the Silence, and at the center of a furor that is laying bare Israel’s divisions over its core values and the nature of its democracy.

The article echoes a lot of the nationalist criticism of Breaking the Silence, and also includes a militarist justification for the group — “Breaking the Silence strengthens the I.D.F. and its morality,” says a former commander — but also some information:

The Israel Democracy Institute’s annual survey for 2015 found that the military was the national institution that earned the highest level of trust among Israeli Jews, with a score of 93.4 percent.

Critics of Breaking the Silence emphasize that the group is partly funded by donations from European governments, which they say amounts to meddling in Israel’s internal affairs. The critics also accuse Breaking the Silence of feeding into international boycott efforts against Israel through its activities like photographic exhibits and lectures abroad…

The group’s opponents question why it does not deal with its concerns internally. The Israeli military has a system for investigating allegations of misconduct.

Official attacks on Breaking the Silence have been the order of the day for years. At December 13’s Haaretz/NIF conference in New York, two Zionist heroes, Reuven Rivlin and Tzipi Livni, condemned Breaking the Silence from the podium, because Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence was also speaking at the conference.

And meantime some on the left are dismissive of Breaking the Silence as a shooting-and-crying organization: our friend Ofer Neiman saying: BtS “may serve Israeli interests quite well, and be used to fend off sanctions and attempts to isolate the regime.” True; but Breaking the Silence has also provided important testimonies about atrocities and war crimes, including the last Gaza slaughter. Co-founder Yehuda Shaul brought many westerners (including co-author Weiss) on their first tour of apartheid Hebron and the settlements in the Hebron Hills.

It takes a lot of courage to speak out against the dominant voice in your society — especially when you are wearing the uniform and telling the truth can lead to military punishment. If you want to understand Breaking the Silence’s global impact, look at “Blue Handed,” a deeply disturbing play by the pseudonymous [email protected] Ha’@m in the latest Massachusetts Review — based on a nightmarish Breaking the Silence testimony from 2007.

The main point is that the Mass Review scooped the New York Times. Electronic Intifada did so ten years ago. So did our site way back in 2006. But under the Rudoren regime at the Times, we never heard much of anything about Breaking the Silence (besides glancing references here and there). This organization of outspoken, articulate, compelling young Israeli men and women which isn’t even on the radical edge would have been the perfect subject of a profile for the last decade. Only now are they making the pages of the country’s agenda-setting newspaper.

James North and Philip Weiss

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22 Responses

  1. Citizen on December 25, 2015, 4:57 pm

    On Twitter the Israel apologists say Breaking the Silence is an anti-Semitic organization and the testimonials are worthless as made anonymously. They give no credence at all if one responds that it takes real courage to participate in Breaking the Silence.

    I watched some on the organization’s web site and they prefaced each testimonial shown there with the name of the speaker and his or her military unit. But maybe some are made anonymously?

    • Krauss on December 26, 2015, 4:20 pm

      The truth is that BtS is not a very radical organisation.

      They often oppose real sanctions and anything that will put real pressure on the regime. I’m not surprised that NYT chooses to profile them now. BtS is the epitome of the failed “reform from within” fantasy.

      That the NYT failed to do even that during the Rudoren Regime was just another piece to the puzzle just how racist/right-wing she was. Don’t forget the glowing profiles of Israeli generals in charge of controlling the Palestinian occupation, comparing them to philosophers. Or the positive profiles of settlers, detailing their fine wine collection and their good taste in art.

      If that is how low the bar has been set, then you can do almost anything and still come across as a liberal.

      No, BtS is not enough now. The NYT has a lot of filth to account for, and we shouldn’t expect their Apartheid apologism to fundamentally end.

      Remember that it’s the owner of the paper which decides the direction and the Zionism of the Sulzbergers have not abated one bit.

      P.S. Citizen, I take no pleasure in viewing you in lesser light henceforth but I have no choice to do so since I am slightly disgusted you would even take the arguments of pro-Apartheid racists worthy of consideration, even going as far as trying to take time out of your life to disprove their argument, like a submissive dog. Disgusting – and disappointing. I thought you were better.

      • Mooser on December 26, 2015, 7:37 pm

        “P.S. Citizen, I take no pleasure in viewing you in lesser light henceforth but I have no choice to do so…”

        That’s good. I mean, considering what you might say if you did.

      • Kris on December 26, 2015, 10:41 pm

        Krauss: “I am slightly disgusted you would even take the arguments of pro-Apartheid racists worthy of consideration, even going as far as trying to take time out of your life to disprove their argument, like a submissive dog.”

        Consider the hasbarists who post their lies here on mondoweiss, and then think about the excellent education the rest of us receive from the other commenters who take time out of their lives to consider, and disprove, the Zionist/hasbarist arguments.

      • MHughes976 on December 27, 2015, 10:15 am

        I presume that Krauss’s ‘lesser light’ comment is ironical. Just to say that anyone who takes time to argue rationally against falsehood cannot be wasting time completely, though I do sometimes think that rising to mere taunts of ‘anti-Semitism’ and suchlike is too defensive and distracting.

    • Talkback on December 27, 2015, 5:33 am

      Citizen: “But maybe some are made anonymously?”

      Not at all.

      “[…] personal details of the soldiers quoted in the collection, and the exact location of the incidents described in the testimonies, would readily be made available to any official and independent investigation of the events, as long as the identity of the testifiers did not become public.”


      “Breaking Silence member Yehuda Shaul hit back at the IDF, saying “over 70 of our testifiers have come out publicly with their names and identities revealed, and I’m one of them.”

      “If the IDF was interested in investigating our claims, we probably would have already been summoned to interrogations,” concluded Shaul.”

  2. inbound39 on December 26, 2015, 12:17 am

    Well,even though it may signal a change in the NYT Offices I doubt very much it will change the American Governments Special Relationship with Israel even though it is impossible for America to defend its support for Israel. The American Government is morally and ethically bankrupt.

  3. Jackdaw on December 26, 2015, 4:00 am

    I fully support Breaking the Silence and similar Israeli NGO’s.
    Their existence proves that Israel is a strong, pluralistic society that can tolerate criticism.

    That said, I’ve read many Breaking the Silence testimonies, and they seem quite tame, especially in regard to war crimes.

    • talknic on December 26, 2015, 9:02 am

      @ Jackdaw “I fully support Breaking the Silence and similar Israeli NGO’s.
      Their existence proves that Israel is a strong, pluralistic society that can tolerate criticism”

      Right. I understand:

      Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the group from the podium of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, last week, accusing it of “slandering” Israeli soldiers before audiences around the world. The defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, described the group’s motives as “malicious” and banned it from activities involving soldiers. Naftali Bennett, the education minister in the government that is dominated by rightist and religious parties, banned it from entering state schools.

      The condemnations bolstered a new campaign by an Israeli ultranationalist organization, Im Tirtzu, which released a provocative video criticizing leaders of four leftist groups, including Breaking the Silence, for receiving financing from foreign governments and labeling them as foreign agents.

      • Jackdaw on December 26, 2015, 9:16 am

        I disagree with all their statements regarding Breaking the Silence.

        Note that powerful people, and the very rich, do not like criticism.
        This character flaw is particularly unhealthy when it applies to powerful people in government.
        They need to cultivate equanimity and humility.

    • a blah chick on December 26, 2015, 10:21 am

      “Their existence proves that Israel is a strong, pluralistic society that can tolerate criticism. ”

      So your reaction to their testimony is to praise Israeli “democracy.” Yeah, never mind condemning the abuse to the Palestinians. But wait, there’s more!

      “For the second time in a week, Israeli police have imposed restrictions on Breaking the Silence lectures scheduled to take place in private venues. The owners of those venues and Breaking the Silence claim police are silencing the organization’s message in a way that serves the right wing in Israel.” [972mag 11/30/15]

      Yep, that’s some ripe democracy right there.

      “I’ve read many Breaking the Silence testimonies, and they seem quite tame, especially in regard to war crimes.”

      You mean like this:

      testimony catalog number: 611701
      rank: Staff Sergeant
      unit: Armored Corps
      area: Deir al-Balah area
      period: 2014
      We entered a neighborhood with orchards, which is the scariest. There were lots of stories going around about being surprised by tunnels or explosive devices in these orchards. When you go in you fire at lots of suspicious places. You shoot at bushes, at trees, at all sorts of houses you suddenly run into, at more trees. You fire a blast and don’t think twice about it. When we first entered [the Gaza Strip] there was this ethos about Hamas – we were certain that the moment we went in our tanks would all be up in flames. But after 48 hours during which no one shoots at you and they’re like ghosts, unseen, their presence unfelt – except once in a while the sound of one shot fired over the course of an entire day – you come to realize the situation is under control. And that’s when my difficulty there started, because the formal rules of engagement – I don’t know if for all soldiers – were, “Anything still there is as good as dead. Anything you see moving in the neighborhoods you’re in is not supposed to be there. The [Palestinian] civilians know they are not supposed to be there. Therefore whoever you see there, you kill.”

      And yes, shooting at anything that moves is a war crime.

      • Jackdaw on December 27, 2015, 1:04 am


        The soldier didn’t say he shot anything. Did he?

  4. just on December 26, 2015, 6:45 am

    BTS at least provides some potential healing for those with PTSD. For that I am grateful.

    Read this, please:

    “Religious Ultranationalist Zionists Have Taken Over Israel – Gideon Levy/Haaretz

    First they built the settlements, then they killed off the two-state solution, now they are free to turn to their next target.

    We can already announce the winner. Religious ultranationalism, which hides behind the worn-out name “religious Zionism,” has won, big time. With the appointment of the new police commissioner, head of the Mossad and the expected appointment of the attorney general, each belonging to their camp, they have captured additional outposts of decisive power. Now the entire top leadership of the legal system (the state prosecutor and Tel Aviv district prosecutor are theirs too) and part of the defense establishment is in their hands. …”


    Merry Christmas, ladies and gentlemen @ and of MW.

    Bless Gideon Levy.

  5. BenYehudah on December 26, 2015, 8:01 am

    After the Six Day War a book “Siaḥ Loḥamim” (“Soldiers’ Talk”) appeared, published in English as ‘The Seventh Day’. It contained interviews with some soldiers from a few Kibbutzim, largely conducted by Avraham Shapira and Amos Oz. These interviews exposed some inhuman acts by the army which troubled the interviewees. As the book became well known, read and discussed, various government leaders including Golda Meir, praised it as showing the moral conscience of the soldiers etc. Why? Because this was a way of neutralising its impact and trying to spin the bad news to the advantage of the Zionist state.

    (The recent film “Censored Voices” is based on the same interview recordings. I am well aware of the criticisms of the film, but would still recommend it).

    That the Breaking the Silence organisation comes under direct attack from many in the Israeli establishment and the public, yet also some gets nuanced praise from some senior military is therefore understandable.

    What is not at all acceptable is when other critics of the IDF or Zionism attack these soldiers ‘from the left’. It is absolutely a duty of any solidarity movement to try and break open the unity of the oppressive army and to encourage critical voices from within the military.

    I’ve read recent complaints from people objecting to not being allowed to join BTS because they hadn’t served in combat roles! Correct, it’s an organisation for those who have. You want to support the Palestinians? There are dozens of other organisations in Israel where you can use your commendable energies and beliefs – if these people are genuine. Don’t attack soldiers who speak out, we need their stories.

    In a militarised, nationalistic society like Israel (and I do know what I am writing about from the inside), it really does take courage to do this. You risk losing your friends and family by taking such a stance, never mind the attacks from those you know are your enemies.

    • Mooser on December 26, 2015, 12:05 pm

      Ben, I was going to object to your comment, but upon consulting my dictionary, I found the definition of “society” can cover almost any aggregation of human beings.

    • Bumblebye on December 26, 2015, 3:28 pm

      “The Six Day War: Censored Voices”

      interviews with Israeli soldiers returning from the 6 day war and also now decades on, re-interviews.
      1hr 25mins, 11 days left to watch (from comment date).

  6. oneangrycomic on December 26, 2015, 8:26 am

    ZioTerrorists complaining that outsiders (Europe) are meddling with their government? OMG – have they ever heard of AIPAC??? What a JOKE those people are!

    “NYT” finally breaks THEIR silence! It’s temporary, so don’t get too excited. When your staff writers have children serving or having served in Terrorist IDF, objectivity is non-existent!

  7. Kay24 on December 26, 2015, 10:27 am

    It also means that when in comes to Israel, NYT prefers to be old news, and that it is not up to the minutes news, a requirement in the media. So we will have to wait another decade to read that last year Israel attacked Gaza killing over 2000 people, mostly women and children.

    Good job NYT.

  8. on December 26, 2015, 10:33 am

    In recent years I wrote a critical letter to the public editor at NYT every time Rudoren wrote a biased article about Israel or anything related to Israel/Palestine. I hope that contributed to her transfer but I doubt it. Ron

  9. gracie fr on December 26, 2015, 2:54 pm

    …..”It takes a lot of courage to speak out against the dominant voice in your society — especially when you are wearing the uniform and telling the truth can lead to military punishment. …..”

    In addition speaking out can negatively affect job opportunites, further education, and housing perks available to all young people that have served…

  10. HanzMeizer on December 26, 2015, 8:04 pm

    “Is there glasnost…?”

    the jerusalem bureau chief of germanys main television evening news (Tagesschau) Richard C. Schneider was also commandeered by the main public broadcaster ARD to leave Israel after 10 years….
    Since Germany is Israels (second important?) ally, it might be of concerne who will be germanys next official windsock for the issue.

  11. Kathleen on January 5, 2016, 9:13 pm

    Heard one Breaking the Silence soldier speak in D.C. some years back…one in Boulder. Had been aware of their website and testimonials years back and have always been moved by their bravery…and willingness to speak out. Of course reminded me of the Winter Soldier hearings during Vietnam. Completely horrifying but necessary.

    Who knows maybe Melissa Harris Perry will invite some of them on her program…..Chris Hayes could be a contender with some nerves too.

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