A litmus test of Israel’s character

If you don’t live in Israel, you don’t have the right to criticize.

If you live in Israel but don’t serve in the Israeli army, you don’t have the right to criticize.

You mustn’t shut down Israeli speakers – don’t you believe in freedom of speech?

You mustn’t boycott Israel – instead, come engage with us, come have a dialogue with us.

These admonitions have been repeated by spokesmen for Israel, professional and amateur, for decades. And they’ve been hugely successful in shutting up would-be critics of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.

But just hold those Israeli “principles” up against the treatment that Netanyahu and his henchmen, or in this case henchwomen, gave Breaking the Silence earlier this week. Netanyahu refused to meet with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel when the latter insisted on also meeting with the anti-occupation soldiers’ NGO (and with the anti-occupation human rights NGO B’Tselem). Then the Likud deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said on Army Radio that Breaking the Silence “is an enemy that harms Israel. Unequivocally.” Then Likud Culture Minister Miri Regev asked the mayor of Haifa to shut down a gathering with Breaking the Silence at a local art gallery.

This is just the latest in the full-court harassment of Breaking the Silence by the government, which is trying to hound it out of the Knesset, the army, the schools, the community centers – to hound it out of existence, with law after regulation after directive.

Breaking the Silence is an organization that was started by Israeli reserve soldiers and has taken testimony from over 1,000 IDF combat troops about the abuse they’ve seen the army deal out to the Palestinians.

Do they live in Israel?

Do they serve in the Israeli army?

Are they Israeli speakers?

Yes, yes and yes, and the Israeli government, followed obediently by the mainstream media and most of the Jewish public, hates Breaking the Silence like it hates no other anti-occupation movement.

It hates them not just because they go after the country’s holy of holies, the army, but because they do it with unimpeachable credibility. They’re telling what they saw with their own eyes and did with their own hands. They’ve proven their patriotism – they’ve risked their lives for Israel. They have no reason to lie. And there are more than 1,000 of them.

Breaking the Silence provides a litmus test of Israel’s character, a test this country has failed abjectly. If Israel can’t listen to the truth from Breaking the Silence, it can’t listen to the truth from anybody – yet not only can’t Israel listen to Breaking the Silence, it’s Breaking the Silence that drives Israel the craziest.

Nope, it doesn’t matter if you live in Israel, if you serve in the army or even if you’ve been a combat soldier for the occupation – if you level serious moral criticism at the way this country treats Palestinians, you are a traitor and an enemy in this country’s eyes. In fact, if you’re a combat soldier and you speak out against the occupation, you’re the biggest traitor, worse than the Diaspora Jewish liberals and our goyishe “friends.”

You mustn’t boycott Israel – instead, come and engage with us, come have a dialogue with us. Really? Look how Israel treats its own fighting men and women who do engage and seek a dialogue with it. So take a lesson – go ahead and boycott. If Israel calls you a traitor or an enemy, you’ll be in good company, in fact the best.


Breaking the Silence website





Published by

Larry Derfner

I was born in New York in 1951, grew up mainly in Los Angeles, began my career in journalism in 1981, and moved to Israel in 1985. I live in Modi'in with my wife Philippa and sons Alon and Gilad.

2 thoughts on “A litmus test of Israel’s character”

  1. To date, Breaking the Silence has done nothing illegal. The State, via Bibi’s cold shouldering of the German Minister and the events by others you relate, is shaming them. The Minister was declared unclean because he met an unclean. But freedom of association should prevent government shaming such as this so long as the target is legal, which here it is. Those in State positions cannot see the difference between their own and Party views and the State–and that is a key ingredient of Fascism. How should Bibi as State representative handled the German’s meeting with BtS? Just ignore it. Don’t talk of it privately in meetings or publically. That’s all you have to do to retain State neutrality here. But shaming is now a STATE policy defining what the People are.

    This slip occurs anywhere in wartime; it happened in the US in WW II, in Korea, and at first with Vietnam; people were arrested during WW I for placing anti-war pamphlets in the US mail. But Vietnam, not being a total war, eventually broke the wartime fusion of People and State; presently, national right patriotism in the US seeks to reassert it. Israel has been in virtual total war about all of its existence. BtS’s treatment is then not that abnormal. Pluralism cannot be sustained in a war state, and we now live in virtual realities of news which endeavor to create such a state. Israel is merely on the edge of the spectrum. The Israeli left is bucking a powerful human trait. We seem to lament all this only after its day is done.

    1. Yeah, Greg. And Israelis don’t recognize that 100 years of going from war footing to war and back, perpetually, might have taken a bit of a toll on the country’s democratic spirit.

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