CAMERA Corrects Defense News on ‘Breaking the Silence’

(This post edited after publication in Defense News on May 18, 2015.)
Reporter Barbara Opall-Rome’s article (Defense News, “Report Cites Shift in Israeli War Doctrine,” May 5, 2015) repeats, without any qualifications, a report by a group called Breaking the Silence (BtS) that claims to detail abuses by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip last summer. By doing so, it treats the group as a credible news source and fails to raise essential questions about its credibility, methods, and funding. The article fails to note that BtS receives extensive foreign funding for smearing Israel. According to watchdog group NGO Monitor, grants to the organization from Danish, British, Irish, and Swedish sources are contingent on BtS collecting testimonies and accounts that seek to portray Israel in a negative light.
Further damaging the organization’s credibility is the gap between its statements and its actions. The article repeats BtS co-founder Yehuda Shaul’s claim that this report isn’t for international bodies such as the U.N., that “We’re Israelis. Our focus is here.” However, the group’s extensive lobbying, speaking tours, and press releases in Europe and the United States – largely out of country and largely in English (not the Hebrew commonly spoken in Israel) – speak volumes about the group’s intended foreign audience and intentions every bit as much as its questionable “reporting” does.

Unfortunately, Defense News fails to question the methods used by BtS or the manner in which it present its “data.” While noting that the organization claims to have “published transcripts and essays from some 70 IDF combatants of a 50-day war that killed 73 Israelis — 67 of them soldiers” the article fails to mention that this is a proportionately small number compared to the thousands of Israeli soldiers who served in Gaza in fighting started by Hamas launching thousands of rockets targeting Israeli civilians.

BtS traffics in anonymous testimonies and allegations as a recent article in The Washington Post managed to note (“Israeli veterans say permissive rules of engagement fueled Gaza carnage,” May 5, 2015). This prevents the IDF from conducting a proper investigation of purported incidents and raises more questions about the group’s true objectives.
Defense News repeats unquestioningly Shaul’s claim that IDF policies have undergone a “deliberate shift in doctrine” to where the “IDF no longer classifies anyone as innocent.” It proceeds to rely on anonymous and unconfirmed tales from the group as evidence, completely failing to mention a Pentagon report which found that Israel “went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties in Gaza” in the words of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.
In presenting the allegations of a dubious organization as credible and newsworthy, Defense News does a disservice to its readers. By failing to question or investigate its source – and merely recycling its questionable claims – the article fails to show necessary journalistic due diligence.

Sean Durns

Media Assistant

CAMERA—Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America

Washington, D.C.
(For the slightly shorter letter as published, click here.)

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