On May 9, the New Jersey Jewish News ran an article highlighting a photography exhibit by Breaking the Silence, in partnership with J Street (“Picture Worth Thousands of Complicated Words“). The exhibit was shown earlier this month at Princeton University.
In the article, reporter Michele Alperin omits any mention of numerous criticisms of Breaking the Silence, such as:
- The unreliability of the statements that the group collects and disseminates;
- The group’s refusal to cooperate with IDF investigators;
- Its reliance on foreign funding;
Its promotion of its work to international audiences.
Instead of noting these issues, Alperin simplistically claims that “many who demonize Breaking the Silence claim the group is unpatriotic and undermines the state,” while echoing the call from Avner Gvaryahu, the group’s representative, for a “complex” understanding of Israel.
In reporting on such events, Jewish media – like all other media – should get the facts straight.
The article in the New Jersey Jewish News notes that Breaking the Silence initially tried to have this photo exhibit hosted by Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life – on Yom Ha’atzmaut, no less. CJL declined. Instead, it was held at Princeton University’s Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, continuing BtS’s pattern of taking its message to communities and schools outside of Israel.
In the article, reporter Michele Alperin extols the need to have a “complex” relationship with Israel – the kind of complex relationship, the author implies, that Breaking the Silence can provide. She writes:
[S]ome soldiers who have served in the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza feel compelled to share their experiences. Through the organization Breaking the Silence, they have submitted testimonies, videos, and photos about their experiences to convey what they perceive as the destructiveness of what many refer to as “the occupation.”
She fails to mention, however, that Breaking the Silence has been shown to be unreliable. A July 2016 investigation by the Israeli television news magazine “Hamakor” found that, “under rigorous scrutiny, a large percentage of the group’s accounts which Channel 10 reviewed proved to be either false or exaggerated.”
The New Jersey Jewish News article includes an extensive discussion with Avner Gvaryahu, U.S. diaspora programming coordinator for Breaking the Silence. However, the 2016 Channel 10 investigation specifically examined three of Gvaryahu’s own statements, and found that one was false, one was exaggerated, and only one of the three was true.
As CAMERA has noted before, the group relies heavily on anonymous statements. In many cases, these claims are impossible to verify.
Additionally, the group refuses to cooperate with IDF investigators. As BtS itself noted after the Hamakor program, however, a thorough investigation will often uncover relevant information that was unknown to the individual who gave the statement. That is why such investigations are paramount. While Alperin quotes Gvaryahu saying, “we want to pick up a mirror to the Israeli public,” the group’s refusal to turn over information to the IDF so that the IDF can investigate the claims suggests otherwise. (Also unclear is how an exhibit in Princeton, New Jersey, or a U.S. diaspora programming coordinator, will communicate with the Israeli public.)
Many of BtS’s financial supporters are from outside of Israel, and it has come under fire for catering to international audiences with events such as the one featured in this article.
One of BtS’s founders, moreover, is responsible for the libel that Jewish settlers poison Palestinian wells.
Alperin claims that “to my mind, Gvaryahu is sharing with Israelis an alternate view of reality, that of soldiers who have to employ the tools of an occupier. He feels they need that information to form a more nuanced view of what the occupation means.” She seems unaware that, due to Israel’s mandatory conscription for both young men and young women, and mandatory reserve duty for men until age 45, Israeli society as a whole is already well-acquainted with the role and responsibility of the IDF.
She also mischaracterizes the group’s critics when she says that “many who demonize Breaking the Silence claim the group is unpatriotic and undermines the state.” In fact, the criticism of the group is based on its unreliability, its foreign backers and its foreign audience.
There is nothing wrong with seeking a complex understanding of Israel. Whether complex or simplistic, however, the New Jersey Jewish News should be promoting an understanding that is based on honest discussions of the facts, not on anti-Israel propaganda.
It’s perhaps telling that Alperin frames her article with a discussion of “Khirbet Khizeh,” a novel by S. Yizhar about a fictional Arab village, since many BtS statements have been shown to be false or exaggerated. Yet, Alperin ignores the many problems that affect Breaking the Silence’s credibility.