Saturday, March 26, 2016

A comment on Breaking the Silence

About 10 days ago Channel 2 TV, Israel's most popular channel, aired a longish report claiming Breaking the Silence (BtS) investigators are not limiting themselves to collecting stories from IDF veterans about ugly IDF behavior, but have branched out into what looks suspiciously like gathering general military intelligence. Following the ensuing uproar Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon tasked the relevant agencies to investigate. At some future date - easily weeks from now, perhaps many months - we'll hear either that the investigators found nothing worth criminal process, or that they did.

Lots of folks aren't waiting for either scenario to happen, and are using what we already know to bash their political foes, one way or the other. Much of this is predictable, and lacks any real value while convincing only the convinced.

One strand of the argument, however, has been a bit startling, and to my mind, noteworthy. This is the claim made by BtS defenders that the organization can't be doing anything wrong since all its publications go through the censor. (Here's an example of the genre). It's an odd line of defense, as the allegations were that BtS is collecting classified information, not publishing it; the mere collection, if proven, might be criminal - a matter I'll leave firmly for the experts.

The reason I'm blogging on this however, in spite of my obligation to stay firmly away from political matters, is that it shines a fascinating light on the IDF, on BtS, and on Israeli society.

In a better world, Israel wouldn't have a censor at all. In that world, Israel would be at peace. In the world we're in, Israel has never been at peace, and does have a censor. The censor's activities, however, are closely observed by the Supreme Court, and it's staff do their best to leave as light a footprint as possible, and to block as little information as possible.

Breaking the Silence, meanwhile, presents itself as a brave organization which stands up to Israel's establishment, especially it's military establishment, so as to tell its citizens (and the rest of the world) about the moral price its soldiers pay to maintain the occupation.

Or perhaps it's not so brave? For it turns out that everything it tells, it tells after it has gone to the censor (a military outfit), and the censor permits. One assumes (I haven't tried to check) that occasionally BtS goes to the censor with an item which for whatever reason can't be made public, and then BtS remains silent.

So where, pray tell, is the bravery? What silence exactly is being broken? Whatever BtS tells, it's not things the IDF wants kept secret, since the IDF could use the censor to keep it so; or conversely, even when BtS has an unpleasant story to tell, the IDF doesn't silence it. Rather than brave dissidents, perhaps we're seeing a military establishment which is open to public scrutiny to an admirable degree, and a society which supports the IDF, supplies occasional soldiers who dislike what they see, and enables them to publicly tell their tale and even take it on international roadshows?

That would mean it's not a tale of the moral damage occupation inflicts on Israeli society, but rather one of many methods Israeli society uses to try and preserve its moral standards.


idit said...

Hmm....Morality and BtS in the same sentence?
Allow me to cast a doubt on their motives. The fact is that their target audience is not the Israeli public, and they are causing a great deal of damage to Israel. Can you imagine An American or A European going on on a world tour to smear their country?

Barbara Mazor said...

@idit I think their names are Assange and Snowden.

Yenta Press said...

By Israeli law, collecting without authorization of classified information about the IDF
is enough to be beyond the line.

And if anybody believes that BTS are getting the censor approval for what they tell
on their countless journeys outside of Israel - That's a fantasy.

Anonymous said...

BtS are paid by their European masters who wants to hear about alleged Israeli war crimes, they will do anything for money. It's a well paid job for people that otherwise would be forced to find a real work.

milton said...

I propose that the story is a complex one, with good and bad and hard-to-know, and hard-to-judge, and morality, and moral damage. That some BTS members do considerable harm to Israel's abroad is regrettable and distressing. It is nonetheless possible that the organisation can also have a positive function within Israeli society. Amiram Levin, Yuval Diskin, Ami Ayalon, and Alik Ron have all come to the defense of BTS, and even if all four members of this quartet do not identify with the political right, their credentials in military and security matters and impressive. Here are a couple of links: