Breaking the Silence 1:0 NGO Monitor

NGO Monitor – a group specializing in haranguing Israeli human rights organizations – must be really scraping the barrel. Consider the following exchange between them and Breaking the Silence.

16 March 2011

To: Ms Dana Golan, Director

Breaking The Silence

RE: Your comment on a statement by Yonathan Shapira, made during a Breaking the Silence activity

Dear Ms Golan,

On 15 March 2011, the NTD television channel ran a report on a tour of Sweden by Breaking the Silence. The report featured an interview with organization representative Itamar Shapira, who said. “We are the aggressors. We are the ones violating human rights on a daily basis. We are creating the terror against us, basically.”

We wanted to ask you a few questions regarding the above.

  1. On which date did the interview take place, and in which context were the comments made?
  2. As Shapira was delegate for the organization, do his comments represent the official position of Breaking the Silence?
  3. If they do not, will any steps be taken regarding these comments?

Kind regards,

Naftali Balanson

Managing Editor

NGO Monitor

If you think that this was mere standard nitpicking, consider the timing of the email: The murderous attack in the settlement of Itamar took place on March 11.For an organization of the kind of NGO Monitor, spinning comments similar to the ones made by Shapira into a endorsement of murder of children would be quite a temptation; be their true motive as it may, Breaking the Silence decided not to take any chances. Here is their response:

17 March 2011

To Mr Naftali Balanson, NGO Monitor

CC: Michael Sfard, Breaking The Silence legal adviser

RE: Your request for comment

I have received your request for comment.

First, we are flattered that your organization employs a person tasked with following every word said by Breaking the Silence members, for the purposes of political taunting.

As for the contents of your request:

  1. Concerning the timing of the interview – we do not see the relevance of one timing or another. If, G-d forbids, your intent is to insinuate Itamar’s comments were made in the context of last week’s tragic events, this means you have reached a surprising new low, surprising even considering our past acquaintance with your organization. We’d like to remind you that the witnesses of Breaking the Silence, including Itamar Shapira, have put their bodies on the line to protect Israelis from terrorism throughout the past decade. You might want to treat them with respect, even if you don’t share their political positions.
  2. Concerning Itamar’s statement in the interview – is the NGO Monitor aware that the territories of Judea and Samaria have been under a military occupation for several decades, with millions of civilians denied their basic human rights? Even if you can provide justification (a mistaken one, to our mind), for this situation, there is neither doubt nor argument we are causing misery to an entire population. As for Itamar’s argument that this reality leads, among other things, to terrorism: An attempt to understand the motives of an act does not equal justifying despicable acts against an innocent population. We suggest you leaf through an Israeli history book and read up the famous eulogy read by Moshe Dayan to Roii Rottenberg: “We cannot complain over their fierce hate for us: For eight years, they have been sitting in the refugee camps of Gaza, while we, before their eyes, have been making the land and the villages where they and their fathers dwelled into our own.” These comments by Israel’s most famous defense minister would probably be seen by you as “anti-Israeli”;  fortunately, public debate in Israel goes deeper than that. The lowly attempt to take a sentence out of an entire interview with a veteran discussing what occupation does to his society, while another veteran speaks of the legitimacy of his verbal criticism of the military, testifies to the real motive of your organization – to publicly besmirch anyone opposing the policy of the Israeli government.
  3. Your demand of us to take steps again members of our organization, and to report to you about it, leads us to conclude your tight collaboration with the Foreign Ministry has gone to your head. Itamar Shapira is an Israeli citizen who not only volunteered to an elite units during one of the most violent periods in the history of the state, and has risked himself many times in many an operation, but also decided to invest time and energy after his discharge to make our society a better society. Fortunately, you do not represent any sort of a moral indicator in our country, and we’d prefer it if you refrain from giving us organization advice and/or preaching us in the future.
  4. We demand any comment you make or release regarding Itamar Shapira’s position will be accompanied by this response, in full!
  5. Finally, we’d like to remind you that some months ago, we asked you to make all sources of your funding known to the public – something we do and you demand but do not do yourselves. You are yet to respond to our request.
  6. All best.

Dana Golan, director

Breaking the Silence

On a personal note: Thank you to everyone who commented and responded to my own take on the killings in Itamar. I’ve had somewhat of a crazy week, and was therefore unable to take part in the debate, which included some valuable and insightful comments. I hope, however, to respond to some of the issues raised in a follow-up piece in the weekend. For those of you who read Hebrew, I’ve expanded my take on the Israeli Left’s difficulty to deal with violence against settler civilians here, and will appreciate your thoughts.