The Israeli media is branding Breaking the Silence as traitors

The campaign against the Israeli Left continues: why did Channel 2 air a segment that paints Breaking the Silence as a traitorous organization that peddles in state secrets?

Screenshot from Ad Kan's hidden camera, capturing Breaking the Silence interviewing a right-wing mole.
Screenshot from Ad Kan’s hidden camera, capturing Breaking the Silence interviewing a right-wing mole.

Israel’s Channel 2 news broadcasted a segment Thursday evening based on material given to them by the hidden-camera-toting undercover moles of right-wing group Ad Kan. The target this time: Breaking the Silence. The findings: Nothing at all.

In effect, two central claims arise from Ofer Hadad’s segment. The first, pettier argument basically amounts to: “Why does Breaking the Silence deal with issues beyond the occupation of the West Bank?” The second, more serious claim is that Breaking the Silence collects sensitive, classified information on Israeli military operations, which is prohibited from reaching the hands of citizens.

But in addition to these claims, the segment made an assertion that is the real heart of this story: Breaking the Silence “gathers intelligence.” Former Shin Bet head Avid Dichter even called it ”suspected espionage.” Why? For what purpose? Is this is actually dangerous? Channel 2 news doesn’t tell us, instead leaving it up to us to guess, and by doing so they join the slanderous frenzy of branding leftists as traitors.

Before we examine these claims, it is worth noting the most important point regarding Breaking the Silence, which so many people forget and try to overlook: this is a professional organization comprised of former soldiers, to which over one thousand soldiers have provided testimonies. Furthermore it is an organization that prides itself on its process of meticulously scrutinizing and filtering testimonies and testifiers. It only publishes things it has confirmed are true and that have passed through the IDF Censor.

To this day, to the best of my knowledge, not one fabrication has been discovered from among the testimonies published by the organization. The fake testimonies provided by Ad Kan’s undercover agents – along with the one given by MK Oren Hazan – did not pass through the organization’s rigorous filtering process, and were simply never published. This is praiseworthy, not to mention far more diligent and professional than nearly all Israeli media outlets (case in point: Channel 2 itself has itself been baited by lies before). In short, just listen to what they are saying.

Who really violated the law?

Let’s take a quick look at the first claim. I spoke with Yuli Novak, the executive director of Breaking the Silence, who has her own answer on this issue. But I would like to start with my own response, which is relevant to the second claim as well: why does this bother you, Channel 2? Why is a journalist like Ofer Hadad troubled by the fact that an organization is asking questions and attempting to gather information for the public good, even if it is supposedly outside of his “official mandate?” Why is this entire segment informed by an aspiration for less information to be collected and published? What sort of an anti-journalistic message is this? Do Channel 2’s journalists themselves also avoid asking “too many” questions?

Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak speaks during a protest against right-wing incitement, central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/
Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak speaks during a protest against right-wing incitement, central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/

Another issue is the question of whether or not the Gaza Strip is under Israeli military occupation. The answer is yes, it is. Even if it is not a direct occupation, Israel still controls the Gaza Strip in a number of ways. The way the army treats the residents of Gaza – in both wartime and during routine periods of siege – is an important topic that must be brought before the public eye as often as possible. It pertains to suspicions of war crimes as well. Here’s something I recently wrote on the matter.

Regarding this issue Novak adds that, “We only publish testimonies that touch upon military rule over Palestinians in the occupied territories. The interviews with soldiers are conducted, of course, as an open conversation with the testifier – and we allow soldiers to talk about additional experiences from their military service.” In the case of the mole, “Roy Peled,” Novak adds, he raised the issue of the Syrian border and discussed it at length, despite the fact that this was not a topic that the Breaking the Silence interviewer was interested in. As mentioned before, this testimony was never published. Raviv Drucker reported on this issue over a month upon hearing about the testimonies provided to Breaking the Silence by Ad Kan moles.

And now to the other, more grave claim. The first thing that troubles me about it is the extreme lack of self-awareness: what arises from the segment is that Ad Kan in effect gathered classified materials, forbidden for publication, in attempt to ensnare Breaking the Silence. So if a civilian organization is prohibited from gathering such materials, isn’t Ad Kan just as ‘guilty’ as Breaking the Silence? And if Ad Kan’s moles attempted to take down Breaking the Silence by sharing classified information themselves – which they knew was classified – are they not the ones who disobeyed the law and violated their obligation to protect military secrets?

In any case, what wrongs did Breaking the Silence commit? They collect testimonies; ask fundamental questions in order to understand the character of operations carried out by soldiers; warn soldiers not to share classified information with them; and then publish the testimonies only after carefully verifying and corroborating them, ensuring relevancy to the issue of the occupation, and running them through a legal advisor and the IDF Censor. By the way, we can only hope that the journalists of Channel 2 who gather classified materials from secret sources only publish it after examination and review by the Censor as well. After all, how are they different from the people of Breaking the Silence?

A few of the issues raised in the segment are actually of great importance and interest to the public, such as the extent to which remotely-operated weapons are used by the IDF (such weapons, by the way, have already been covered in the past by Channel 2 itself), whose ramifications on civilians are being assessed internationally today. Or the questions on the description of military incursions into the Gaza Strip during which agricultural areas are flattened and demolished, such as in this story.

But even in the introduction to the segment, Channel 2 notes that these sections of the testimonies are “the parts that Breaking the Silence, apparently, was not so eager to share with the public.” Of course not: firstly because the testifiers at hand were untrustworthy, and second, because the organization is exhibiting responsibility and refraining from publishing classified material. “The information we publish doesn’t touch on issues of state security – but rather information meant to bring an end to the occupation – that’s our goal,” clarifies Novak. “Those who seek to continue to perpetuate the occupation don’t want this information to reach the Israeli public, but we will continue to expose the harsh realities of military rule in the occupied territories.”

Since the broadcast of Channel 2’s segment, many have reacted to the portion in which a young woman who was allegedly “planted” in the Civil Administration — the body responsible for all aspects the occupation that don’t involve boots-on-the-ground security operations — by Michael Manekin (then a senior figure at Breaking the Silence) in order to collect stories from there. This is a totally unfounded story, and neither the woman nor Mankin’s response was included in the segment. Manekin, for his part, flatly denied the whole thing ever took place, and states that he in fact suggested she enlist in the education corps.

In the post-segment interview, Novak asserted that the woman’s words were taken out of context, and that the recording was of a casual, friendly conversation. The statement “there will be lots of stories” in the civil administration, said Novak, should not be read as a call to collect information, but rather to signify that it is a place where many interesting – and horrible  – things take place. And that indeed was exactly what this woman discovered during her time there. That’s it.

A frenzy over the Left 

Channel 2 reporter Ofer Hadad. (Screenshot)
Channel 2 reporter Ofer Hadad. (Screenshot)

So what’s the story here, actually? Why did Channel 2 pick it up? What exactly did it reveal? The story lies in the subtext. Hadad asserts that Breaking the Silence is gathering “intelligence.” Avi Dichter says the whole thing smells of the handling of “agents,” and “suspected espionage.” Dichter said it would be very grave for such information to find itself into the wrong hands. What’s more, it was said that it could “cost human lives” if it does.

But is any of this information actually making its way to foreign hands? There is no basis for such a suspicion. None. Except for footage showing members of Breaking the Silence people abroad discussing the material that they published, which was also approved by the military censor. There is absolutely no foundation to claim otherwise.

So why is Channel 2 engaging in this? Because it blends in very nicely with the general depiction of leftists as traitors, a depiction that the Right has been pushing for years now. And this is the message that audiences watching the piece are meant to receive. This is the way in which Channel 2 collaborates with – and not for the first time – the slanderous frenzy against the Left, with no justification whatsoever.

It might be worth mentioning that indeed people from within the Right have spied on the security services – and did in fact relay classified information to unauthorized recipients in a dangerous fashion. And those people are now part of the government.

Ad Kan revelations to date

With this segment in mind, let us recall the three main occasions in which material gathered by Ad Kan operatives was previously revealed through the media – and mostly through the aforementioned platform that hosted them today. Already back in 2014 Channel 2 broadcasted materials received from Ad Kan, (who were then operating under a different name) which allegedly documented the sexual harassment of female bus passengers by Palestinians in the West Bank. This footage was later exposed as fake: the woman who claimed to have been harassed had not been, and was in fact an Ad Kan operative working together with another operative who was wringing out sexually-related statements from a Palestinian passenger who was on the bus. All this, for the sake of promoting the separation of Jews and Palestinians on public transportation in the West Bank.

The right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)
Right-wing organization, ‘Ad Kan,’ sent its employees to infiltrate human rights organizations and record their every move with hidden cameras. The man on the left is the ‘infiltrator,’ Ezra Nawi is on the right. (Screenshot)

Not only did Channel 2 not respond to that revelation by Chaim Levinson – they also failed to embrace the conclusion any journalist should: If a source fed you lies, you shouldn’t work with that source again.

What else have Ad Kan’s investigations yielded? A massive article in Yedioth Ahronoth, also about Breaking the Silence – which, using a hidden camera, ‘exposed’ absolutely nothing that Breaking the Silence doesn’t already regularly say out loud themselves. And of course the big story about Ezra Nawi on Israel’s flagship investigative reporting show, Uvda, which I wrote about here. Since that story was aired, by the way, it has turned out that the most severe accusation thrown at Nawi – that he sent a man to his death – was not grounded in any facts, and there is no deceased person whom the police can point at in connection to it. This issue drew the condemnation of the court after Nawi was held for over two weeks – during which part of  the time he was not allowed to meet with a lawyer, with a gag order placed on the affair.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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