Breaking the Silence is the Most Important Organization in Israel today

After my piece about Breaking the Silence Avner Gvaryahu the Executive Director (ED) got in touch with me to discuss the issues involved. I offered him the right to reply to me on HP and he accepted on the condition that I don’t edit the article to which I agreed. The article he sent me is published in full below;

Shalom Aleichem, the spectacular Jewish Yiddish writer, articulated precisely how to phrase one of the dangers of this online era we live in. In his book, “Menachem Mendel in Warsaw,” written over 100 years ago, he wrote: “In the meantime I’m throwing out your apostate sister, and if you say you do not have a sister, go make excuses for yourself!”

This perfect scene is the origin of the Hebrew phrase: ‘go prove you do not have a sister’, or in other words, how does one respond to an absurd accusation without playing into the hands of those accusers.

This week I was accused of not leaving a Facebook page I was added to. ‘Palestine Live’ was a group I was added to a few years ago. I didn’t know what it was and I left it due to too many posts and the online noise it created on my feed. Somehow I was added again recently, and I didn’t notice, and I left the group once more after this latest episode. Honestly, I have no idea what was posted in the group, but the allegation was that I was in the same group as Holocaust deniers and anti-Zionists.

If it was anti-Semitic or hateful it should be taken offline and by all means reported. I have no respect for those who hate me or anyone else.

My first reaction was to ignore the story. As the ED of Breaking the Silence I know how these things work: some crazy allegation will pop up, then it will circulate around right-wing blogs and bloggers, and in some cases it will make its way to an actual media source. In the past two years we have had spies sent by pro-settler organizations to our offices, some of our members have been physically attacked and there’s actually someone currently sitting under house arrest after he was caught with gasoline and with the intention to torch our office. Right-wing media and bloggers played a role in this incitement that was led by the highest echelons of the Israeli government.

For us liberals living in Israel this is the new normal. And anyone following Netanyahu’s craving for media support, and the way he has destroyed Israeli public discourse should not be surprised. And when his government is actually strengthening their ties with the far-right in Europe, ignoring the accusation of me being in bed with Holocaust deniers seemed the most reasonable thing to do.

But then I saw it was Marc Goldberg who wrote one of the blog posts.

Now, I have never met Marc personally, but he reached out to me back in 2013 to share a blog post he wrote about his reflections on his service in the West Bank as an IDF soldier. It turns out we both served in the same unit in different years, and after that initial connection, we stayed in touch on and off. He actually wrote a great op-ed about how soldiers train on innocent Palestinians in their homes and you can read more about similar practices on our website.

Somewhere along the way he ‘unfriended’ me or I ‘unfriended’ him. I really don’t know, and truthfully I don’t care. In my mind, Facebook is a place to share ideas, learn from others, and try and understand the perspectives of those with whom you disagree, and I try to follow people I don’t agree with regularly. After being shot at as a soldier, or attacked by settlers as an activist, I’m not afraid of opposing views.

Marc opposes the occupation and knows there is ignorance and racism in Israel so why is he helping the right who are trying to silence us? I’m not sure, but by all means he should come back here and fight for the soul of this country. Supporters of Israel abroad have an important role to play, but they can falsely believe the struggle is online when in fact it’s actually unfolding here. The last couple of years have not only helped delegitimize anti-occupation voices but also entrench the military control over Palestinians. Creeping annexation is on the way with leading ministers and parliament members calling for one state and actively undermining any ability for Palestinian independence and freedom. Weakening the gatekeepers of our democracy, undermining the Supreme Court, and constant attacks on minority groups are also part of Bibi’s Israel.

As an Israeli who cares deeply for his country I am still willing to put my life on the line to protect it. But the occupation is not Israel, and we in Breaking The Silence will continue to show what the military regime does to those of us that uphold it and to those we control.

So if we will return to Shalom Aleichem, I actually have two lovely sisters (and two brothers, one of which is still serving) and I don’t feel the need to prove “I don’t have a sister” because the work my friends and I in Breaking the Silence do is both patriotic and just, and I’m proud to lead such an important group.

Now, if you really want to understand why I was chosen as a target out of the dozens of other Israeli activists and members of that group, I recommend you watch the interview I gave to the BBC.

I think some people didn’t like the platform I was given and thought this was a way to undermine my message. Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts and please make sure you reach out to us next time you’re in the Holy Land, we would be happy to take you on a guided tour of the Occupied Territories.

Avner Gvaryahu, ED of Breaking The Silence

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