A Question of Ethics

There seems to be quite an infatuation blossoming on the part of the Guardian for the so-called ‘Human Rights’ group Breaking the Silence (Shovrim Shtika). In the past week both Rachel Shabi and Harriet Sherwood  have quoted them at length, with the latter stating that “[n]ow two former female conscripts have spoken out about their experiences”.

“Now” is a bit of an exaggeration, of course. Breaking the Silence actually produced its 136 page report entitled ‘Women Soldiers’ Testimonies’ back in January 2010 and of the two women Sherwood interviewed in her article, one – Dana Golan – is actually the Executive Director of the organisation and was responsible for the report’s publication, although Sherwood somehow forgot to mention that. In fact it would not be incorrect to say that Dana Golan was paid to produce this report as its compilation was financed by an eclectic group of bodies and organisations including ICCO a Dutch church organization), SIMVO (also Dutch), Oxfam GB , The Spanish Agency for International Development Co-operation (131,000 Euros in 2009-10) , the British Embassy in Tel Aviv (which also gave £40,000 in 2008), the New Israel Fund and the Moriah Fund ($30,000). Director of the Moriah Fund Judith Lichtman also sits on the International Council  of the New Israel Fund.  All in all, Breaking the Silence’s foreign donors accounted for a budget of some 1.5 million shekels in 2008.

Breaking the Silence is registered as a private Limited Company in Israel  and is therefore not subject to the same rules of transparency as apply to non-profit charitable organizations. It organizes tours to Hebron which in Hebrew (though not in English) it describes as showing “a reality of apartheid and a kind of ‘ethnic cleansing’ ”. Breaking the Silence also goes on frequent speaking tours of university campuses, particularly in the USA, funded by what was formerly known as the Union of Progressive Zionists – now J Street U – and another J Street partner, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. In some cases, Palestinian groups have also funded these tours . Breaking the Silence  allowed its material to be used in the infamous ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ in 2010 and permits links  to its website on all manner of anti-Israel forums.

It is clearly not a ‘Human Rights’ organization but one with a very obvious political agenda. The fact that it is funded by foreign governments, charities and other bodies who apparently see nothing wrong in using their financial influence to try to demonize Israel does nothing to add to the credibility of its self-described aims. In fact it is difficult to think of another democratic country besides Israel which subject to paid demonization by other democratic governments using home-grown organizations, but at least one former funder of Breaking the Silence has seen the light.

“The Dutch government has now acknowledged that “Breaking the Silence” is not a reliable human rights group and says it will cease funding them.”

“Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said last week that he had not known that the Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv was funding a radical group like Breaking the Silence; he instructed the Dutch Foreign Ministry to launch an internal investigation on how this came about. It revealed that the embassy in Israel gave Breaking the Silence 19,995 euros to help put together its 2009 report, which accuses Israel of various crimes and was released earlier this month. Had this figure been five euros higher, it would have required approval from The Hague.”

One of the major problems with Breaking the Silence is that far from putting a stop to any breaches of the IDF’s ethical code which may occur in Israeli administered areas, it in fact prevents the investigation of such incidents by producing reports containing anonymous and non-specific accusations. This is clear evidence that its agenda is one of producing political leverage and not preventing abuse. The IDF code of conduct  clearly states that:

  1. Military action can be taken only against military targets.
  2. The use of force must be proportional.
  3. Soldiers may only use weaponry they were issued by the IDF.
  4. Anyone who surrenders cannot be attacked.
  5. Only those who are properly trained can interrogate prisoners.
  6. Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested.
  7. Soldiers must give appropriate medical care, when conditions allow, to themselves and to enemies.
  8. Pillaging is absolutely and totally illegal.
  9. Soldiers must show proper respect for religious and cultural sites and artifacts.
  10. Soldiers must protect international aid workers, including their property and vehicles.
  11. Soldiers must report all violations of this code. (emphasis added)

Breaking the Silence actively prevents clause 11 of this code from being implemented, preferring instead to publish sensational anonymous reports of violations designed to create juicy media items rather than improve the integrity of the Israeli army by having soldiers go through the accepted channels.

This brings us to another code of ethics; that of journalists . One of the clauses of that code is:

“Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.”

Now, can Harriet Sherwood put her hand on her heart, look us in the eye and tell us that she tested the accuracy of the information she was given by Inbar Michelzon and Dana Golan before she submitted it to her editor? Or did she just swallow the stories she was told, ignoring the fact that they were coming from sources with a clear political agenda and a history of making sensational accusations basedon rumour and hearsay , because that was what her own prejudices caused her to want to hear?

Once again Sherwood and the Guardian have demonstrated that their pubescent infatuation with radical chic is clearly not compatible with serious journalism.

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