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Israel’s new government sworn in/ “Breaking the Silence”

Israel's new government sworn in/
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Update from AIJAC

May 15, 2015
Number 05/15 #05

This Update features pieces analysing aspects of Israel’s narrow new governing coalition and cabinet – sworn in overnight. It also includes an important comment on the recent “Breaking the Silence” NGO report on Gaza, which has received so much international publicity, including in Australia.

First of all, we offer a list of the new cabinet members and their backgrounds from the Times of Israel. While much of the cabinet was known due to the coalition deals finalised last week, there was notable uncertainly over last minute appointments particularly involving ministers from Netanyahu’s own Likud party, who were reportedly still wrangling over what portfolios would go to whom right up until the swearing in. Surprises include the exclusion of Likud No. 2 Gilad Erdan, who apparently did not accept the post he was offered, and the naming of Likud veteran Silvan Shalom as interior minister, former IDF spokesperson Miri Regev as culture minister and young Likud firebrand Tzipi Hotovely getting the job of deputy foreign minister – which will be an important post with Netanyahu keeping the foreign minister’s portfolio for himself for the time being. For all the details, CLICK HERE.

Next up is veteran Washington mediator and insider Aaron David Miller, who attempts to address and hose down claims that this narrow centre-right government is heading for a major confrontation with the Obama Administration in Washington. He says that the US Administration’s priority will be an Iran deal, and re-assuring the Gulf states about Iran, and picking a fight with Israel will not help either goal.  He particularly argues that there are “productive” and “unproductive” fights between US administrations and Israeli governments – that is those which achieve a foreign policy purpose for the US and those which do not – and he cannot see any such purpose being served by picking a fight over the remaining year and half of the Obama Administration, given current regional realities. For his full discussion of likely future US-Israel relations under this government, CLICK HERE.

Finally, veteran Associated Press correspondent Matti Friedman – who has written extensively about problems with media coverage of Israel and the Palestinians – dissects the most recent report by the Israeli-staffed but European-funded NGO “Breaking the Silence”. He notes that despite the way the report was hyped, except for a very few cases, the actual accounts from soldiers in it do not support the claims being made about them by the NGO, which seemed determined to draw certain conclusions regardless of what soldiers told them. He concludes that “activists from Breaking the Silence aren’t journalists, and their report is intended not to explain but to shock. It’s propaganda” –  yet journalists continue to treat this report and others like it as proof of Israeli wrongdoing, which is part of a larger problem with media coverage of Israel. For his full discussion, CLICK HERE. For those who didn’t see it, Dr. Gerald Steinberg of NGO monitor also commented on the Breaking the Silence report in the Canberra Times. 

Readers may also be interested in:

 


Who’’s who in Netanyahu’’s 2015 government

A rundown of the distribution of portfolios in the new cabinet

Times of Israel, May 15, 2015, 8:05 am

Presented below is the makeup of Israel’’s 34th government, as approved by the Knesset on May 14, 2015.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) is beginning his third consecutive term (fourth overall) as the country’s leader, a position he has held since 2009. Netanyahu also currently holds the Foreign Affairs and Communications portfolios.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) will continue to lead Israel’’s defense establishment as he has done since 2013. Ya’alon is a former military chief of staff who left the service in 2005 and joined politics three years later.

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon (Photo credit: Miriam                   Alster/Flash90)

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) is a former Likud member who took a break from politics in 2012 before forming his own party in the recent election, running on a socio-economic platform. During his time as communications minister Kahlon enacted a much-celebrated reform in the cellular market which led to drastic price cuts for consumers. He has promised to combat skyrocketing housing prices and the high cost of living in the new government.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) is a former high-tech entrepreneur who served as Netanyahu’s chief of staff in 2006 before quitting the job and winning the leadership of Jewish Home in 2012. He served as economy minister in the previous government. He also held the portfolios of Religious Affairs and Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs.

Ayelet Shaked, March 11, 2013. (Miriam                   Alster/Flash90)

Ayelet Shaked, March 11, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Jewish Home) is a first-time minister who has been a member of Knesset since 2013. A secular woman from Tel Aviv, she stands out from the party’’s largely religious base.

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud) has been in the Knesset since 1998. He has served as transportation minister since 2009, but has now been boosted to deal with security issues as well, including membership in the security cabinet.

Silvan Shalom, March 12, 2014. (Flash 90)

Silvan Shalom, March 12, 2014. (Flash 90)

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) will also serve as deputy prime minister. Shalom was minister for the development of the Negev and the Galilee in the previous government. He has been a member of Knesset for 23 years and served as finance minister and foreign minister in the governments of Ariel Sharon.

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) will be the de facto health minister (UTJ party members do not assume top ministerial positions on ideological-religious grounds), a position he held between 2009 and 2013. Litzman also chaired the Knesset’s Finance Committee in the past.

Yoav Galant speaks to Channel 2, January 18,                   2015. (screen capture)

Yoav Galant speaks to Channel 2, January 18, 2015. (screen capture)

Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant (Kulanu) ranks second behind Kahlon in Kulanu’s roster. He was a top military commander, serving as head of the IDF Southern Command between 2005-2010. He came a hair’s breadth from being appointed chief of staff in 2010, before a scandal involving improper construction permits at his home in the rural community of Amikam cost him the job.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) is a first-time minister who has seen a meteoric rise through the ranks of Likud, from the 27th spot during her first stint in the Knesset in 2009 to the number 5 spot in the most recent elections. Regev served as IDF spokesperson between 2005-2008 (including during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip), and was previously the chief military censor.

Aryeh Deri, Jerusalem, December 30, 2014 (Yonatan                   Sindel/Flash90)

Aryeh Deri, Jerusalem, December 30, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Economy Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Aryeh Deri (Shas) served as interior minister from 1988 to 1993. In 1999 he was convicted of accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust and served two years in prison. He recently won a drawn out battle for control of the ultra-Orthodox party from former leader Eli Yishai.

Energy and Infrastructures Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) has been in the Knesset since 1999. He has served as finance minister and in the most recent government as intelligence minister.

Ze'ev Elkin. (Flash 90)

Ze’ev Elkin. (Flash 90)

Absorption Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) immigrated from Ukraine in 1990 and was first elected to the Knesset in 2006. He has served as deputy foreign minister and coalition chairman, as well as chairman of the powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Science and Technology Minister Danny Danon (Likud) has been involved in politics since 1996 and entered the Knesset in 2009. In the previous government he served as deputy defense minister. He was fired by Netanyahu during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip due to his outspoken criticism of the government’s handling of the war while it was still underway.

Uri Ariel (Flash90)

Uri Ariel (Flash90)

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) is the leader of the Tkuma party which along with the National Religious Party makes up Jewish Home. In the previous government he served as housing and construction minister and was a strong proponent of settlement construction and expansion. In the new government, part of the funding and planning of settlement construction has been handed to Ariel.

Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai (Kulanu) is not a member of the Knesset. He helped Kahlon form the Kulanu party and coordinate its campaign. He served in the past as the CEO of the Bezeq telecommunications company.

Gila Gamliel. (Flash90)

Gila Gamliel. (Flash90)

Minister of Gender Equality, Minorities and Senior Citizens Gila Gamliel (Likud) will head a mouthful of a ministry, a combination of what were once the Senior Citizens’ Affairs Ministry and the post of Minorities Minister. Gamliel has served in the Knesset since 2003, though this is her first stint as minister. She previously served as deputy agriculture minister and as deputy Knesset speaker.

Religious Affairs Minister David Azulai (Shas) has been a member of Knesset since 1996 but is a first time minister. He served in the past as deputy interior minister.

MK Benny Begin (Likud) (photo credit: Kobi                   Gideon/Flash90)

Benny Begin. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Minister without portfolio Benny Begin (Likud) has been in and out of the Knesset over the past 28 years. The son of prime minister Menachem Begin, he has served in the past as science minister as well as a minister without portfolio and a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet. He is considered a trusted advisor to Netanyahu on major strategic issues.

Welfare Minister Haim Katz (Likud) is also the head of the Israel Aerospace Industries Workers Union. He has served in the Knesset on-and-off since 1999.

Yariv Levin, July 24, 2012 (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Yariv Levin, July 24, 2012 (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Public Security Minister and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) has been in the Knesset since 2009. He has served as coalition chairman and as head of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Minister without portfolio Ofir Akunis (Likud), a longtime ally of the prime minister and former Netanyahu spokesman, was expected to be given a “ministerial post” in the Communications Ministry, making a minister in the ministry, but leaving the post of communications minister free for any future expansion of the coalition. But Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein has made clear that there was no such position as a minister in a given ministry who is not that ministry’s minister or deputy minister. Akunis was left as the government’s second minister without portfolio.

Tzipi Hotovely in the Knesset. (Abir Sultan/Flash                   90)

Tzipi Hotovely in the Knesset. (Abir Sultan/Flash 90)

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) deserves special mention in the list of ministers because she will be the de facto foreign minister until Netanyahu manages to hand the top diplomatic post to a new coalition partner. Netanyahu is technically the serving foreign minister, but it is Hotovely who will manage the ministry’s day-to-day staff work and make any major decisions affecting Israel’s diplomatic corps.

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The Coalition Time Out

Israel watchers have been expecting icy relations between Obama and Bibi to worsen — but the post-election period may offer an unexpected thaw.

By Aaron David Miller

Foreign Policy, May 12, 2015

Supporters of Israel, primarily in the pro-Israeli Jewish community in the United States, worry greatly that a second-term U.S. president freed from the constraints of reelection pressures, and already angry and frustrated with Netanyahu’s behavior, will take him to the woodshed and pressure Netanyahu on settlements, and, if necessary, add America’s support to the growing campaign for Palestinian statehood at the U.N. Critics eagerly anticipate and hope for the whipping. After all, given the history of tensions in the relationship, isn’t a worsening of ties inevitable? In the last 20 months of the Obama administration aren’t we going to see a collision between a willful U.S. president and a tough-talking prime minister playing games on Palestinian statehood and presiding over a coalition of Haredis and right-wing Zionists?

Not so fast. I don’t doubt the mistrust and animus on each side. Nor do I trivialize the divide that separates Obama and Netanyahu on a variety of issues. At the same time, I’m not all that sure that the expected confrontation is as inevitable as it might appear — at least for much of 2015. And here’s why.

Selling the Iran deal and the double whammy

Governing is about choosing. And right now the Obama administration’s main priority is negotiating, selling and implementing the Iran deal. The last thing the president wants or needs now is to open a second front with Israel on either Iran or the Palestinian issue. What’s more is that once the deal is concluded we’ll be entering a fairly prolonged period where implementation of the deal will be key. Congress and every 2016 presidential candidate will be watching like hawks to see if the administration has been snookered by Iran. And so will the Saudis and Israelis. The process of reassuring the Gulf Arabs will ramp up into high gear at this week’s Camp David summit. So there will have to be an Israeli piece of the reassurance package as well. The actual conclusion of a U.S.-Iran deal will be huge news, create piles of broken crockery in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and to secure formal Congressional buy-in will require more than just a set of “just get over it” talking points for Israel. This is likely to take the form of more military hardware and intelligence cooperation. Nor should we rule out — even with the White House’s recent cold-shoulder policy — an Obama-Netanyahu meeting.

Then there’s the separate but very much related question of selling more military hardware to the Gulf States. It’s the cruelest of ironies for the prime minister that not only is he getting an Iran deal he hates; he’s also going to be faced with the prospects of more arms for the Arabs. And this is the double whammy that will likely require the administration to use more honey on the Israelis and less vinegar, most likely in the form of enhanced military cooperation, intelligence sharing, and the transfer of sophisticated aircraft like the F35 (which the United States has already authorized). It really will be tough for the president to shower the Arabs with hugs, kisses, sophisticated weapons and presidential summits and leave the Israelis out in the cold. Politically it creates a terrible optic and really does impose limits on the White House’s cold war with Netanyahu – ultimately setting up constraints on how far and fast this White House will be able to push the Israelis on any number of issues from settlement activity to pressuring Jerusalem at the U.N., and ultimately on a two state solution. In going for the Iran deal, the Obama administration may well have hung a closed for the season sign on any prospects of a Palestinian one, already a long shot.

A national unity government?

Hope springs eternal. And the Obama administration will react very carefully to the new Israeli government until it’s unmistakably clear that it won’t evolve into one that offers the prospects of a better relationship with Israel, some movement on the peace process, or the prime minister takes some action that Washington feels warrants a blast.

The reaction to last week’s announcement of additional housing units in a Jerusalem neighborhood that has previously drawn a severe reaction from the administration, this time only elicited a ho-hum expression of concern and disappointment. A national unity government with Isaac Herzog on balance doesn’t seem likely. But neither Obama nor Netanyahu has any stake in intensifying their food fight until that idea either is put to rest or comes to fruition.

If it’s the latter, then much of the tension will diffuse from the U.S.-Israeli relationship as Israel puts on a kinder and gentler face. If as is more likely, Netanyahu manages to expand his government by getting Avigdor Lieberman or others to join, Washington will have to calibrate how it wants to react based on what might be more provocative Israeli actions, for example on settlements.

Why fight without a purpose?

I’ve argued many times that American presidents face two kinds of fights with Israeli prime ministers: productive ones and unproductive ones. The former means that pressure, tension, and political capital expended is worthwhile because you actually get a result — a peace agreement or Israeli cooperation on some big issue like a peace conference at Madrid in 1991 that justifies the political pain at home.

The other kind of fight is one in which you try to make a point rather than a difference; in the end, you get all the downsides and none of the benefits. And the Obama administration has become a master of the unproductive fight. Whether it’s over settlements or Netanyahu’s comments about Palestinian statehood, the administration makes statements that alienate the Israelis and the pro-Israeli community in the United States without achieving anything of consequence. The president is unwilling or unable to apply real pressure, so he uses words. And that only undermines U.S. credibility in the Middle East and internationally without any sustainable gains.

It may well be that for any number of reasons — including the need to sell the Iranian deal, and pressure from Democrats and the pro-Israeli community — that the administration has begun to dial down its public fight. There appears to be more adult supervision in handling the U.S.-Israeli relationship in the White House. And it makes sense, particularly in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s reelection. The president may be frustrated. But he can’t afford to create the impression that he doesn’t accept the results of a democratic election. Pressure with purpose at a time when it might actually achieve something makes sense. A policy based on frustration, disappointment, and anger doesn’t.

The peace process

Assuming the Iran deal gets done and is actually implemented, the remaining area of prospective tension between Washington and Jerusalem is the Palestinian issue. The administration has intimated that it may find it difficult to defend Israel in international fora without an Israeli commitment to a two state solution. There almost certainly be continuing tension over settlement construction as there has been in the past. But a major confrontation over a non-existent peace process? Or a big row over a peace plan that’s just a thought experiment or fantasy in someone’s mind? What would be the point? The Palestinians are headed for more activity designed to pressure Israel in the international community, including the International Criminal Court. But it seems highly unlikely that the Obama administration will ride that train. Even Democrats who don’t like Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians won’t buy on to that.

There is the possibility — and the administration has intimated it now several times — of trying to get a U.N. Security Council (UNSC) resolution to embody the elements of Palestinian statehood. The French are seized with this idea, as are the Arabs. But is this worth a fight? What will it achieve? Could the Americans even buy on to a draft that the Arabs and Palestinians would support. Even if they could, what’s the point?

Far better, though still flawed, from an American negotiator’s perspective, would be a possible scenario where an effort is made on the part of Obama to outline a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, much in the way President Bill Clinton did in December 2000 shortly before he left office. This way Secretary Kerry or some future Secretary of State  wouldn’t compromise U.S. bridging proposals, make them radioactive by embodying them in a UNSC resolution, and create the impression that the United States was no longer the key mediator. The other downside of a UNSC resolution is that  would bind its successor with an internationalized negotiating framework that might strip a future U.S. negotiator of flexibility. Netanyahu would object to this kind of action too. But it wouldn’t expose the administration to critics inside Congress who will argue that the president was endorsing an imposed solution and shifting the focus from bilateral or even trilateral negotiations to negotiations to international arena. Since neither a UNSC resolution of the Obama parameters will have much of an effect on the ground, the administration should choose a route that best protects it credibility at home.

The next 20 months will not be easy ones in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. But they won’t necessarily lead to an escalation or a qualitatively different level of dysfunction than we’ve seen in the Netanyahu-Obama soap opera so far. Netanyahu’s goal is to outlast this president and wait for a friendlier one — any Republican would fit that bill; and so would the election of Hillary Clinton whose street cred with the Israeli public and the pro-Israeli community in the US is better than Obama’s and who has already made clear in her memoir Hard Choices that she believes unproductive fights with the Israelis get you nowhere. Netanyahu has no desire for a major fight now; he’ll have his hands full managing his government. If Netanyahu again intervenes in U.S. politics and makes a concerted effort to sink the Iran agreement or engages in a frenzy of settlement activity that goes beyond anything we’ve seen, relations could worsen.

But even if they do, how bad could things realy get? The administration isn’t going to sanction Israel, cut off aid, or unilaterally impose Palestinian statehood. Despite Obama’s frustration (and even anger) with Netanyahu, Israel will remain a close ally in a region where America has few stable friends and where even America’s partners and certainly its enemies are behaving far worse than Israel.

Anyone pining for a major meltdown in U.S.-Israeli relations ought to take a deep breath and lie down until the longing passes. And that goes as well for anyone looking for a much-improved U.S.-Israeli partnership. Indeed, the latter is unlikely to come only when you have a different Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem and another president in the White House.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He is the author of The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.

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The Latest “Breaking the Silence” Report Isn’t Journalism. It’s Propaganda.

The Israeli NGO won international attention last week for claiming to expose IDF malfeasance in Gaza. It exposed something else.

 

Matti Friedman

Mosaic magazine, May 14 2015 12:01AM

Last week, a report by an Israeli group called Breaking the Silence made headlines in the U.S., Britain, and most of Europe, becoming one of the week’s biggest international stories. The subject was the Gaza war of 2014. The headline in the Washington Post was representative:

New report details how Israeli soldiers killed civilians in Gaza: “There were no rules.”

This report is worth dwelling on because there will be more rounds of fighting in Gaza, and more reports like this one, and more reporting of this kind—and because, for all observers of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it is important to understand the sources of information that shape our thinking.

Let’s look first at the report itself. Breaking the Silence, usually identified as an organization of Israeli veterans, says its goal is to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” In recent years, expanding that mandate to Israeli warfare in general, it has released numerous reports. For this one, which was published in both Hebrew and English, the group’s staff interviewed “over 60” soldiers. There are no dates or names. In most cases we are given a rank and the section of the army (“infantry,” “armored corps”) to which the soldier belongs; in a few cases there is no identification at all.

The soldiers’ accounts, presented in short excerpts, are interesting, offering a gritty, personal, and frequently awful look at the kind of combat that has become common in this century, and at its toll on combatants and civilians. A reader of the English report notices that in some places the translators and editors could have been more knowledgeable or careful: there is confusion between mortars and artillery (in the Israeli military, these are considered different classes of weapons and are employed by different units), and between a platoon and a division, and one editor believes that an M16 rifle is a weapon mounted on a tank.

More seriously, having promised to reveal the secret of the civilian death toll in Gaza in the form of systematic Israeli misdeeds, and having selected, with that purpose in mind, the most incriminating segments from much longer interviews, the report fails to deliver. Perhaps that is why, instead of letting readers examine the interviews and decide for themselves, the activist-editors of Breaking the Silence felt compelled to add a heated introduction announcing that their report “exposes” the true face of the Gaza operation—namely, its “disturbing” and “unprecedented” violence directed at civilians by the Israeli military. This is probably also why each testimony opens with a headline like “If you shoot someone in Gaza it’s cool, no big deal,” or “Those guys were trigger-happy, totally crazy.”

The editors seem to want readers to believe there were “no rules” in Gaza, and that the IDF acted without taking civilian life into consideration. In fact the interviews themselves show the army taking numerous steps to avoid harm to civilians. The soldiers regularly mention warning leaflets, “roof-knocking” rockets, phone calls, warning shells, warning shots, lists of protected sites like UN facilities, and drones vetting targets for civilians before an airstrike. All of the action we encounter in the report is happening in areas where the army had already warned Gazan civilians (and, of course, Hamas guerrillas) that soldiers were about to arrive. Indeed, what is truly striking is that the soldiers simply take all of these steps for granted, as if they were obviously part of warfare, when in fact many are unique to Israeli military practice.

We encounter good behavior, ugly behavior, and two or three instances that would warrant prosecution. One, in which a soldier describes firing with his tank at civilian vehicles and a bicyclist for no reason at all, should result in a lengthy jail term. If it’s true, that is, and this incident strikes me as less credible than any of the others—not because I doubt a teenage soldier’s capacity for thoughtless cruelty but because it’s unlikely that a tank gunner could fire multiple shells and machine-gun bursts at easy targets and miss every time, as he claims. But even here no one is reported killed. In fact, nowhere in the entire report are there rapes, massacres, or anything similar, or a single incident in which a civilian is shot in circumstances that could not be defended as either warranted or as a legitimate error on a battlefield where even a grandmother could have been (and, in 2006, was) a suicide bomber.

The activists from Breaking the Silence aren’t journalists, and their report is intended not to explain but to shock. It’s propaganda. That’s fine if you understand what you’re reading, but I suspect most people don’t. Equally important, at least to me, is the question of whether the soldiers who cooperated with Breaking the Silence understood what kind of use would be made of their stories abroad. I can’t ask them because none of them is identified. But as someone who knows many combat soldiers, who was a combat soldier himself and still serves as one in the reserves, and who has both heard and expressed criticism of the army as a civilian and as a soldier, I am willing to guess that in many or most cases the answer is no: these soldiers did not fully understand whom they were talking to, or what they were participating in.

 

If I believed the activists from Breaking the Silence were merely trying to complete or correct the picture presented to the Israeli public about service in the Palestinian conflict, I would be supportive of their efforts, and have been in the past. Like any corporation or government agency, the army is fully capable of lying in its public statements, at least by omission, and much information goes unreported.

But there is, to borrow a phrase from the group’s own report, a “yawning gap” between what Breaking the Silence says it is and what it actually is. For a group ostensibly trying to influence Hebrew-speaking Israelis, why invest so much to produce, at considerable expense, an English translation of all 237 pages of this report? We learn from the news item filed by the Washington Post’s Jerusalem correspondent that Breaking the Silence arranged a meeting for him with one of the soldiers. Are Israeli ex-pats the people Breaking the Silence is trying to influence in Washington, D.C.?

The list of the group’s current donors includes the Danish Lutheran organization Dan Church Aid, the French Catholic group CCFD-Terre Solidaire, the governments of Norway and Switzerland, and many others along similar lines, none of them Israeli. This, too, raises questions. Do Norwegian taxpayers fund an organization that encourages, say, British soldiers to reveal British army wrongdoing to the international press? Does Switzerland try to get Hamas soldiers to open up about things they’ve done?

Funding is not a technical detail. Were the Israeli army to adopt what Breaking the Silence appears to recommend—that is, to act with less force and expose soldiers to greater risk—Hamas would have an easier time fighting Israel and more Israelis would die. Let’s say the Israeli death toll was doubled, and the Hamas death toll halved. Israelis of nearly all political persuasions would agree that this is a negative outcome. But is it a negative outcome for Dan Church Aid? What about the Norwegian government?

Breaking the Silence’s money is foreign, not Israeli, and the primary customers for its product are foreign, not Israeli. At its extensive English website, Jewish soldiers are presented for international consumption as a spectacle of moral failure, a spectacle paid for by Norwegians, French Catholics, and Germans. This being so, it is completely reasonable for Israelis to wonder what exactly this group is and which side it is on.

 

In analyzing trends in the press I have found it most helpful to keep an eye on the mainstream and avoid extreme cases. So let’s look again at the Washington Post, a good U.S. paper, to see how a report of this kind becomes major international news.

The Post receives a document about Israel’’s conduct in the 2014 Gaza war that has been produced in English by a group of Israelis funded by European organizations and governments. The paper’s correspondent, recently arrived in Jerusalem from a posting in Mexico, takes at face value that this is an “Israeli” organization and also an organization of “veterans,” perhaps not grasping that, because Israel has a mandatory draft, the term is quite meaningless; most people can plausibly claim to be “veterans.”

The correspondent then selects some of the most egregious examples in the report, summarizes them, and presents them as representative not only of the report but of the entire Gaza operation. He takes the words of people whose identity is not known to him, who have been interviewed by people whose identity is similarly not known to him, the interviews edited and redacted in a process not known to him, and pastes them into his article. As a reporter, you wouldn’t be able to get away with publishing purely anonymous testimony that you have collected, but it is one of the peculiarities of Israel-related journalism that you are allowed to use anonymous material if it has been pre-packaged for you by a political NGO.

To set up the story, the reporter suggests that Israel’s rules of engagement in Gaza were “permissive,” without comparing them with those of any other army, and also that civilian casualties were “high,” without comparing them with any other conflict. He duly notes that the information in the report is “impossible to independently verify.” And then, the gods of ethical journalism having been placated, he writes not one but two articles in which he treats the whole thing as completely true.

The idea that there has been “silence” about Israel’s actions in its conflict with the Palestinians cannot be taken seriously; over the past two decades, probably no international story has been covered more than this one. But there are important silences at work, and the frenzy surrounding this latest Breaking the Silence report offers a good opportunity to point them out.

For years prior to last summer’s war, Hamas was busy building an impressive network of tunnels under residential areas in Gaza, some of them leading under the border into Israel; stockpiling rockets; and raising and training a large fighting force, including a naval commando unit. That meant thousands of people, mostly Gazans, were about to die. The local contingent of the international press, one of the world’s largest, was silent about this.

As presented openly in its charter, Hamas’s ideology holds that Jews control the United Nations and the world media, were responsible for both world wars as well as the French and Russian revolutions, and “sabotage” societies through the Freemasons and the Rotary Club. It also asserts that God wants Jews to be murdered. The unwritten rule of the press corps requires silence about this. For a good example, take a look at the charter and then at this “summary ” of it once published by the Associated Press.

The vast media coverage devoted over the past week to this little piece of agit-prop from a little country—its claims parroted without proof, shorn of context and comparison, and presented as journalism to people around the world—must lead us to ask what, exactly, is going on. What is motivating all of this? No one observing our planet of violence and injustice in 2015 can claim any longer that Israel is covered the same way other countries are covered; that the coverage is proportional to the scale of events; or that the tone of moral condemnation—growing in its hysteria, and crawling from the fringes deeper and deeper into the mainstream press—is in the realm of reasonable reportage.

In all the talk purporting to be about the Gaza war, many are beginning to see more clearly the outlines of another war entirely. What is the nature of this war? That is where the real silence lies.

About the author

Matti Friedman’s first book, The Aleppo Codex, won the 2014 Sami Rohr prize for Jewish literature. His second, Pumpkinflowers: A War Story, will be published in April 2016.

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