But that didn’t stop Obama administration officials from meeting with members of the group Breaking the Silence for two unprecedented gatherings to learn more about the anonymous testimony it collected from Israel Defense Forces soldiers alleging human rights abuses in Gaza last summer.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported Friday that senior White House and State Department officials last week held “first of its kind” meetings with members of Breaking the Silence. The meetings were confirmed by two administration officials; however, the same officials did not corroborate the claim that those who met with the group were “senior” agency officials.
The same week the meetings took place in Washington, Israel reached out to the Swiss government to protest its funding for an exhibition by the controversial group which the Israeli government accuses of fueling international efforts to boycott Israel.
Foundation for Middle East Peace president Matt Duss, who said he arranged the meeting between the left-wing Israeli group and National Security Council representatives, told Haaretz that one of the gatherings was held at the Washington office of a nonprofit, not at the White House.
Breaking the Silence told Haaretz that it held another meeting at the State Department with “senior officials” at the department’s human rights bureau.
“Officers from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with a representative from the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence,” a State Department official told Haaretz. “The State Department regularly meets with a broad array of political and civil society organizations from various countries worldwide.”
“U.S. Government officials met with Breaking the Silence, as we routinely meet with a range of actors from official and non-official international groups, including from civil society,” an unnamed Obama administration official told Haaretz.
The Israeli newspaper reported:
Duss told Haaretz that during the meetings, Breaking the Silence presented its recent report last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. Obama administration officials reacted with a great deal of interest, Duss said, asking “many questions about the vetting process of the witnesses, the testimonies and the fact-checking.”
According to Duss, the fact that both White House staff and the State Department held meetings with Breaking the Silence shows that the organization has an open door to the administration.
Gerald Steinberg, founder of NGO-Monitor, a group that tracks anti-Israel activity of Israeli non-profits including Breaking the Silence, told TheBlaze Sunday that “any credibility given to Breaking the Silence is another blow to Israeli perceptions of the U.S.”
“The rhetoric of support from President Obama and other officials is undermined when they give credence to these fringe groups that tour the world on European money to demonize Israel and attack Israeli democracy,” Steinberg added.
Breaking the Silence, which is funded by European governments, issued a report last month comprised of anonymous testimonies of soldiers who served during the war with Hamas last summer suggesting that the Israel Defense Forces used indiscriminate force against Palestinian civilians.
Other IDF soldiers called the report “a total lie.”
In response to the report, the IDF said it was “committed to properly investigating” the claims but said Breaking the Silence’s research method was faulty.
Israeli journalist Matti Friedman questioned the quality of the research that included “no dates or names”:
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.
NGO-Monitor discovered in 2009 that Breaking the Silence was required by several of its donors to gather a minimum number of incriminating soldier testimonies in order to receive its grant, further raising questions about the objectivity of its reporting.
The NGO monitoring group reported that the former CEO of Breaking the Silence once stated that she edited all the testimonies which made it even more difficult to verify the purported anonymous accounts.
Multiple critics of Breaking the Silence have observed the latest Gaza report glossed over the fact that Israeli soldiers fought Hamas terrorists who targeted Israeli civilians with rockets while they used attack tunnels and hid weapons in homes, mosques, U.N. schools and hospitals.
“These basic facts are essential to understanding the nature of the combat and the complexity of battlefield operations,” NGO-Monitor observed.
As she instructed diplomats last week to appeal to the Swiss government to cancel an exhibition by Breaking the Silence, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said, “We will not be complacent when an organization whose whole purpose is to tarnish IDF soldiers acts in the international arena in order to cause serious damage to Israel’s image.”