New Israel Fund and Temple Beth Am Bring Breaking the Silence and Discord to Seattle Jewish Community

Breaking the Silence activist regaling a German audience in Berlin in 2012 with tales of Jewish atrocities.

Breaking the Silence activist regaling an attentive German audience in Berlin in 2012 with tales of Jewish atrocities.

Seattle polite, that is the term used to describe the sometimes over the top courtesy in which we Seattlites specialize. Have you ever been paralyzed at a four-way stop as each Emerald City local urges the other driver to go first? That is Seattle polite. Until recently the same held true for the Seattle Jewish community. Left, right, Orthodox, Reform and any point in between for the most part worked and played together with that unique mutual respect endemic to the Puget Sound.

Breaking the Silence promotional poster in Berlin, Germany, 2012.

Breaking the Silence promotional poster in Berlin, Germany, 2012.

Alas, times change and civility is no longer a trait universally valued in our community. New buzz-phrases have replaced time-honored values; phrases like having “difficult conversations”. Ironically, wherever these “difficult conversations” are had in the Jewish community the agenda is divisive and dialogue between audience and speaker is nearly always tightly controlled, even censored.

The latest blow to Seattle civility comes to us courtesy of the Seattle branch of New Israel Fund, a left-wing non-governmental organization (NGO) whose raison d’être is to fund groups that paint Israel as a non-democratic, racist, apartheid, war-criminal state. Case in point, the upcoming event this Thursday June 11th sponsored by New Israel Fund, Kol Haneshama and hosted by Temple Beth-Am featuring the traveling anti-Israel road show known as Breaking the Silence (BtS).

Breaking the Silence consists of a small group of dissenting current and former members of the Israel Defense Forces. The group is heavily funded by New Israel Fund and several European, often Christian and Arab NGO’s. An Israeli watchdog group revealed last month that the recent Breaking the Silence “report” on the 2014 Gaza War was paid for by a Palestinian-Arab fund.  

Critics say that Breaking the Silence exemplifies a reckless McCarthyite ethos of presenting tendentious, unverifiable accusations put forth by often anonymous accusers. While BtS  claims to aspire to change the “terrorizing” practices of the IDF, they focus their efforts on spreading their allegations to eager audiences and groups across Europe and the United States; many of these groups which are anti-Israel and anti-Zionist. Some of the entities that have hosted Breaking The Silence actively promote the boycott Israel, BDS movement.

Breaking the Silence has refused to provide the IDF with any proof of their claims.

Breaking the Silence claims that they publicize and publish alleged IDF misbehavior to effect reform in the IDF, yet it seems the only entity they have not properly shared their concerns with is the IDF. As reported in the Times of Israel, the IDF spokesperson stated that “The organization Breaking the Silence has been asked to provide any evidence or testimony related to IDF activities… in order for genuine investigations to be carried out. Unfortunately, as in the past, Breaking the Silence has refused to provide the IDF with any proof of their claims.”

Contrary to its claims, this organization does not act with the intention of correcting any wrongdoings.

The IDF spokesperson explained further that “This pattern of collecting evidence over an extended period of time and refusing to share it with the IDF in a manner that would allow a proper response and, if required, an investigation indicates that contrary to its claims, this organization does not act with the intention of correcting any wrongdoings it allegedly uncovered.”

Notes Matti Friedman in Mosaic Magazine “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.”

BTS claims they want to effect change in the IDF, but instead peddle their tales of Jewish atrocities to anti-Israel groups in Europe and BDS supporting churches in the USA.

BTS claims they want to effect change in the IDF, but instead peddle their tales of Jewish atrocities to anti-Israel groups in Europe and BDS supporting churches in the USA.

After spending a good amount of time with Breaking the Silence activists, including founder Yehuda Shaul, London Telegraph reporter Jake Wallis Simons began to question the ethics, accuracy and motives of Breaking the Silence, concluding “that these former soldiers, some of whom draw salaries from Breaking the Silence, were motivated by financial and political concerns to further a pro-Palestinian agenda… Indeed, I later discovered that there have been many allegations in the past that members of the organisation either fabricated or exaggerated their testimonies.”

Initially  Seattle area Breaking the Silence appearances included an “off the record” meeting with community leaders to be hosted by Herzl Ner Tamid congregation on June 11th. That meeting, reportedly arranged with the approval of senior Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum was quickly cancelled once synagogue leaders learned of the event. It was subsequently rescheduled by organizers and relocated to the Mercer Island Community Center. Meanwhile Jewish Federation President Keith Dvorchik distanced himself from Breaking the Silence, dispatching an  email notifying community leaders that the Jewish Federation has “nothing to do with [Breaking the Silence] or with the events in town.”

sephardicrabbisThe rabbinic leadership of Seattle’s sizeable Sephardic community have issued public statements expressing alarm that members of the Jewish community would sponsor the Breaking the Silence event. Said Rabbi Hassan of Sephardic Bikur Holim in a note in his congregational newsletter “I was dismayed to hear that Ben Murane of the New Israel Fund is hosting a lunch briefing for Jewish professionals and clergy with Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence this week.” He added that “there are big concerns about the sincerity of their motives and the accuracy of their reporting” concluding that “their real aims are very dangerous”.

Rabbi Ron-Ami Meyers of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth echoed these sentiments in a blog post which tied the episode of the spies in this week’s torah portion to the current controversy. “Like the Children of Israel in Perashat Shelach, we, too, can be negatively swayed by our often well-intentioned leaders: rabbis, professors, intellectuals to sign on to ideas, philosophies and organizations that can easily mislead, misinform and demoralize us.  As someone concerned about the direction of our community, I’ve decided… to break my silence!” adding that “There is of course a distinction between education and informed discourse, on the one hand – and propaganda on the other“.

The irony was not lost that several among the cadre of local Reform and Conservative Rabbis (including Rabbi Daniel Weiner, Rabbi Anson Laytner and Rabbi Janine Schloss) who recently accused the Seattle pro-Israel community of divisiveness for hosting a pro-Israel film, are actively supporting this obviously divisive verbal assault on the Jewish state.

NIF operative Ben Murane chatting with anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal at a 2009 event

NIF operative Ben Murane (right) chatting with anti-Israel activist Max Blumenthal at a 2009 event

The primary organizer of the Seattle BTS events and local face of New Israel Fund is their Director of Outreach; Ben Murane, who is no stranger to controversy having once compared Israel to the Hamas terror organization. I have met with Murane, and other activists associated with New Israel Fund and their allies. To the one, I have found them to be likeable individuals working for what they seem to believe is a just cause.

Whatever the motives; the methodology of New Israel Fund is all too often one of the ends justifying the means. Intentionally or not, the ends to which they aspire could well mean the end to amity in our community if not ultimately the end of the Jewish state.

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