IDF Vets Respond to Accusations Made At Temple Beth Am

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Breaking the Silence (BtS), an  organization that tours the world sharing anonymous tales of Israeli wrongdoing recently brought their traveling road show to the Pacific Northwest. Usually promoting their case against the Jewish state to left leaning church audiences and anti-Israel groups, Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence lectured this past week at Seattle’s Temple Beth Am. The event was hosted by Beth Am and sponsored by New Israel Fund and Congregation Kol Haneshama.

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Dr. Elad Eliahoo, a molecular biologist conducting research for a major cancer research center in Seattle is a former IDF Paratrooper.  Uriel Azose is a born and bred Seattleite who completed his service in the IDF Combat Engineers unit in 2010. The Mike Report spoke with the two IDF veterans about the Breaking the Silence event at Beth Am which both attended.

The Mike Report (TMR): Why did you attend the Breaking the Silence Event?

Dr. Eliahoo: I had heard about Breaking the Silence, that they go around the world telling stories of supposed Israeli war crimes. I served in the IDF and their assertions don’t reflect reality. I read that Breaking the Silence was going to lecture in Berlin to tell the Germans how awful we Jews are. What good could come from telling Germans that maybe their grandparents were right about the Jews? I saw that they were to be speaking at Temple Beth Am and wanted to see who these people are and what they are about.

Uriel Azose: Once I read a bit about Breaking the Silence I decided it was important to go and defend the IDF against the BtS accusations. Also, when given the chance, I will always go to events to support Israel.

TMR: Any highlights from the BtS Beth Am event that  you’d like to share?

Dr. Eliahoo: I was embarrassed for the sponsors. Ben Murane of New Israel Fund opened the event by claiming credit for virtually every social achievement in Israel over the past fifty years. Human rights, civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, religious rights, even recycling, all thanks to the New Israel Fund. I’m not kidding. What would us backwards Israelis have done without New Israel Fund?

Ben Murane of New Israel Fund (NIF) opens the event. NIF is a major funder of Breaking the Silence. Photo Credit Joe Mabel; Creative Commons. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode

Ben Murane of New Israel Fund at Beth Am, Breaking the Silence event. Because of New Israel Fund, Israelis can now recycle. Photo Credit: Joe Mabel. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/legalcode

TMR: How did you feel about the event being held in a synagogue?

Dr. Eliahoo: I have never seen such a focused attack on our co-religionists from inside of a synagogue. I was disappointed at how the Breaking the Silence speaker engaged in bashing Orthodox Jews in order to elicit sympathy from the mainly Conservative and Reform audience.  He made repeated references to how oppressive Orthodox Jews are in Israel and just like we need to fight for Reform and Conservative rights in Israel we also have to fight for Palestinian rights. It was shameful and served no purpose other than to create animosity. Anybody who is Orthodox there would have had good reason to feel they were under attack.

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Anybody who is Orthodox there would have had good reason to feel they were under attack.

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Uriel Azose: In regard to the event being held at a synagogue I’m rather disappointed. While I agree it is important as Jews to hold debates on ethical matters and conduct, to me it is an embarrassment that the same building used to pray for IDF soldier’s well-being and health, is used for IDF bashing and finger pointing.

TMR: Tell us about Avner Gvaryahu’s presentation.

Uriel Azose: What Gvaryahu was doing was very smart. He knew his audience well and used this to his advantage. He mentioned how his organization is similar to Women of the Wall (Nashot HaKotel), which is an organization that promotes women reading Torah and wearing tefilin at the Western Wall. The people who attend the synagogue where the presentation was held are sympathetic to those positions. Gvaryahu knew the audience would agree with him about Women of the Wall, therefore they will agree with him on Breaking the Silence. It is a smart tactic and I’m curious to see how the crowd at an orthodox synagogue would react to the same statement.

Dr. Eliahoo: Gvaryahu gave three examples of unethical behavior by the IDF in Operation Protective Edge (the 2014 Gaza War). It’s important to note that the IDF has repeatedly asked for BtS to provide details of all of the BtS allegations so that they can investigate. BtS has refused and many of the accusers are anonymous. No Army is perfect and the IDF always investigates soldiers who violate the ethical rules of engagement. Gvaryahu said that BtS had collected sixty testimonies of unethical behavior during Operation Protective Edge. There are 621,500 IDF personnel in the active military and reserves, and they got just sixty testimonies?

TMR: What were the examples of bad IDF behavior that Gvaryahu shared?

Uriel Azose: Gvaryahu focused on telling stories with no context, leaving out crucial details to make the IDF look bad. He told us a story called the “Orchard Incident” from the Gaza war, where two women were walking towards soldiers in a closed military zone. The IDF sent a chopper to get an overview and see if the women were armed. One woman was seen with a cell phone in her hand. The IDF killed these women.  Gvaryahu paints the picture of two innocent women walking in their own town, who were “murdered”. Gvaryahu did not mention that these women were in a clearly marked restricted zone, that the IDF distributed warnings, dropped flyers and sent out text messages telling these people to leave as that the area will be under attack. Furthermore, he did not mention that a huge amount of explosives that the terrorists use are set off by cell phones. With these details, the picture suddenly changes drastically.  If the story is true, what was described as two unarmed women in their home town in reality was two women who were in a restricted area carrying a device that could kill several people.

Dr. Eliahoo: What should they [the IDF] have done? The women had breached a clearly marked security zone in the middle of a war. This was not an afternoon stroll. The IDF concluded they were likely conducting reconnaissance for Hamas. How many soldiers must die to meet BtS’s impossible standard?

About 70 people attended the Breaking the Silence event at Beth Am. Photo Credit: StandWithUs.

About 70 people attended the Breaking the Silence event at Beth Am. Photo Credit: StandWithUs.

TMR: Can you give another example of what Gvaryahu shared?

Dr. Eliahoo: He told us a story called “the Corn Flakes incident”. During the Gaza War A group of soldiers took over a house which was in a strategic location. The soldiers had a discussion whether it would be moral to eat some Corn Flakes found inside the house. After vacating the home, Gvaryahu claimed that an IDF D9 bulldozer destroyed the house. Gvaryahu  said this was done in order for the IDF to use the area as a tactical position in the next war.  I think that rather than disparaging the IDF as was Gvaryahu’s intent, the discussion about the food shows the high moral standards of our soldiers. There was no looting of family property, not even Corn Flakes. I doubt that the destruction of this house happened as described. It does not make sense to destroy a house for a possible future tactical position for the next war without maintaining long term control of the area. If the sight was of tactical value, Hamas would just rebuild the second we left.

Then he told a story called “The wake up call tank shoot”.  Gvaryahu claimed that during the early morning hours the commander of a tank unit decided to shoot tank shells on random targets in memory of the soldiers who died the day before. At the time I doubted it happened as described, this would be a court martial offense, one impossible to keep secret. On a side note, an IDF officer does not frivolously waste tank ammunition, it is very expensive.

I later found out the officer involved in the tank firing incident was interviewed in Haaretz. He explained that the attack was on a medical building that was appropriated as a Hamas sniper position that had been used in an attack that killed Capt. Dmitri Levitas.

Uriel Azose: Gvaryahu spoke about how there was no electricity in Gaza due to the IDF. I remember being on the Gaza border and seeing an Israeli electrician in a cherry picker repairing the power lines to Gaza. While he was working, a crane was hanging a huge, thick steel plate directly in front of him. I asked my commander what the steel plate was for?  He explained that every time Israel sent a worker up to restore power to Gaza, the terrorists in Gaza would shoot at him, so the steel plate was for his protection. This is a perfect example of the IDF trying to help the people of Gaza, but these terrorist would not let it happen. Now, instead of praising the IDF for trying, or at least acknowledging the effort, Gvaryahu blames the IDF for cutting the power, when we can clearly see that the lack of power is due to forces coming from within Gaza.

Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence describing the IDF as an immoral army. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence describing the IDF as an immoral army. Photo Credit: Joe Mabel. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

TMR: Did Breaking the Silence acknowledge the Palestinian role in the conflict?

Uriel Azose: There was no mention of provocation, tunnels or rockets at all. They only made statements about the IDFs behavior towards Palestinians with no context, always making the IDF look bad. For example Gvaryahu spoke about how the IDF conducts patrols in Palestinian territory sometimes multiple times in one day “simply to make our presence felt”. What he did not mention is that the IDF enters a village to capture a particular terrorist. Without these frequent patrols there would be far more bombings and terrorist attacks. None of this was mentioned by the presenter, he only mentioned how it is wrong for the IDF to “make our presence felt”. 

Dr. Eliahoo: When he did mention Palestinian actions, it was always as an aside and in the context of moral equivalence. The premise is that the conflict is Israel’s fault and Israel’s to solve.

TMR: Were there any questions directed at Gvaryahu regarding his accusations against Israel?

Uriel Azose: This  was billed as “a conversation” but in reality it was a guided interview. At the end, the only questions that were answered were questions that were written and submitted, and then selected by the presenters. There was no chance for the pro-Israel side to speak or defend against accusations being made. I felt the BtS event was full of ambiguous statements taken out of context in order to shine a negative light on the IDF and its soldiers

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There was no chance for the pro-Israel side to speak or defend against accusations being made.

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Elad Eliahoo: Gvaryahu was quickly rushed out of the room by the New Israel Fund people immediately after the event. They did not want him to even have an informal schmooze with the audience members. The lecture ended, he answered the pre-submitted questions and he was gone. It was very strange.

TMR: Were there other IDF vets at the presentation to show support for Israel?

Dr. Eliahoo: Yes. There were about ten of us. We hoped to share our perspective from having served in the IDF. The format did not allow for an open, civil discussion. Ben Murane of the New Israel Fund was one of the organizers, he told the audience it was good to have a debate and a discussion on these difficult topics, but there was absolutely no debate or discussion allowed. All questions had to be pre-submitted and pre-screened, it was very tightly controlled. We wanted the audience to know there is another perspective. We wore T-Shirts given to us by Rob Jacobs of StandWithUs that said “Former Israeli Soldier, served in the IDF with pride. Ask my opinion”. We hoped that the T-shirts would promote conversation.

IDF Vets on location to defend Israel at Breaking the Silence event at Beth Am. Photo Credit StandWithUs

IDF Vets on location to defend Israel at Breaking the Silence event at Beth Am. Photo Credit StandWithUs

TMR: Did the T-Shirts serve their purpose?

Uriel Azose: Yes; The conversations I had with people were very pleasant, I made it clear that we were not at Beth Am to cause problems, rather to bring balance to the debate at hand. It was sad to see that some of the people attending have never been to Israel and knew very little about the IDF.  These people are very impressionable because they have never seen it first hand. Like the saying goes “you can only make a first impression once”, and the image portrayed by Breaking the Silence is not a good first impression for Israel or the IDF.  Some people walked up to me with questions, others walked right by seemingly uninterested. Even if I only had the chance to speak with one person, it made going to the event worthwhile. 

Dr. Eliahoo: I thought the T-shirts were a brilliant idea. Because we wore the shirts Gvaryahu saw us and knew we were there. He knew we know the truth and he did not look comfortable. A few from the audience did approach me afterwards, but they were more from the pro-Israel contingent. None of the New Israel Fund crowd were willing to speak with me.  It was a small crowd, maybe seventy people there, about thirty-ish were there specifically to show support for Israel including the ten IDF vets.

Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick (above) and Temple Beth Am hosted the Breaking the Silence event.

Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick (above) and Temple Beth Am hosted the Breaking the Silence event. Photo Credit: Joe Mabel. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Public License.

TMR: What would you say to Rabbi Ruth Zlotnick of Temple Beth Am who hosted the event?

Uriel Azose: I would say Rabbi Zlotnick, You opened the presentation with the words “Elu ve elu divre Elokim chaim”   “Both this and that are the words of the living God”.  You explained  that different opinions should be heard and it is all the word of God. But  only one opinion was given the chance to speak that evening. The true words you spoke in the beginning, were disregarded, one side asked and one side answered. While I support ethical debates about Israel and the IDF, a synagogue is not the right place for it when the conversation is a one sided IDF bashing session full of lies. I think that the Rabbi would agree that the soldiers of the IDF are risking their lives to protect the people of Israel. To speak poorly about those people using anonymous, unverifiable accusations is disrespectful and embarrassing.

Elad Eliahoo: There are certain time-honored Jewish concepts, like avoiding the spreading of rechilut (baseless accusations) and lashon hara (hateful speech) against one’s fellow. We, the Jewish people gave the world the prohibitions against engaging in false testimony, against sinat chinam, baseless hatred. I don’t think any member of the community, especially a Rabbi, should promote anonymous, reckless accusations against fellow Jews, or anyone for that matter. Doing it in a Jewish house of prayer reflects a lack of moral standards and a disregard of basic Jewish values.

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It  made me feel very unwelcome at Beth-Am to be marked as a human rights violator in their eyes.

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Uriel

Uriel Azose setting the record straight at Breaking the Silence Event at Temple Beth Am.

It  made me feel very unwelcome at Beth-Am to be marked as a human rights violator in their eyes. I would add that I wish that the same kind of enthusiasm they presented by hosting this anti-Israel political group, they would use to promote pro-Israel events, or at least more balanced events. We know that this kind of event creates division in the Jewish communities in the USA leading many to disparage Israel. We already encounter more and more anti-Semitic incidents against American Jews spreading to our college campuses, using this kind of event to justify their agenda.

TMR: What do you think is motivating Breaking the Silence?

Uriel Azose: Breaking the Silence is not trying to stop or prevent alleged war crimes, rather they merely promote their accusations to help people establish a negative perception of the IDF.

Dr. Eliahoo: Breaking the Silence is a dishonest organization. They don’t like “the occupation” so the ends justifies the means. They are demonizing Israel abroad to put external pressure on Israel. They have no following in Israel, not even among leftists, since many peace efforts led by Israeli leaders to promote the two state solution ended in violence initiated by Palestinians. Nobody in Israel believes the Palestinians are ready to make peace or even accept our presence.

Breaking the Silence begins with the premise that Israel is morally flawed and then solicits and publishes cherry picked data which supports that conclusion. As a scientist, if I manipulated my data to support a pre-determined conclusion as they do I would be mocked, derided and out of work.

Elad2

Dr. Elad Eliahoo PhD is a graduate of Israel’s Technion. He is currently conducting advanced Virology experimentation at a major cancer research center in Seattle.  He is  a proud veteran (1996-1999) and current reservist in the Israel Defense Forces Paratroopers (Tzanchanim).

Uriel Azose

Uriel Azose is Seattle born and bred, he proudly served in the IDF Combat Engineers (Handasa Kravit) (2007-2010). He currently resides in Los Angeles where he is in the executive protection field.  

Informational Resources on Breaking the Silence:

Informational Resources on New Israel Fund:

Informational Resources on the 2014 Gaza War

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