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May 20, 2016 2:20 am

Watchdog: Ben-Gurion University Actively Supporting Delegitimization of Israel With Sponsorship of Conference Featuring Breaking the Silence

avatar by Lea Speyer

Ben-Gurion University will host a Breaking the Silence conference at the end of May. Photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ben-Gurion University will host a Breaking the Silence conference at the end of May. Photo: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

An Israeli university “is taking an active role” in supporting the spread of lies against the Jewish state, a spokesman for one of the country’s largest Zionist student groups told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

Eytan Meir, the International Relations Coordinator for Im Tirtzu — a self-described “extra-parliamentary movement that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel” — made his comments in light of an upcoming conference sponsored by Ben-Gurion University in the Negev featuring the Breaking the Silence (BtS) organization. 

“An event that glorifies BtS significantly hurts the morale of the students, many of whom still serve in IDF reserve duty,” he said. “Perhaps the most demoralizing thing about this event is that the university itself is organizing it,” adding that the school’s “hurtful” actions contribute towards harming “students who are fully aware of the lies being spread by the organization.” 

BtS aims to expose what it says are atrocities committed by the Israeli army against Palestinians through publishing testimonies from former IDF soldiers. The group has been a source of widespread controversy in Israel, and is currently under investigation by the Israeli government for reportedly collecting military intelligence.

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“BtS represents a very small segment of Israeli society, as they are viewed as an organization that seeks to defame and harm the IDF and the state of Israel,” Meir said. “BtS takes several anonymous testimonies and uses them to make generalizations about the IDF that are knowingly misleading and false. Given this, they remain highly unpopular among the Israeli public in general, and university students in particular, a great many of whom are IDF veterans. The overwhelming majority of Israelis reject BtS’ activities against the country.”

Im Tirtzu believes that by sponsoring a conference featuring BtS, Ben-Gurion University is in violation of a ruling by Israel’s Council for Higher Education against politicizing academia. “Such politicization creates a situation where students enroll in a university to receive information, but instead are faced with unwanted indoctrination. Such a situation hampers the student’s ability to learn, and diminishes the quality of academic pluralism,” Meir said.

When it comes to Ben-Gurion University in particular, “Unfortunately we don’t have to look very far to discover the dangers of academic politicization. Several years back, a report released by Im Tirtzu drew attention to the fact that nine out of the 11 professors at BGU’s Department of Politics and Government were slanted to the hard Left. The report’s findings were adopted by the Council of Higher Education, which forced the university to make changes in the department lest it be shut down,” Meir told The Algemeiner.

In response to the conference, Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg called on the university to cancel the event. In a letter sent to school officials, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, and the Knesset’s Education Committee Chairman Yakov Margi, Peleg wrote:

Ben-Gurion University’s sponsorship of this event constitutes as the support of a publicly-funded institution for an anti-Zionist political organization that deals with defaming the State of Israel and IDF soldiers in Israel and in the world…By standing together with the Foreign Agent organization ‘Breaking the Silence,’ the University forms a common front with those who bolster the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, thus legitimizing the industry of lies against Israel…David Ben-Gurion is turning over in his grave. The University that was named after him has transformed into a blatant supporter of ‘Breaking the Silence,’ and in turn strengthens not only the phenomenon of internal delegitimization backed by foreign funding, but also the worldwide boycott movement against Israel.

According to a report by watchdog NGO Monitor, in 2015, BtS received NIS 2,277,798 ($593,000) from foreign governmental bodies. Between 2008 and 2014, the New Israel Fund issued grants worth $699,310 to BtS, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund supported BtS with two grants worth $145,000 between 2012 and 2015.

Meir told The Algemeiner that while BtS remains unpopular in Israel, the organization “is gaining popularity around the world as it plays into the hands of those who wish to destroy the Jewish state.”

“Backed by millions of dollars in foreign governmental funding, BtS disseminates anti-Israel information that is maliciously utilized by Israel-haters around the world to further the BDS movement. You can often hear BtS quoted at BDS rallies and events. Precisely because they are Israelis and IDF veterans, and therefore must have ‘credibility,’ they become the perfect ‘useful idiots’ for those seeking to delegitimize Israel,” Meir said.

In response to Im Tirtzu’s claims, Ehud Waldoks, a spokesman for Ben-Gurion University, said the conference was “academic” in nature, telling the The Algemeiner:

The conference is not by any means whatsoever organized by the Israeli organization BtS nor is it intended to specifically endorse that organization or its goals. The conference will address historical and current aspects of whistle blowing. Several of the leading researchers in Israel will take part in the conference which will discuss various aspects of the phenomenon: literature, history, philosophy, and art…All of the academics who will be speaking are leading researchers and the topic of the conference is central to their research. An additional session on the topic of the current Israeli discourse will feature representatives of various opposing viewpoints alongside academics, including Yair Sheleg and Dror Eydar who are identified with the Right. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a pluralistic academic institution, which promotes and enables an open and diverse dialogue and does not seek to espouse a particular political viewpoint.

The conference — titled “Whistleblowing Through the Ages and Today” — is organized by Ben-Gurion University’s Department of Jewish History and is scheduled to take place at the end of May. According to Im Tirtzu, “The vast majority of the participants in the conference are political activists who are affiliated with the radical and anti-Zionist Left.”

Officials from BtS did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment by press time.

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