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April 1, 2016 2:01 pm

Amid Heated Controversy, Breaking the Silence Speaks at Columbia/Barnard Hillel

avatar by Andrew Pessin

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"Reservists on Duty," speaking out against the claims of their fellow combat soldier, Avner Gvaryahu, of Breaking the Silence. Photo: Screenshot.

“Reservists on Duty,” speaking out against the claims of their fellow combat soldier, Avner Gvaryahu, of Breaking the Silence. Photo: Screenshot.

Amid an ongoing controversy over whether NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS) should be hosted by the world’s largest Jewish campus organization, a BtS representative addressed the Columbia/Barnard Hillel Thursday night, The Algemeiner has learned.

But before Avner Gvaryahu, the “Diaspora Programming Coordinator USA” for BtS — a group of former Israeli soldiers and officers who accuse their comrades-in-arms of war crimes — began his lecture, he was met by protesters.

Individual students near the venue handed out flyers saying, “Breaking the Silence Does Not Belong at Columbia Hillel,” and asserting that BtS “irresponsibly demonizes the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with anonymous unverified testimonies;” that “its actions provide ammunition to Israel’s sworn enemies;” and that it “is supported by hostile anti-Israel European governments and organizations.”

The Columbia chapter of the advocacy organization Students Supporting Israel (SSI), with the assistance of a group of Israeli reserve soldiers called “Reservists on Duty,” also distributed flyers. These excerpted testimonials from members of Gvaryahu’s own IDF unit, who have accused him of spreading lies and misrepresentations that “tarnish the name” of the IDF and “fuel hatred of Israel around the world.” These testimonials appear in a YouTube video Reservists on Duty produced, as The Algemeiner reported in December.

Gvaryahu’s lecture lasted about 45 minutes, according to attendees, and covered the organization’s 2004 founding, its subsequent history and ongoing work and its political orientation, which he described as “patriotic support of Israel,” but dedicated to “ending the occupation which is approaching its 50th year.”

In a 30-minute question period, Gvaryahu then addressed some of the recent complaints surrounding BtS, including those involving its funding and international activities. Responding to the charge that BtS promotes anti-Israel activity abroad, for example, Gvaryahu answered, “The vast majority of our work is in Israel itself, and we aim to contribute to the Israeli conversation about occupation.”

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of the watchdog group NGO Monitor, which has produced a report about BtS, rejected Gvaryahu’s assertion. Steinberg told The Algemeiner that “European taxpayers provide the vast majority of BtS funds, and most of BTS’s activity is outside of Israel.”

The domestic controversy about the lecture stems from the allegation, voiced by pro-Israel groups as recently as this week (as reported by The Algemeiner), that in hosting BtS, Hillel International is violating is own “standards of partnership,” which preclude the organization from working with groups that “delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel.”

Two weeks ago, Hillel International released a statement defending its decision to allow local Hillel chapters to host the group, as reported by The Algemeiner. It stated that Hillel does “not support BtS or its mission in any way,” and that its staff, when “confronted with BtS on their campuses,” would ensure that “students hear from other voices challenging BTS’s assertions.” Still, it concluded, Hillel had reviewed the allegation that the BtS program violates Hillel’s guidelines and was “confident it is false.”

According to a statement released at the same time by Columbia/Barnard Hillel Executive Director Brian Cohen, “During the same week as this program, a group of undergraduate students who served in the IDF will share their own narrative with our students.”

According to Columbia Hillel’s online calendar, an event called “IDF Code of Conduct” was scheduled for Friday night, April 1, at 10 pm. The event’s description reads:

Given the controversy surrounding the recent event in Hebron, we would like to invite you a special dessert discussion to hear from current Columbia students about the event, their service in the IDF, and the IDF’s rules of engagement.

BtS is also the source of great controversy in Israel, as reported by The Algemeiner, being both under investigation for allegedly collecting classified military information, as well as the target of a slander suit by IDF reservists.

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  • Yale

    The emphasis on the “occupation” is a red herring. When there actually was an occupation, the lives of “occupied” Arabs improved immeasurably, in economics, health, literacy etc. It is precisely because he feared that these improvements would lead local Arabs to make their peace with Israel that Arafat started the first intifadeh. The deterioration of conditions since the Oslo Accords should be seen as a deliberate effort by Palestinian leaders to prevent their people form recognizing that peace with Israel is in their best interests.

  • Robert.Weintraub

    No Thanks

  • Robert Weintraub

    These young Israelis should learn that disputes within their family should stay within the family and not broadcast throughout the world.

  • Eliot Schickler

    It takes a lot of gall for these traitors to show their face at Hillel or any Jewish organization – let alone speak there! We should not allow these traitors to spew their misleading nonsense on our turf! We would not let the Nazis or Klan speak at Hillel, thus we should not let these turncoats to talk on our turf either!

  • Mike P.

    The problem with holding the BtS meeting and the IDF Code of Conduct meetings separately is that each will attract mainly their own constituency.

    The generation of ignorant, narcissistic, useful idiot Jews will attend the BtS meeting, feel good about themselves, and never learn all the many reasons that, as British Colonel Richard Kemp has been accurately emphasizing for over a decade, the IDF is the most moral army in history, bar none.

  • Judith Levine

    This group works tirelessly to destroy its own country. It is not funded by Israelis but rather mostly by European groups, many of whom are openly anti-Semitic. It claims that it speaks for disgruntled IDF members but has not produced an actual soldier. Israel is not a repressive society and free speech is a right,so the idea that it would be dangerous for these supposed angry soldier to speak publically is hogwash. Until this group can stop hiding in the shadows, to me they are the ones who should be ashamed of themselves.

  • brenrod

    Jews defaming Jews should not be surprised when anti semitism increases. After all, the world will only be following the behavior of the Jewish delgitimizers. I hope they wont whine when they are the victims of anti semitism which they themselves provoke.

  • Asher Rapp

    As the father of a lone soldier in the IDF I find their actions despicable as it only furthers the aims of Israel’s enemies when there are and always have been so few allies. If their goal is to fix what they perceive to be a problem, then repair it from within but do not incite more hatred of Israel. It is like adding jet fuel to an already burning fire.

  • ennufizenuf

    Its necessary to rid the body of vermin if it is to thrive.

  • Nach Shon

    the very fact that he uses the word “occupation” destroys any & all credibility. That he implies that Jews are “occupying” Judea, is close to treason.

  • Wm. J. Levy

    The one thing that is certain is that when it comes to Jewish Unity-it doesn’t exist.

    For 5,000 years Jews have always had extreme views on all subjects but when it comes to the survival of our people then there has to be a limit.

    Peace Now has been proven to only aid the enemy and Peace Now would never achieve peace with a people so full of hatred and lies that they couldn’t tell or see the truth if it was right in front of them.

    Jews are dying in Israel and Israelis are divided over the actions of an IDF soldier for killing a wounded terrorist.

    I agree that he is a hero.

  • Zachary Miller

    The soldiers who speak to BtS have no incentive to lie. They don’t get famous; they publish their interviews anonymously. They don’t want to destroy Israel; they are Israeli citizens. They often describe how difficult it is to criticize their friends and brothers-in-arms. But they won’t stand idly by. The Israeli military gets stronger when its soldiers and commanders are asked to reflect on their policies. Israel has produced some of the finest military minds of the 20th and 21st centuries.

    But Israel has also seen firsthand the danger of complacency. Against recommendations from soldiers at all levels, Israel trusted in its own mythologized strength to hold the Sinai and the Golan in 1973. The result was a debacle. Israel learned that it could not mistake arrogance for strategy, or certainty for truth.

    We’re faced with a similar challenge today. If there are large numbers of IDF soldiers who are testifying against the IDF, we should listen to those soldiers. BtS as an organization has a number of problems, but the core mission, to give a voice to dissenting IDF soldiers, is an important one. We should learn from the Agranat Commission that when Israeli generals adhere to a “concept” against all reason, these IDF soldiers suffer the most.

  • E Pluribus Wombat

    Liars lie, that is their nature.

  • Food should not be used as a draw, whether on Shabbat or not.

  • Sandy Wasserman

    Several comments!
    1) The Hillel International position is wishy-washy here! It’s either OK for this group [BtS] to appear, or it’s not! It can’t have it both ways. And if it is OK, where is the option for ‘equal time’ from the other side? Hillel International has a reputation, but it is certainly going down steadily as a supporter of Israel.
    2) Regarding ‘Equal time,”: why wasn’t there the opportunity for a panel of IDF reservists to speak at the same time, on the same day, to the same audience! That would have been a ‘fair’ exchange of open ideas. Having the IDF reservists at another date, minimizes the option of who their audience might be, and the exchange of ideas, which a panel presents when dialoguing ideas.
    3) Though there may be excellent IDF reservists who can match and counter the BtS speakers, there already exists a formal IDF group called OSS [OUR SOLDIERS SPEAK] who may be better able to express and counter the ridiculous BtS claims and they might be considered for a program, giving the opposite point of view. They have a website.

  • marv neuman

    As I am the father of a Barnard Graduate (2014) and a child of holocaust survivors. I am proud of this group. May their courage and conviction be rewarded correctly !

    • Mark Mandell

      Which group are you proud of and why?

    • Patricia Carmeli

      Thanks for being brave enough to honor Breaking the Silence, a courageous and moral group of ex-soldiers.

    • Michael Garfinkel

      Treason is defined as any person who levies war against his country or adheres to its enemies by giving them Aid and Comfort.

      So, the “correct reward” you seek would be trial and conviction for the crime of treason.

    • Jonas

      As you said Hillel inter. support for Israel waning
      it’s double sad to let Jews down, it has a non fresh taste. So I agree with you

      • Jonas

        a reply on Sandy’s comment

    • brenrod

      then dont whine when anti semitism increases and bites you.

    • Mike

      Your credentials are as irrelevant as your opinion.

    • Vorpal Blade

      Your grammar is poor. Which group do you support? If you parent were alive today he/she would slap your face if you supported bts.

    • A Zionist

      Of what relevance has this to the debate regarding “BtS”?

      This is rather like certain anti-Israel Jews who write, “As a Jew I . . . ” as if this affords them some kind of specialness.

      There is another perverse aspect which affords the label of “courageous” on those who have a problem with Jews, Judaism and the Jewish State. The title of “courageous” certainly applies to people such as Salmon Rushtie or to anyone who dares to question either certain practices of Islam or totalitarian Islamic regimes and who are imprisoned and tortured or even killed.

      To afford the term “courageous” to those who defame, delegitimise, demonise the Jewish State is phony. Anyone can freely defame Jews, Judaism and Israel – and they do. Not only do they NOT suffer, on the contrary, they are feted, admired, honoured with people fawning over them. They have celebrity status and this is the case with BtS.

      It may have been the case that originally BtS did have good intentions, but this is not the case today. Simply put, IF BtS wants to ensure that the IDF continues to be “a moral army”, BtS would report directly to the IDF and supply all the necessary information. Moreover, as NGO Monitor have shown, BtS lack details for a formal investigation. Those cases which have supplied the details have shown to be lowly ranked soldiers committing petty crime, such as stealing credit cards. Every army will have soldiers who lack morality.The IDF is no exception. However, to claim that the IDF is worse than all other armies, demonstrates how Israel is treated differently and how some Jews act in hatred towards their own country and their own people. It is a poorly understood phenomena.One psychiatrist has likened this to a form of Stockholm Syndrome.

      Jews turning on other Jews and Judaism dates back to the Gospels. Some of the worst persecutors have been Jews, not only Jews who converted to Christianity and who became the worst persecutors, but Jews who, for whatever reason, need to slander, libel and show utter hatred and contempt towards other Jews, Judaism and the Jewish State.

      I would ask you to supply one example to show the “courage” of BtS. Even if they stayed in Israel, they would not be arrested, imprisoned or murdered as a result of some “fatwa.”

    • Hamanslayer

      I certainly hope, Marvin, that you are not proud of BtS, unless you want all the Holocaust survivors who have by now passed away to turn over in their graves… Their “courage” and “conviction” are not nearly as intense as thothose of the terrorists and jihadists who are willing to give up their lives to achieve their obnoxious goals. Presumably you are NOT proud of THAT group, are you? I agree, they should be “rewarded correctly” — with increased funding by European governments and WHO’s that are patently anti-Israel… And then treated as the virulent traitors and liars they are.

      I say this as one who has done reserve duty in the IDF and served in the Yom Kippur War in 1973-74, and speaks with first-hand knowledge.

    • Zg

      I pity you, a misguided,supporting-jew-hate individual.

    • Mike P.

      Marv, you’re a safe, narcissistic, ignorant American who doesn’t know xxxx about the real world away from American’s safe shores.