Breaking the Silence found itself thrust to the frontlines in the struggle for Israeli democracy last week when police questioned its spokesperson for alleged abuses against Palestinians. The move was apparently initiated by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the Jewish Home Party.
Spokesperson Dean Issacharoff was questioned under warning by police over testimony he had publicized with Breaking the Silence about his own actions when he was a soldier.
Police investigations of the actions of Israeli soldiers are exceptionally rare. This one appears to be politically motivated.
Providing an outlet for demobilized soldiers to tell the Israeli public about their experiences in uniform is the raison d’etre for the organization. More than 1,000 Israeli veterans have given testimonies to the group. This investigation may deter more Israeli veterans from speaking out.
This may have been Shaked’s intention when she wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asking him to open an investigation. His office later claimed that his decision to ask the police to investigate was not related to Shaked’s letter.
Michael Sfard, a renowned Israeli human rights lawyer said the questioning was an authoritarian tactic.
“There are a lot of ways to crush democracy,” he wrote in Haaretz. “The fastest way is to use the investigative and police forces for political goals and to mark specific activists, usually young ones, in order to deepen the feeling of fear and persecution. The investigation will always focus on the individual, never on the system that sent him.”
Many in Israel have spoken out against the politically-motivated nature of this investigation. Twenty civil society groups published a letter condemning the move, noting that there is a backlog of many other incidents that have yet to be investigated. Other Israelis turned to the media to defend the organization and to call on more soldiers to break their silence and speak out about their experiences.