Washington Post Publishes Unverified, Anonymous Claims From BTS
The Washington Post’s William Booth was one of several journalists who pounced on the release of the latest “testimony” from the Soros- and NIF-funded group Breaking the Silence. The BTS report is exactly what anyone familiar with this group has come to expect, portraying Israeli self-defense as callous indifference to human life. Matti Friedman posted on facebook the type of insightful commentary we have come to expect from him, and with his permission, I’m copying it in full here:
I’ve been asked a few times about the “Breaking the Silence” report that is currently being played up by the international press, as is any report that fits the narrative of Israelis as war criminals. (Contradictory reports, like the recent one I posted here from two US military experts, are not considered news.) I hope that most intelligent people have stopped taking international press coverage of Israel too seriously. But there are a few things that are important to understand.
1. War is awful and people come back feeling upset about things they’ve seen and done. Some observers are reliable, and others aren’t. Some of the things described in the report no doubt happened as they were described. Others didn’t. Infantrymen at the bottom of the hierarchy often don’t understand what they’re seeing, or the reasons for what they’re doing, and I’m speaking from experience. Things that make no sense to a private, sergeant, or lieutenant sometimes (but by no means always) make more sense if you go a few notches up the command chain. Young soldiers tend not to understand this, certainly not at the time and not immediately afterward. For example, open-fire regulations at a particular time could seem too aggressive given your limited understanding of where you are. If you have all of the information at your disposal – and no soldier does – you might understand why. A target shelled for reasons unknown to you might have been shelled for good reason after all. Or not. You don’t know, and in many cases (but not all) it’s a mistake to think you do. Drawing broad conclusions about Israeli military practice from “testimonies” of this kind is irresponsible.
2. Professional journalists looking at this report, and at similar reports, should be asking (but aren’t, of course): Compared to what? IDF open-fire regulations are lax – compared to what? Civilian casualty rates are high – compared to what? Compared to the U.S. in Fallujah? The British in Northern Ireland? The Canadians in Helmand Province? “Lax” and “high” are relative terms. If Israel is being compared to other countries in similar situations, we need to know what the comparison is. Otherwise, beyond the details of individual instances the broad criticism is meaningless.
3. Breaking the Silence is described as an organization of Israeli veterans trying to expose Israelis to the nature of service in the occupied territories, in order to have a political impact on Israeli society. That’s what it was a long time ago, and it once had an important role to play. But now it’s something else. Today, like B’Tselem and others, it’s a group funded in large part by European money which serves mainly to provide international reporters with the lurid examples of Israeli malfeasance that they crave. They are not speaking to Israelis, but are rather exploiting Israelis’ uniquely talkative and transparent nature in order to defame them.
There is actually a fairly straightforward solution to this problem. Any group genuinely fighting for the character of Israeli society should do so in Hebrew, which is the language that Israelis speak — and only in Hebrew. If you’re expending a great deal of energy and money translating your materials into English and speaking to foreign reporters, as we’re seeing Breaking the Silence do right now, I think it’s fair to ask what, exactly, you’re up to. How is speaking to the international press supposed to swing Israelis in your direction? Of course it has the opposite effect.
As long as this state of affairs continues, Israelis will be correct in identifying this group and its sister organizations as people paid by foreigners to say things that a lot of foreigners want to hear Israelis say. And Israelis will continue to live without the strong left that we need – one that comes from Israel, is part of Israel, and is concerned with bettering our society, not with posturing for an audience abroad whose hostile obsession with us has nothing to do with us at all.
Friedman makes some excellent points. The line in the Washington Post report that stood out the most to me, however, was this one:
The testimonies in the report are anonymous and impossible to independently verify.
We’re all a little bit tired of the constant stream of “news” from anonymous sources. In most cases, however, journalists rely on sources that they can’t reveal, but that are known to the journalist. In this case, the sources are not even known to the journalists that have reported on the story. The BTS website has blurred out the faces and distorted the voices of the speakers, so that they are unidentifiable. The claims made by BTS are not “testimony.” They are nothing more than unverified claims. Booth (and the others) do not even appear to have verified that the people in the videos were even actually soldiers, and given the agenda of BTS’s funders, as described here by NGO Monitor, that seems a reasonable inquiry. I’m trained as a lawyer, not as a journalist. It seems to me, however, that it is completely and thoroughly irresponsible to report on such matters when, as Booth himself admits, he is unable to verify any of the claims in the report.