Pro-Israel activists picketed an award ceremony in London last night over the nomination of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans’ group which collects testimonies about alleged human rights abuses,.
The campaign group Index on Censorship had shortlisted Breaking the Silence for its Freedom of Expression award, which “honours courageous champions who fight for free speech around the world”.
Since 2004 Breaking the Silence has collected over 1,000 testimonies from Israeli soldiers who have served in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. It says it works to “expose the Israeli public to the realities of everyday life in the Occupied Territories”.
But the group has been criticised within Israel, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking foreign governments to cease funding it.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Breaking the Silence and human rights organisation B’Tselem “traitors”, saying they “exercise greed” rather than freedom of expression.
Last night over a dozen pro-Israel British Jews from grassroots group Campaign4Truth protested outside the Unicorn Theatre in London, where the ceremony took place.
Breaking the Silence failed to win the award, losing out to Russian LGBT rights activist Ildar Dadin.
Campaign4Truth said: “Activists from the pro-Israel grassroots organization Campaign4Truth gathered outside the theatre and waved Israeli flags, handed out leaflets and gave speeches about Breaking the Silence’s destructive activities in Israel.
“As the evening progressed, it was announced that Breaking the Silence did not win the award, which Campaign4Truth hailed as a great victory.”
The group’s co-founder, Sharon Klaff, said: “We came out tonight to protest in order to tell the citizens of London the truth about Breaking the Silence.”
Its other co-founder, Ambrosine Shitrit said Breaking the Silence “does not act in the name of free speech”, claiming it “distorts the truth”.
A spokesman for Breaking the Silence said: "As Israelis we are deeply concerned that 50 years of occupation and governmental attempts to curtail freedom of expression have damaged our country's image and reputation in the world to the point that Israel is on the same list as Honduras, Morocco, and Russia.
"We will continue to break our silence about what we were sent to do as soldiers in the occupied territories in order to save Israel from the moral erosion of a prolonged military rule over millions of Palestinians."