What happens when an Israeli leftist activist confesses publicly to beating a Palestinian in order to prove how bad Israel is?

In this case, described below, the activist finds himself the subject of an investigation because he either is lying to damage Israel, or telling the truth, in which case he’s a criminal. Israeli authorities are not allowing the activist to have it both ways, claiming he’s a criminal for political purposes, but evading criminal responsibility.

We’ve written before about the Israeli radical leftist NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS).

BtS collects and publishes — primarily in English and for credulous foreign audiences — the testimonies of former Israeli soldiers who report on the alleged human rights abuses and IDF misconduct that they supposedly witnessed and experienced while deployed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip:

As we highlighted in these prior posts, the nearly 15-year-old organization once served an important function by offering a support group for young, recently-discharged Israeli soldiers to share mutual traumatic experiences of war and counter-terrorism.

But that’s no longer the case.

In recent years, largely by drawing on dubious funding sources from organizations and governments agencies that are eager to pay for incriminating statements about Israel, BtS spends most of its time abroad making sweeping accusations of IDF wrongdoing based on anecdotal, anonymous, and unverifiable testimonies (typically by low-level soldiers who have little knowledge of IDF operational policies and who are often coerced and harassed into recording statements without their permission).

In so doing, BtS has come under heavy criticism for refusing to refer the testimony and the relevant individuals to the appropriate military and legal authorities in Israel (i.e., the state prosecutor and Military Advocate General’s Corps—M.A.G., which can order investigations to be opened).

But now, in a new development, a prominent BtS official has been placed under investigation and “questioned under caution” over one of these alleged breaches of military ethics that he claims to have participated in while serving in the IDF.

Breaking the Silence Activist Questioned Over His Testimony

Jacob Magid reports for The Times of Israel:

Police opened an assault probe on Thursday against Breaking the Silence spokesman Dean Issacharoff after a video of him describing how he brutally beat an unarmed Palestinian protestor in Hebron went viral…

Issacharoff, an officer who served in the IDF between 2011 and 2015, recounted how his Nahal Brigade infantry unit was deployed in Hebron and would regularly confront stone-throwing Palestinian protestors. On one occasion, he related, his company commander ordered him to handcuff a Palestinian who was passively resisting arrest…

Upon approval of State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan earlier this week, police reached out to Issacharoff—the son of Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff—letting him know that an investigation has been opened into the incident. On Thursday, he was brought in for questioning, during which he stood by the authenticity of the story he had shared at [a] rally…Issacharoff told police that the incident was a matter of routine when a soldier is forced to police a civilian population.”

Issacharoff’s version of the incident (to which he publicly confessed at a BtS rally) was published last month in a video response by members of his own platoon, who disputed his claims. In the video, dozens of Nahal Brigade soldiers and Issacharoff’s former commander repeatedly accuse him of being a “liar” over the story.

Basically, they say that none of it ever happened:

The original Hebrew version of the video reportedly garnered over 1 million views (the above version with English subtitles was produced later).

The video was created by Reservists on Duty (RoD), an Israeli non-governmental grassroots organization of some 700 reserve officers and soldiers (including 150 company commanders, many of whom led military operations in Lebanon and Gaza) who campaign against BtS and seek to defend the reputation of the IDF and its soldiers (see our earlier post for more information about RoD and a statement exclusive for LI from its founder, IDF Major Amit Deri).

Here’s a short news report about the controversy that RoD’s video has generated over the last few weeks:

Breaking the Silence Slams Israel’s Justice Minister for the Probe

The investigation into Issacharoff’s admission of supposedly unjustifiably mistreating an innocent Palestinian man during his IDF service reportedly follows Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s request of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to look into his testimony on the “suspicion of war crimes.”

Shaked told Army Radio that she wanted to clarify if Issacharoff was telling the truth when he described the alleged Hebron incident, or if he was “lying to discredit the IDF”:

The spokesperson of Breaking the Silence stands up and says that he himself committed a crime against a Palestinian and pounded him with blows. If that is really what happened, he should be investigated and punished. If it didn’t happen, the state needs to officially declare that it didn’t happen.”

But the state prosecution has denied that its decision to launch the probe had anything to do with Shaked’s request, saying that it had come from the military attorney general.

[Dean Issacharoff | Credit: YouTube screenshot]

Today, the Justice Ministry confirmed that.

It reportedly published a statement claiming that the State Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) had instructed the police to launch the probe at the request of the Military Advocate General. (According to an unnamed official familiar with the investigation, the SPO sent the RoD video to the Judea and Samaria Police. They called Issacharoff in for questioning that lasted about 90 minutes and showed him the footage).

Responding to the police probe, Breaking the Silence has now slammed Shaked in a released statement:

We call on her to not settle for an investigation against one Breaking the Silence activist but rather to also investigate hundreds of male and female soldiers who broke their silence openly in order to explain what we are doing in the territories and about the daily violence that takes place against Palestinians…She does not really care about Palestinians, justice or morality. All she wants is to hurt Breaking the Silence and to turn the Justice Ministry and the State’s Attorney into tools for political persecution…The justice minister does not really want to open this Pandora’s box which would expose the violence and injustice of the occupation.”

Striking back at the recriminations in the BtS statement, Shaked reportedly issued her own remarks:

We are talking about a liar slamming the IDF or a person involved in violence who needs to be investigated…The state requested in the past, and will continue to insist on, receiving the testimonies that go to the organization in order to investigate the truth. The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and violent incidents are investigated and dealt with.”

[Ayelet Shaked | credit: YNet]

Shaked is right: Issacharoff is either a liar or a criminal—whichever the case may be, he should pay the price.

Furthermore, the attack on her doesn’t hold any water given that it’s BtS which has long failed to approach the MAG Corps, thereby bypassing existing open channels for reviewing IDF conduct and preventing any serious investigations into the BtS soldier testimonies.

Indeed, BtS is the “most hated group” in Israel precisely because of its longstanding unwillingness to ever give the government the chance to properly investigate or respond to its outrageous claims that the IDF operates according to a “kind of state-sanctioned sadism.”

Conclusion

A Breaking the Silence (BtS) spokesman—Dean Issacharoff—who publicly confessed to unjustly assaulting an innocent Arab man while his fellow IDF soldiers were “looking right at him”, is now up in arms for having been called in for questioning over an investigation into that alleged crime and is lashing out at Israel’s Justice Ministry.

But Issacharoff has no grounds upon which to complain.

BtS activists like Issacharoff can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim that the IDF commits war crimes and human rights violations but then expect to be able to escape punishment for the abuses that they confess to having meted out against defenseless Palestinian non-combatants.

Bottom line: Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked rightly opened a review of Dean Issacharoff’s disturbing testimony which he gave freely at a public event. His fellow citizens, and especially the men and women conscripted to fight and to put their lives on the line to protect the Jewish state, have a right to know whether there’s any truth to his charges that the IDF is failing to live up to its own stated standards, ethos, and norms of war-fighting conduct. Provided that the investigation yields no evidence of operational impropriety, the soldiers of the Nahal Brigade who Issacharoff has slandered with libelous claims will be able to finally clear their names.

[Reservists on Duty | YouTube screenshot | Hebrew: Breaking the Silence (top) You Are Liars! (bottom) | Translation: Miriam Elman]

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman