On June 6, Globe and Mail reporter Patrick Martin published an article for online subscribers exclusively entitled: “Report on Gaza war raises questions about Israel’s ‘moral army’ claim” which presented the allegations of Breaking the Silence (BtS) – an anti-Israel NGO which produced a report it claimed detailed alleged abuses by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip last summer – as “credible,” despite that this organization has been discredited due to its agenda, flawed methodology, and foreign sources of funding.
Instead of applying basic journalistic principles of thorough investigation and necessary due diligence, Martin simply recycled the claims derived from BtS’ testimonies and presented them at face value.
HonestReporting Canada communicated the following concerns to Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley and Public Editor Sylvia Stead on June 6:
1) Mr. Martin failed to explain who Breaking the Silence is and what its motivations are. No explanation was given of the mandate of BtS and what its political interests are. Martin only described and characterized the BtS report as follows when giving credence to claims that Israeli forces engaged in conduct with “lax rules of engagement” (emphasis added): “In a GRIM BUT CREDIBLE report called This is How We Fought in Gaza, an Israeli organization known as Breaking the Silence has published the testimony it gathered of more than a hundred Israeli soldiers and officers who took part in the campaign against Hamas.”
On what basis has Mr. Martin come to the conclusion that the BtS report was “credible”? This is his opinion and was not in attribution.
Telegraph journalist Jake Wallis Simons recounted the following back in 2013 when he conducted interviews with BTS staff:
“It was only a hunch at first. But later, the bias of the organisation became clearer. During a break between interviews, I asked Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the organisation, how the group is funded. It was with some surprise that I learned that 45 per cent of it is donated by European countries, including Norway and Spain, and the European Union. Other donors include UNICEF, Christian Aid and Oxfam GB. To me this seemed potentially problematic.
As is the case in all democracies, the IDF is an organ of the state, not a political decision-maker. If the goal of Breaking the Silence was simply to clean up the Israeli military, it wouldn’t be such a problem. Instead, the aim is to “end the occupation”, and on this basis it secured its funding.
It appeared, therefore, that these former soldiers, some of whom draw salaries from Breaking the Silence, were motivated by financial and political concerns to further a pro-Palestinian agenda. They weren’t merely telling the truth about their experiences. They were under pressure to perform.
Indeed, I later discovered that there have been many allegations in the past that members of the organisation either fabricated or exaggerated their testimonies.”
NGO Monitor also notes the foreign government and NGO donations that funded Breaking the Silence’s latest publication and exposes: “Contrary to BtS’ claim that ‘the contents and opinions in this booklet do not express the position of the funders,’ NGO Monitor research reveals that a number of funders made their grants conditional on the NGO obtaining a minimum number of negative ‘testimonies.’ This contradicts BtS’ declarations and thus turns it into an organization that represents its foreign donors’ interest, severely damaging the NGO’s reliability and its ability to analyze complicated combat situations.”
2) Mr. Martin failed to point out that all of the testimonies procured were anonymously given, all which affirmed Israeli guilt. The fact that all sources were unnamed calls into question the credibility of the BtS report, along with its authors and raises issues about a lack of transparency, accuracy and questionable methodology employed by the organization.
3) Mr. Martin writes that (emphasis added) “Of the more than 2,000 Gazans killed in the 50-day conflict, about two-thirds were PROBABLY non-combatants.”
As CBC Ombudsman Esther Enkin affirmed in the past, the competing claims of casualty statistics should be acknowledged in reporting on this issue, namely that half of the casualties (Israel claims) were legitimate combatants. Mr. Martin also didn’t attribute this statement as he should have and presented only the Palestinian version as “probably” fact.
Objective journalists have pointed out that the BtS report is completely one-sided, and lacks any context or due proportionality whatsoever. It does not present — or even attempt to present — the complexity of the political and military situation in the west bank and Gaza. Rather, the report seeks to present a distorted image of Israel, its people and its defense forces. In short, it’s nothing more than anti-Israel propaganda under the guise of criticism by a fringe organization with a political agenda.
Former Associated Press reporter Matti Friedman noted the following a critical response to the latest BtS publication:
“Breaking the Silence’s money is foreign, not Israeli, and the primary customers for its product are foreign, not Israeli. At its extensive English website, Jewish soldiers are presented for international consumption as a spectacle of moral failure, a spectacle paid for by Norwegians, French Catholics, and Germans. This being so, it is completely reasonable for Israelis to wonder what exactly this group is and which side it is on.”
Times of Israel military correspondent Mitch Ginsburg suggested that it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that BtS wants to see “Israel’s ability to bring its military might to bear against Hamas […] drastically reduced.”
Importantly, Israeli soldiers who fought last year in Gaza – have challenged the latest anonymous BtS testimonies on social media, but Mr. Martin doesn’t acknowledge this too. Meanwhile, on June 10, Jim Molan, a retired major-general in the Australian Army, wrote the following in the Australian (click via Google News) on Israel’s Operation Protective Edge:
“Given our examination of the cause of Operation Protective Edge, it would be indefensible to argue that Israel wanted it, initiated it or sustained it, or that Israel acted in anything other than defence of its citizens. On this basis alone, Israel’s war was just. It will be interesting to see if the imminent UNHRC report and the ICC inquiry can deliver fairness. Many do not understand it is not illegal to kill civilians in war as long as that is not the purpose of your actions, hence the appalling term “collateral damage”. Unlike our fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, Israel fights repeatedly in the same neighbourhood, and so its understanding and its intelligence is far superior to anything that I have enjoyed in similar targeting decisions that I have made.
While acknowledging the tragedy of death in war and given the immense capability of the IDF, it stands to Israel’s everlasting credit that far more did not die. But from the very top of the command chain down to the infantry and pilots, the personal moral position that individuals took was mirrored in the targeting processes, decisions on the ground and in the real care taken.”
HonestReporting notes with regret that no Israeli official was interviewed in Martin’s report, nor was a statement included which could have brought a semblance of balance. As we relayed to the Globe: Considering the controversial nature of this issue and the serious charges leveled against Israel and its armed forces, in the interests of fairness and balance Mr. Martin should conduct a forthcoming interview with an Israeli official who could rebut these serious charges. As we put it to the Globe, their readers would then be able to properly form their conclusions on this important issue.
With regret and sincere disappointment, the Globe and Mail sent the following dismissive reply to HonestReporting Canada Executive Director Mike Fegelman on June 6:
Dear Mr. Fegelman:
Regarding the World Insider report. As we have discussed previously, this feature for subscribers only is analysis from experienced journalists working in a particular region of the world. The writers of this feature are expected to go beyond the news coverage and analyze current issues. That is what this feature is.
The article briefly explains Breaking the Silence, but also includes a link to its page so a reader is able to investigate the group more deeply should they not know much about it. In the article as well it says this is an Israeli organization which has published the testimony it gathered from more than a hundred Israeli soldiers and officers who took part in the campaign against Hamas.
This gives the background (more than a hundred soldiers and officers) for the description of the group. The word credible is a fair description in any analysis article.
On your other points including the one above, your analysis differs from Mr. Martin’s. There is no question of a factual error. As such, I would recommend you offer a letter to the editor or send a comment to the online only article disagreeing with the analysis.
Sylvia Stead / Public Editor / Globe and Mail
Instead of dealing with the substance of our reasonable concerns which were listed in chapter and verse, Ms. Stead (who’s tasked as Public Editor to be a reader’s advocate) summarily dismissed our argumentation.
Writing an analysis piece does not give this Globe and Mail journalist carte blanche to produce reporting which unfairly maligns Israel. To register your concerns with Patrick Martin’s June 6 report on Breaking the Silence (BtS) and Ms. Stead’s unacceptable reply, please send emails to Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley at firstname.lastname@example.org.