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  • Michael Dickson

A hypocritical prize nomination

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post

The Sakharov Prize is intended to honor the memory of the late Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist.

Orit, a female combat medic in the IDF, was awakened one night to see a patient. She found herself face-to-face with one of the most notorious terrorists in the West Bank. He had just orchestrated an attack on a restaurant where his sister killed 21 civilians of all ages. Orit was asked to treat his wounds and save his life. Such challenges occur every day for Israeli soldiers, whose service is mandatory.

Today, Orit is with a group of young ex-soldiers currently on a US speaking tour to share real-life stories of their army service. There was no shortage of volunteers for this tour. Those who served recently see that far too often, the media skews the reality that they know. The misrepresentations fill them with a deep sense of injustice because they risked their own lives and lost friends while doing their utmost to protect both Israeli and Palestinian civilians. They know their military service is vital to a small country like Israel, which is constantly endangered by terrorists and hostile neighbors.

If I had a prize to give, I would give it to Orit and to her friends, who, together with thousands of young people and tens of thousands of citizen reservists give up their time and risk their lives for the safety of people on both sides of a complex conflict.

MOST LIKELY, Orit won’t be receiving any prizes, but another group of former soldiers has been short listed for the European Parliament’s prestigious Sakharov Prize. The group, Breaking the Silence, undermines and defames Orit and her fellow soldiers. The group made its name by promoting a distorted and unfair portrait of the IDF via its website and tours.

It lobbied to get this nomination for the prize worth 50,000 euros, and was supported by the Greens and United Left.

The Sakharov Prize is intended to honor the memory of the late Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights activist. Among Sakharov’s comments: “Israel has an indisputable right to exist.” “Israel has a right to existence within safe borders.”

“All the wars that Israel has waged have been just, forced upon it by the irresponsibility of Arab leaders.”

Breaking the Silence is hypocritical about its aims and even its name. If it wanted to present a true picture of the IDF, it would not blatantly omit the context of terrorism, the goals of Israel’s enemies, the deadly rocket fire from Gaza. It would not omit how the enemy hides behind Palestinian civilians and attacks Israeli civilians. It would raise awareness about the moral dilemmas the IDF faces. But instead, it omits this vital context in its reports, which often consist of anonymous, unverified testimony.

There isn’t even any “silence” to “break.” Israel is an open and democratic society that regularly criticizes its own actions, and anyone is free to present complaints and findings to government officials and the courts.

Funders of Breaking the Silence have included the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Christian Aid and OXFAM, two charities which have in the past launched vitriolic anti-Israel campaigns, as well as the European Union, which gave them $75,000 to “contribute to an atmosphere of human rights respect and values” and “to promote prospects for peace talks and initiatives.”

The EU is deceiving taxpayers if it is telling them that the funds used to support this organization help promote peace.

Indeed, the work of Breaking the Silence is part of a wave of efforts to attack Israel recently referred to by Tony Blair as “traditional and insidious forms of delegitimization.”

Blair’s message for world leaders was “don’t apply rules to the government of Israel that you would never dream of applying to your own country.”

He was talking about the kinds of double standards that Breaking the Silence presents.

In a powerful address to the Oslo Freedom Forum last year, Sakharov’s widow, Elena Bonner, chose to focus on how the world unfairly targets Israel for defamation. She reminded the audience, “throughout the years of Israel’s existence there has been war. Victorious wars, and also wars which Israel was not allowed to win. Each and every day – literally every day – there is the expectation of a terrorist act or a new war.”

Awarding a prize named after Sakharov to an organization that demonizes the IDF is an exercise in hypocrisy which goes against the grain of his legacy. European political leaders, when dealing with Israel, ought to heed the words of the man they seek to honor and his wife, and avoid pandering to those who seek to misrepresent and delegitimize the Jewish state.

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