(JTA) — Israel’s defense minister ordered the opening of a criminal probe against members of a left-wing group whose head researcher questioned soldiers on classified security issues.
Moshe Yaalon ordered the probe Thursday following the airing by Channel 2 of footage in which activists from Breaking the Silence, a group whose mission is to expose alleged human rights violations and war crimes by Israeli troops, were seen interviewing soldiers on classified tactical and operational procedures that did not appear to be directly connected to the group’s stated mission. Ya’alon did not name the alleged violations he suspected had occurred.
Ron Zeidel, the chief investigator for Breaking the Silence, was filmed presenting the questions to soldiers just out of active duty.
Among the questions he asked were: “The mortar detachments are they positioned, like, inside the checkpoint compound?” and: “The company deployed there, are they, like, not a part of the security detail around the fence?” He also asked a soldier: “What were the missions in the sector?”
Referring to actions designed to prevent infiltration into Israel from the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists, he asked: “What kind of tunnel work do you mean?” and “Was it operational or experimental?”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday night that “Breaking the Silence has crossed another line.”
But Breaking the Silence CEO Yuli Novak told Channel 2: “Our job is to collect information and publish it in accordance with the censor’s dictates.” Novak claimed that the television report served “a number of organizations, which, along with lawmakers from Likud and Jewish Home, seek to silence anyone who criticizes the government and the occupation.”
In one talk, Zeidel seemed to allay an interviewee’s concerns over disclosing classified information. “The things we ask, it’s like for our own knowledge. It’s just, you know, for our professional knowledge and for … Things that sometimes have significance that’s a little hard to see, questions that may appear irrelevant,” he said.
Avi Dichter, a Likud lawmaker and former head of the Shin Bet security agency, said the footage “looked like information-gathering by the handlers of an agent” on the IDF’s capabilities, equipment, field security and ammunition. ”I didn’t hear a word about Palestinians or Gazans,” he said.