After the Ben-Gurion University president overturned the decision to award the NGO the Berelson Prize for the Arab-Israeli dialogue, academics and intellectuals came up with an alternative prize in protest. For Amos Oz: "Sometimes in history, those who were dubbed 'traitors' are in time shown to be trailblazers".
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – An alternative ceremony took place at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) to honour Breaking the Silence (BtS).
The controversial Israeli human rights group received an award ‘outside the consensus’ and a cash prize after Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi decided not to give the group the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding it had been awarded.
Reacting to this decision, an alternative prize was awarded on 7 November with the participation of academics, activists and intellectuals, including writer Amos Oz.
Breaking the Silence (BTS) is an Israeli NGO that collects the testimonies of veterans and former members of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Founded in 2004, the group provides soldiers a place to discuss, reflect, and talk about their experience.
In rejecting the committee's decision to award the original prize (given in memory of Yitzhak Rabin) to BtS, BGU president Prof Rivka Carmi said the choice was “'outside of the national consensus”.
This infuriated the award committee (in the Department of Middle East Studies), as well as many of the academic staff and donors of the university who denounced a climate of "tyranny of consensus."
BtS leaders welcomed the show of solidarity and steadfastness in resisting moral corruption and attempts at silencing them, among the academic sphere and Israeli society at large.
Yuly Novak, head of Breaking the Silence, said that she was “happy to discover that in front of the moral corruption, the violence, and the silencing, strong and brave forces rise up that refuse to give up on democracy and fight with us for the right and the duty to criticize and expose the truth about what is happening in the occupied territories.”
Amos Oz presented the prize to BtS and spoke at the ceremony about ‘Betrayal and Loyalty’. "Sometimes in history,” said the the Israeli intellectual and man of letters, “those who were dubbed 'traitors' are in time shown to be trailblazers".
Praising the group of activists, he slammed the demonstrations of “fear, anger and hostility” towards groups like Breaking the silence, B'Tselem and Peace Now, noting that opposition comes not only from the far-right but also from self-styled moderates.
Oz went on to say that "People want to feel good, and Breaking the Silence disturbs that feeling. People want the State of Israel to look good, and Breaking the Silence ruins that image. It is completely human. I do not despise that emotion. It mistakenly appears to them that what makes the country not look good are the people who expose the country's moral distortions."
In recent months, BtS activists have been subjected to a wave of unprecedented attacks, orchestrated by extreme right-wing movements close to the government. The intense campaign designed to discredit group has involved high-ranking politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The group has also complained of infiltrations in the organisation itself aimed at undermining trust within and nurturing a sense of fear and paranoia among its members.
The same is true for other groups, such as B'Tselem whose Jerusalem offices were damaged by a fire in January, probably arson.