Israel slams Swiss funding for exhibit by Israeli NGO

3rd June 2015, Comments 0 comments

Israel has lodged a formal protest with Bern over Swiss funding for an exhibit by an Israeli NGO critical of the army's conduct in the Palestinian territories, officials said Wednesday.

The exhibit, which will open in Zurich later this week, is being staged by Breaking the Silence, a rights group whose members are veteran combatants who testify about the abuses they have seen or taken part in during their military service in the occupied Palestinian territories.

But Israel's newly appointed deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely is determined to prevent the exhibit from taking place, ordering both the ministry and Israel's embassy in Bern to examine ways of preventing it, ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told AFP.

"We cannot accept the actions of an organisation whose aim is to smear soldiers in the Israeli army in the international arena and to cause serious harm to Israel's image," he said.

Israel's ambassador had already voiced his "indignation" to the Swiss foreign ministry, Nahshon said.

Since the NGO was founded in 2004 by soldiers who served in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, it has regularly locked horns with the political and military brass which regularly denounce its activities as harming Israel's image abroad.

Last month, the group angered the military establishment by publishing a report accusing the army of having caused an unprecedented number of civilian casualties through indiscriminate force during the 2014 Gaza war.

The 50-day conflict claimed the lives of about 2,200 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers.

The exhibit sheds light on the day-to-day reality of life in the occupied West Bank, and has received funding from both the Swiss foreign ministry and the city of Zurich, officials told AFP.

A foreign ministry spokesperson confirmed Bern made a contribution of 15,000 Swiss francs ($16,000/14,300 euros) to the exhibit.

A spokesman for Zurich's finance department confirmed donating 10,000 Swiss francs from a fund which can be used for various non-profit organisations.

"We thought long and hard before giving this money," said spokesman Patrick Pons, calling the exhibit "very balanced" and saying it opened the way for dialogue.

"We understand that there has been criticism," he told AFP.

"But we think that people in Zurich who come to visit the exhibit understand this and can make up their own opinion."

The exhibit opens in Zurich on Thursday.

© 2015 AFP

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