The Israeli government is coming down hard on a photography exhibition in Switzerland that features images of daily life in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Organized by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, which offers a platform for veterans of the Israel Defense Forces to recount their experiences in the Occupied Territories, the traveling exhibition received CHF 15,000 (~$16,100) from Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and another CHF 10,000 (~$10,700) from the city of Zurich. Now Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reprimanding Switzerland for lending support to the show, which opened on Thursday at the Kulturhaus Helferei and remains on view through June 14.
“We cannot accept the actions of an organization whose goal is to sully the soldiers of the Israeli army on the international stage and to cause serious injury to Israel’s image,” Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, told the AFP. A spokesperson for the ministry said the Israeli embassy in Bern had expressed “indignation” over the exhibition to Switzerland’s FDFA.
“We accepted this exhibition on the condition of organizing a program around it and giving a voice to people who disagree with Breaking the Silence,” Kulturhaus Helferei Director Andrea König told the AFP. “Very early we contacted Jewish organizations in Zürich, debated with them, and invited them to participate in the discussions.” König added that the Israeli embassy in Switzerland was invited to participate in programming, but declined.
“This exhibition informs and asks questions about communal opinions and opens possibilities for dialog,” the city of Zürich’s financial spokesperson, Patrick Pons, told the AFP. The city had thought hard before giving money to the show, he said, realizing that it might spark debate, but “found it to be balanced.” The Israeli government has previously protested installments of the traveling exhibition in the UK and the Netherlands.
“We regret that government officials contribute to such an anti-democratic campaign that not only harms human rights organizations in Israel, but also tarnishes the face of Israeli society internationally,” Breaking the Silence wrote in a Facebook post responding to Hotovely’s comments. “We are proud to give the international public the opportunity to meet former soldiers who care about human rights, and work to bring about justice and equality for Israelis and Palestinians. The debate that we are trying to facilitate is not a simple one, yet we prefer to engage in it rather than to perpetuate the silence.”
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