Im Tirzu’s Ronen Shoval is one of the most litigous far-right activists in Israel. He’ll sue anyone for anything. He’s threatened Hebrew Wikipedia if they called the group “right-wing,” to which the editors unfortunately caved (here’s the Hebrew Wikipedia article). When six Israeli peace activists created a Facebook group, Im Tirzu–Fascist, he got his lawyers on the case and threatening demand letters were mailed. Fortunately for Israel’s rapidly diminishing sense of free speech, the six secured their own attorney and fought back. They said: “Hell no” to the demand that they take down the group and retract the word “fascist,” which had stuck in Shoval’s craw.
The lawsuit is finally being heard in Israeli court. The defense is putting on a case that is similar to the one my attorneys brought in defending the libel suit brought by Rachel Neuwirth. Since I’d used the word “Kahanist” to describe her in a blog post here, and she objected to the term, we brought evidence to show that Neuwirth’s views closely resembled Kahanism. Similarly, the defense in the Im Tirzu trial has brought expert witnesses, including Hebrew University Professor Zeev Sternhell, an expert on the Israeli far-right, to argue that Im Tirzu’s views may be legitimately compared to those of other fascist movements:
He [Sternhell] concluded that Im Tirzu’s ideology and actions contained elements of fascism.
…In texts written by Shuval, Sternhell sees a clear expression of fascist thinking. References to the nation as an organic body, Sternhell says, are fundamentals of fascist thought. Other signs of fascist thought include the view of an atrophied West and the sense that the situation in Israel is an emergency requiring extremist action and struggle against the “traitors.”
Sternhell points out that a decision on whether a movement is fascist or not must be based not on comparison with a classical fascist state but with movements at their early stages, and which later turned the state into a fascist one. ”If we take into account that Im Tirtzu is just beginning and is operating in a society where rejection of the fundamentals of liberalism is perceived to be a sin, then it is showing early and troubling signs of fascist potential,” Sternhell writes.
Im Tirzu wants to pull the wool over every Israeli’s eyes by claiming it’s a non-partisan Zionist advocacy group with a purely educational mission. That’s how it persuaded Bank Leumi to include it in a social networking promotion in which it stood to win a prize as a popular “educational” NGO in Israel. The nomination proved so controversial when it appeared the group might win, that the bank cancelled the entire promotional campaign. It left both the bank and Im Tirzu with considerable egg on their faces.
One of Im Tirzu’s main missions is rooting out “anti-Zionist” discourse from academia and rating professors for the level of adherence to Israeli nationalist values. Sounds pretty political to my ears. But to Shoval, it’s purely educational and devoid of any political meaning. The campus advocacy portion of the group’s mission is also similar to Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch, which asks students to report on their professors when they betray supposed anti-Zionist tendencies.
The group also smeared New Israel Fund chair Naomi Hazan by accusing her and her group of aiding and abetting Judge Goldstone in preparing his report on the Gaza War. They pictured her in full pages ads in every Israeli newspaper with a rhino horn growing out of her forehead making her look like an animal instead of a human being. Many thought the campaign could’ve been taken right out of Julius Streicher and Der Shturmer.
And don’t forget the “advocacy” listed in their mission. This is a code word for “hasbara.” This group is part and parcel of the Israeli government campaign against so-called delegitimization. What Im Tirzu does in Israel is similar to what Stand With Us does here. Both are extensions of government advocacy campaigns. The beauty of being an NGO is that you can both act in concert with the government, but you can take positions more controversial than the government and you can also accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from the 1% fat-cat Israeli corporate oligarchs. In 2009, John Hagee gave the group $150,000 through the Houston Jewish federation. It was the largest gift it had ever received to that point. As a result of some controversy stirred by this, the Jewish group said it would no longer serve as a conduit for donations to Im Tirzu.
The heroes of this venture are Didi Remez, Noam Livne, Edan Ring, Ari Remez, Roy Yellin, Yuval Yellin, and Tal Niv. They are being ably defended by Michael Sfard, Ishay Shneydor and Shlomy Zechary. If you’re Israeli, please contribute to defray the costs of their defense and to take the fight back to the rightists. They’re working on being able to accept foreign donations as well and I’ll announce that here when it’s ready. If you’re on Twitter, might I suggest using the #imtirzufascist hashtag as a way of striking back against the anti-free speech cretins.