The offices of the Breaking the Silence organization in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Deputy Attorney-General for Special Affairs Amit Isman on Sunday closed an preliminary examination of whether an inflammatory Im Tirtzu ad from December against leftwing NGOs had constituted incitement.
Im Tirtzu’s controversial video named specific senior officials in Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Hamoked and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel as “foreign agents” because their organizations receive foreign government funding, and alleged that they help Palestinian terrorists get away with their crimes.
Politicians on the Right and Left in December distanced themselves from Im Tirtzu’s tactics, including MK Yoav Kisch (Likud), who proposed a bill that the “foreign agents” campaign was meant to support.
Kisch’s proposal and similar parallel ones seek to identify organizations that are funded by a “foreign political entity” and label them as moles – or “implants” in the literal translation – of the country that funds them. The legislation would prohibit government ministries or the IDF from cooperating with them in any way, unless the justice minister orders an exception.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) at the time said, “I will oppose any attempt to paint people or entire communities as collaborators with the enemy.”
Isman’s decision, conveyed by his staff lawyer Eylona Inbar said there was no basis for moving from a preliminary review to a full criminal investigation because “at the end of the day, the message that the video clip sends out is clear and unambiguous – which is to support the bill that the clips’ producers are trying to advance, not to undertake violent acts or actions.”
Despite that decision, Inbar did state that the video was “ugly and very problematic and that it would have been better if it had not been posted.”
Some of the talkback reactions to the video clip that was posted online had also been questioned as potential incitement.
But Inbar wrote that none of them “raised a serious likelihood of actual violent actions, as required by the law,” as well as the prosecution’s general hesitance to infringe on free speech in order to prosecute mere statements.
Im Tirtzu responded to the announcement calling on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, as well as its critics, to investigate the activities of the same left-wing NGOs that its ad attacked for connections to boycotting Israel and to labeling IDF soldiers as war criminals.
Kisch’s bill’s explanatory section says it would “grant officials and the general public the tools to deal with [the organizations] gnawing away at democracy and promoting delegitimization within the State of Israel, funded by foreign political entities.”
Im Tirtzu has long aimed harsh criticism at left-wing Israeli activists, and in 2013 the Jerusalem District Court even called it a “fascist movement” following a different line of attack on the New Israel Fund.
In 2010, it accused the New Israel Fund of bearing responsibility for the UN’s Goldstone Report, which criticized Israel’s conduct of Operation Cast Lead, the 2008- 2009 war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. An advertisement Im Tirtzu published in newspapers depicted former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, NIF president at the time, with a horn, a play on the Hebrew word keren, which means both “fund” and “horn.”
Ultimately, the Supreme Court dismissed the district court’s declaration regarding Im Tirtzu, though only as part of a deal in which the organization agreed to pay an NIS 30,000 fine, framed as a donation.
The “foreign agents” campaign and the Naomi Chazan horn campaign were both the brainchildren of Moshe Klughaft, a close adviser of Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett who ran Bayit Yehudi’s last two election campaigns.Lahav Harkov, Gil Hoffman and Benjamin Weinthal contributed to this report.