A soon-to-be-released report by the Zionist student group Im Tirtzu, which accuses the New Israel Fund of direct responsibility for the UN’s Goldstone Report on the IDF’s Gaza offensive last winter, is “just another in a series of attempts to quash freedom of speech in the human rights and civil rights community in Israel,” the NIF’s CEO Daniel Sokatch told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
According to the Im Tirtzu report, 92 percent of the Goldstone document’s allegations criticizing the IDF’s conduct came from 16 Israeli NGOs that received some $7.8 million from the NIF in 2008-2009 alone.
Im Tirtzu members have begun a protest campaign to coincide with the release of the report, and on Saturday night they staged a mock rally of Hamas members outside the Jerusalem home of NIF chairwoman Naomi Chazan, a former Meretz MK.
Im Tirtzu has also sparked outrage – both in Israel and the US – with a full-page ad it took out in the Post’s Sunday edition that featured a caricature of Chazan with a rhinoceros horn bearing the letters “NIF” tied to her forehead.
“It’s an attack on the fiber of Israeli democracy,” Sokatch said of the report and the accompanying campaign. “And part of an increasing drumbeat of incredibly heavy-handed tactics being used by authorities and others to silence human rights and civil rights organizations in Israel.”
He pointed to the interrogation by police in early January of Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman, who is also director of the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), as a recent example of such tactics.
Hoffman was questioned by police after taking part in an all-female prayer session at the Western Wall in December, and was subsequently fingerprinted before being released to go home.
“A week later, Hagai El-Ad [director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel] was arrested while monitoring a protest in [the east Jerusalem neighborhood of] Sheikh Jarrah,” Sokatch continued. “So first it was IRAC, then it was ACRI and now they’re going after the NIF.
“The kinds of societies and countries that try to intimidate and quash freedom of speech are not the kinds of countries we want to emulate or that I think Israelis want to emulate,” he said. “And while we’re quite cognizant of the fact that people who don’t have Israel’s best interests in mind could use the material provided by human rights and civil rights organizations to damage Israel, the democratic identity of Israel and the values we stand for are far more important than what our enemies might do with these reports.”
NIF supporters also began to speak out about the Im Tirtzu report on Monday, taking their fight online, where a slew of blogs and social media sites became outlets for their anger over what many have labeled a “smear campaign” against the NIF and Chazan.
Some of the most heated responses to the report – which was leaked last week to Ma’ariv and published in that newspaper’s weekend edition – were found on a Facebook group started on Monday called “Im Tirtzu is a Fascist Movement.” The group had more than 200 members by Sunday evening, hours after its inception.
“Im Tirtzu is a group that through its fight against human rights groups, intellectuals and artists, has established itself as a fascist movement that is strangling public discourse through empty slogans,” the group’s description read.
Members’ comments reflected similar sentiments, with some calling to “Oust Im Tirtzu from Tel Aviv University!” and others labeling the movement “racist.” Members posted links to a report from the Walla! Hebrew-language news site – which belongs to Haaretz – that revealed one of Im Tirtzu’s donors to be the Christians United For Israel group, which is led by Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio, Texas.
“An investigation by Walla! found that some of the funding for Im Tirtzu itself comes from parties who are not regarded with fondness or agreement by the Jewish public,” the article read.
“Donors to the movement include the Christian American lobby CUFI – Christians United for Israel, headed by evangelist preacher John Hagee. The organization’s Web site specifies the sum it gave Im Tirtzu – $100,000.”
Other vocal outlets on Monday included the English-language blog “Coteret,” where contributor Didi Remez also posted the Pastor Hagee story, under the headline, “The anti-Semite who finances Zionist self-righteousness,” along with other pieces decrying the Im Tirtzu report as “incitement” against left-wing organizations in Israel.
The American Jewish blogosphere was also alive with comment and criticism on Monday, with well-known writers such as J.J. Goldberg, editorial director of The Forward, Richard Silverstein and Michael Plitnick, director of education and policy for the Jewish Voice for Peace, chiming in on the Im Tirtzu report and coming to the NIF’s defense.
“I do not have a problem with anyone, whether Right or Left, expressing their views on the issues,” Silverstein wrote on his blog “Tikun Olam.”
“It is good to criticize Goldstone or New Israel Fund if you feel they’ve got things wrong. But it is dead wrong to call your opponent ‘evil’ or use Der Sturmer tactics to turn your opponent into a subhuman,” he continued, referring to the full-page caricature of Chazan.
Im Tirtzu members called such responses “hollow attempts to change the subject,” and accused the NIF and its supporters of “hiding behind freedom of speech to attack the IDF and its soldiers.”
“Human rights also apply on the other side of Gaza, like in Sderot for
example,” a spokesman from the group told the Post. “But you won’t find
these groups there. They’re not interested.
“Our goal is to defend the IDF, and not get into ‘left-wing’ or
‘right-wing’ politics. We’re not trying to undermine the government and
we’re certainly not taking money from European countries to do so,” the
Im Tirtzu spokesman continued. “We simply want the public to know who
the NIF is, and trying to change the subject away from that is not
going to work.”