Into the Fray: Israel’s crybullies

The Left’s whiny war on free speech, and the Israeli Right’s inept, and often cowed, response.

Amos Oz and Gila Almagor (photo credit: REUTERS)
Amos Oz and Gila Almagor
(photo credit: REUTERS)
You [Im Tirzu] are the cancer in our society. You are the real foreign agents…. A few days ago you gave license for the killing of my grandfather and others. People who have different opinions than yours. In the case of those targeted they were also lovers of Israel and of their fellowman and Zionists. But even if they were not[,] it is their right not to be incited against.Dean Oz-Salzberger, grandson of Amos Oz, The Jerusalem Post, January 31, in response to the student organization Im Tirzu criticizing Oz’s affiliation with B’Tselem, a foreign-funded NGO critical of Israeli policy and IDF actions.
... the time has come to call this monster by its name. We wanted to be like all other nations, we longed for there to be a Hebrew thief and a Hebrew prostitute – and there are Hebrew neo-Nazi groups. Perhaps the only difference is that our neo-Nazi groups enjoy the backing of numerous nationalist lawmakers – maybe even racist. – author Amos Oz, The Telegraph, May 11, 2015
It looks like a tumor that has spread in all directions… like ticks on a dog. – playwright Joshua Sobol, also named in the Im Tirzu campaign for his affiliation with Yesh Din, a foreign- funded NGO, on the Jewish settlements/ settlers, NRG, September 20, 2010
The term “crybully” is commonly attributed to UK journalist Julie Burchill (“Meet the Cry-Bully: a hideous hybrid of victim and victor,” The Spectator, April 21, 2015) and has been eagerly adopted recently by several prominent conservative writers in the US.
It has been used, broadly, to characterize the conduct of their pampered, privileged “progressive” political adversaries, who feel they are entitled enough to excoriate their ideological rivals, but should be immune to any criticism themselves, assuming the role of abused victim whenever their ideas or actions are subjected to critical scrutiny.
Israel’s crybullies
It is a characterization that fits the behavior of the Israeli Left like a glove.
This has been starkly illustrated in the Left’s response to several recent initiatives by political rivals – all either entirely truthful, or eminently sensible.
Moreover, they are not only completely compatible with the tenets of democratic governance, but, in fact, conducive to them – which is of course what both piques and alarms the Left, with its increasingly untenable political credo and commensurately shrinking electoral appeal.
These measures include:
(a) The somewhat unvarnished – some might say, crass – “in-your-face” campaign by the Im Tirzu student organization calling out prominent cultural icons for their association with NGOs, massively financed by foreign government funds to denigrate the policy of the democratically elected government of Israel and the actions of the IDF in implementing it;
(b) The proposed amendment to the law to compel NGOs receiving over 50 percent of their funding from foreign government sources to disclose this fact publicly and prominently in a range of circumstances not covered by the present law.
(c) The initiative of Culture Minister Miri Regev to transfer to her ministry the existing authority of the Finance Ministry to withhold state funding for cultural institutions, if such institutions incite racism, violence or terrorism; support armed conflict/terrorism against Israel; deny Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state; mark the establishment of the State of Israel/Independence Day as a day of mourning (Nakba); or dishonor/deface the Israeli flag or state symbols.
Vitriol and victimhood
The shrill response of the left-wing establishment to these initiatives – the one, a robust and basically fact-based, albeit perhaps a touch too visceral, condemnation of prominent cultural celebrities; the others, essentially undramatic amendments of existing legislation – border on the ludicrous.
Sadly, with its well-honed combination of vitriol and victimhood, the crybullies of the Left have – as usual, managed to intimidate (aka “bully”) the Right, forcing it onto the defensive, at times, to break ranks, and even recant and retreat.
One of the most noticeable of these failures of right-wing resolve manifested itself with regard to the recent Im Tirzu campaign. As most readers are probably aware, in its campaign, titled “Moles in Culture,” Im Tirzu publicized a list of artists, including a number of well-known Israeli authors, actors and musicians, designating them “moles” (or foreign agents) for their affiliation with radical left-wing organizations that receive the bulk of their funding from foreign governments.
These purportedly human rights groups vigorously oppose indeed endeavor to undermine, the policy of successive Israeli governments with regard to the territories across the pre-1967 Green Line, and harass IDF combatants tasked with implementing it, frequently accusing them of war crimes. The funding they receive from alien sovereign governments off-sets their minuscule public support in Israel. It provides them with the resources to enhance their domestic impact far beyond their true proportions – by means of well-publicized legal action and high-profile public relations initiatives in promoting an agenda which their foreign backers endorse.
Misleading innuendo & misplaced hyperbole
This of course is a grave distortion of Israel’s democratic process. It allows foreign governments, by means of their taxpayers’ money and domestic Israeli entities, not only to stymie the policies the government was elected to implement, but at times to implement measures it was elected to prevent.
Appalled at the prospect of this truth being propagated, the Left responded in classic crybully- mode.
Typical of such reaction was that of the Zionist Union’s MK Stav Shaffir who was among the battery of lawmakers who denounced the campaign. With stunningly unfounded overstatement, she alleged that by exposing unpalatable facts, Im Tirtzu “undermines the foundations of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” and demanded that it be outlawed for “incitement.”
Apparently, railroaded by the Left’s hysteria at the endeavor to focus public attention on one of its principal levers of unelected power, numerous senior right-wing politicians, from Benjamin Netanyahu down, turned on Im Tirzu. The worst offender in this regard was perhaps Bennie Begin, who with unbecoming alacrity seemed to embrace both the misleading innuendo and the misplaced hyperbole of the Left.
Virtually donning the mantle of a spokesman for the radical Left, Begin imaginatively interpreted Im Tirzu’s allegedly sinister intentions (Israel Radio, January 28): “There is an effort here to replace the word ‘mole’ with the word ‘traitor,’” then accusing: “The singling out of so-called traitors is an old-fashioned fascist technique that is both ugly and dangerous.”
Of course, what is really ugly is putting words in Im Titzu’s mouth, so as to avoid the need to contend with the deeply disturbing ones it actually did voice.
Failure of political nerve
Begin’s reaction reflected in many ways the Israeli Right’s inept, and often cowed, response to the Left’s whiny war on free speech, and its repeated failure of political nerve to adopt, or even back, an assertive stance against the crybully tactics.
Swept along by the vociferous left-wing wailing, a number of senior right-wing politicians joined the crybullies’ chorus of condemnation of the campaign, denouncing it for what was never said – i.e. branding those identified in it as “traitors.”
Indeed, it is a great pity that none of them adopted the measured, level-headed attitude of the person charged with investigation into whether the campaign constituted incitement, Deputy Attorney-General for Special Affairs Amit Isman. In closing a preliminary investigation into the matter, Isman dismissed the allegations. Although he expressed reservations as to the “good taste” and “good sense” of the initiative, he stated unequivocally, “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.” (Jerusalem Post December 24) Faced with wall-to-wall condemnation, from both sworn adversaries and supposed allies, and shorn of any moral support from those who might have been expected to provide it, Im Tirzu chairman Matan Peleg – unadvisedly and needlessly – apologized for the campaign, and effectively resigned, suspending himself for an indeterminate period.
The crybullies of the Left had won another – one hopes transient – victory in their ongoing suppression of free speech, whenever it is directed against them.
No grievance too absurd
On the other two fronts – NGO transparency and defunding sedition in culture – the Right’s political resolve (as yet) appears a little stiffer.
But the crybullies on the Left are still in full swing.
For them, no allegation, no contrived grievance, is too absurd – provided it can be made with sufficient aggression and feigned outrage.
Take the proposal for increased NGO disclosure, which has been excoriated for being “undemocratic,” “discriminatory” and intended to silence the recipients of funds from foreign government by “shaming” them.
It takes a considerable feat of contorted intellectual gymnastics to be brazen enough to suggest that enhanced transparency dampens democracy. Indeed, demands for continued surreptitiousness (or is that duplicity?) cannot but arouse suspicion that something untoward is afoot which NGOs would prefer to conceal, or at least downplay.
The claim that the proposed legislation is discriminatory is similarly bizarre. After all, the amendment would apply to all NGOs, irrespective of their political predilections.
True, in practice it would impact almost exclusively left-leaning NGOs, since right-wing ones seldom, if ever, enjoy financial support from foreign governments – which, in itself, might be considered not only discriminatory, but deeply troubling, raising the trenchant question: Why should foreign governments restrict their funding to NGOs that oppose the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel? Accordingly, feisty Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was quite right when she took her critics to task: “The EU ambassador said it would harm democracy, but it is the involvement of foreign countries that truly endangers Israeli democracy... We ask the countries who want to be involved in Israel’s internal matters to do it openly using acceptable diplomatic means.”
And so they should.
Nonsensical or self-incriminating
It is true that the proposed legislation does not oblige the same level of disclosure for private (whether left- or right-wing) donations as for government-sourced funds. It is also true that right-wing NGOs are funded by private contribution, while left-wing organizations rely heavily on money from foreign governments.
But this, one might argue, is a reflection of relative public support of these NGOs.
However, while a case may be made for requiring similar disclosure of substantial contributions from private donors (whether foreign or domestic), there is little doubt that there is a qualitative difference between any private donor and a sovereign government.
Indeed, while private benefactors may have legitimate cause for wishing their contributions remain discrete, sovereign governments have no recourse to similar justification. Governments, even those of small countries, have vastly more resources at their disposal than any private benefactor, however wealthy. Governments can raise funds by mandatory taxation on their citizens; private donations must be elicited on a voluntary basis. As opposed to private individuals, governments have national interests, which may not, and often do not, coincide with those of the Israeli government.
Thus using domestic entities to further those interests, in opposition to those of the elected government, is unacceptable interference in Israel’s domestic affairs – and Israelis complicit in such actions should be identified – not executed or lynched as traitors.
Which brings us to the charge of “shaming” – i.e. that the proposed legislation will suppress free speech because organizations will be reluctant to be identified as being funded by alien sovereignties.
This is a claim that is either totally nonsensical or damningly self-incriminating.
After all, if there is no opprobrium attached to receiving funds from alien governments, why is there any reason not to reveal this to the Israeli public? If there is such a reason, the question becomes even more relevant.
Indeed, why would organizations, purportedly with such high-minded ideals, accept such shameful revenue?
Subsidizing subversion?
The leftist crybullies gripe over the proposed legislative changes regarding the funding of cultural institutions is equally unfounded – except in terms of the impact it might have on the stranglehold they have exerted over the entire cultural realm for decades.
After all, the proposal does not limit freedom of artistic expression in any way. It merely stipulates the criteria for which such expression is eligible for state support. Neither does it involve any significant change in the existing law, merely a change in which ministry should be charged with its implementation, so that the minister responsible for dispensing the funds should also have the authority to withhold them, if the law is violated. So if any cultural institution wishes to conduct cultural activity that incites racism or violence/terrorism, or supports armed conflict or terrorism against Israel and so on, it is free to do so. It just shouldn’t expect the state to subsidize subversion, or to fund its own demise.
Apparently the crybullies do.
The author ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (