Freedom of speech makes for strange bedfellows

ACRI, funded in part by the New Israel Fund, stands up for Im Tirtzu’s freedom of expression.

Barak and Olmert wanted 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Barak and Olmert wanted 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The arrest last week of two men paid to hang posters for an Im TirtzuPR campaign against the New Israel Fund infringes on freedom ofexpression, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a pressrelease on Sunday.
ACRI attorney Lila Margalit wrote IsraelPolice Insp.-Gen. David Cohen to voice the group’s complaint, and toask him to ensure that arrests like Thursday’s did not take place again.
ACRIis funded in part by the New Israel Fund (NIF). According to its Website, ACRI “deals with the entire spectrum of human rights and civilliberties issues in Israel and the Occupied Territories.”
Studentgroup Im Tirtzu (If you will it) – The Second Zionist Revolution,announced on Sunday that it was behind the posters in Tel Aviv andJerusalem of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former prime minister EhudOlmert with the word “wanted” written across the bottom.
Accordingto Im Tirtzu, the posters and a report being released this week titled“The New Israel Fund and Lawsuits Against Israeli Leaders” are part ofa new campaign against the NIF called “Subversives, we’re sick of you!”
The“wanted” posters reference the possibility that Olmert and Barak, aswell as other Israeli leaders, could face war-crimes charges abroadfollowing last winter’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the GazaStrip. Im Tirtzu says such charges would be based largely on testimonyand evidence collected by organizations funded by the NIF.
ACRIexecutive director Hagai El-Ad told The JerusalemPost on Sunday that Im Tirtzu’s public campaigns against theNIF were not relevant to the ACRI’s defense of its freedom ofexpression.
“We at ACRI are steadfast in our commitment to freedom of speech for everyone, regardless of their political position,” he said.
“It’sclear that the ads that Im Tirtzu put out are part of a legitimateexpression of freedom of speech and the police had no right to arrestthem,” El-Ad said. “We think this is another alarming incident in whichthe police have shown a basic misunderstanding of the proper defense ofthe freedom of speech.”
El-Ad referred to ACRI as “the flagshiporganization of the NIF, with a deep and lasting cooperation with themfor many years in the past and for many years to come as well.
“Thevalues of ACRI and the New Israel Fund deal with democracy, whichinclude freedom of speech for everyone, including those who criticizethe work of the NIF,” El-Ad added.
Im Tirtzu spokesman ErezTadmor said it was commendable of ACRI to support his group’s freedomof expression with regard to the new campaign, which is meant “to showagain to the public how organizations supported by the NIF are workingin a serious, open way to bring war crimes charges against IDF officersabroad. The public must know that the NIF is involved in radicalcampaigns against the state and the army.”
Tadmor added, “Issuesthat affect our freedom of expression affect theirs as well. I thinkit’s nice on their part that they did this. I have nothing else to say.”
InFebruary, Im Tirtzu released a report that accused the NIF of beingdirectly responsible for the lion’s share of findings critical ofIsrael contained in the UN’s Goldstone Report.
Ahead of therelease of that report, Im Tirtzu sparked outrage in Israel and abroadby running a full-page ad in Israeli newspapers, including thePost, that showed a caricature of New Israel Fundhead and former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan with a rhinoceros horn sportingthe letters “NIF” tied to her forehead.
The word “keren” means both fund and horn in Hebrew.
At the time, many critics said the caricature resembled past anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews and could constitute libel.
On Sunday, Im Tirtzu took out another large ad for Remembrance Day, which also appeared in the Post.
“We remember – they persecute,” the ad declared. “Fact: The New Israel Fund betrayed IDF officers to international courts!”
NIF communications director Naomi Paiss said that the “ACRI’s job is tosupport freedom of speech, so they did the right thing. In regards tothe Im Tirtzu report, it’s been completely debunked.”
Paiss denied that the NIF supports placing Israeli officials on trial in foreign courts.
“Thetruth is that this issue of universal jurisdiction is so remote fromthe NIF and the work we do that we never even formulated a policy onit,” she said.
“Israel has a free press and an independentjudiciary and has a track record of independent commissions of inquiryexamining official wrongdoing. It’s our job to strengthen these issues.We firmly oppose any attempt to try Israeli leaders in foreign courts,”Paiss said.