Think about it:'Im Tirzu,' take a look in the mirror

Group should stop persecuting imaginary or totally insignificant enemies, and revert to its originally stated goals.

IM TIRTZU 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When the Im Tirtzu movement was founded in 2006, I and many others perceived it as a welcome centrist movement that would pose a refreshing challenge to both the Right and the Left, enriching the public discourse. That is also how Im Tirtzu saw itself at the outset, and how it apparently still sees itself today.
On its website Im Tirtzu presents itself as “an extra-parliamentary movement that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel.... Im Tirtzu’s main objectives focus on working toward a renewal of the Zionist discourse, Zionist thinking and Zionist ideology, to ensure the future of the Jewish nation and of the State of Israel and to advance Israeli society in coping with the challenges it faces. A major portion of Im Tirtzu’s efforts is devoted to combating the campaign of de-legitimization against the State of Israel and to providing responses to Post-Zionist and Anti-Zionist phenomena.”
The “enemy” is defined in this statement as “post-Zionists” and “anti-Zionists”; there is no mention of freedom of expression or human rights activities also constituting a threat.
Jerusalem District Court judge Raphael Yaakobi recently rejected most of Im Tirtzu’s legal case against a group of left-wing activists who had opened a Facebook page under the title “Im Tirtzu – a Fascist Movement.”
What Yaakobi said was basically that since certain similarities to fascism were discernable in the ideology and activities of Im Tirtzu, the title of the Facebook page could not be considered defamatory or libelous, and might fall within the framework of the “defense of truth” principle (emet dibarti).
He quite rightly differentiated between comparisons with fascism and comparisons with Nazism, which was the reason why he excluded one Facebook post from his ruling. I can sympathize with this even though back in the 1980s I myself erred in referring to an article written by a prominent Israeli right-winger as “Nazi literature.”
For historical reasons my choice of words was unfortunate, especially since the person concerned was German-born. I apologized, even though the article had racist strains and was contemptible.
However, because of our Holocaust experience, in Israel it is better to avoid calling anyone a Nazi, unless he advocates genocide, or the use of gas to kill people, even though Nazism was a hell of a lot more than just that.
Though as I said at the outset I was at first positively inclined towards Im Tirtzu, as time progressed I found its activities increasingly distasteful. One of the peaks of the movement’s ideological defilement was the shocking poster distributed by the movement in the beginning of 2010, depicting New Israel Fund chairperson Prof. Naomi Chazan – an enlightened woman who served as an impressive Meretz MK from 1992-2003 – with a rhinoceros horn on her forehead (the Hebrew word keren means both “fund” and “horn”), accompanied by the text: “Without the New Israel Fund there could be no Goldstone Report, and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes.”
The problem with this poster was both its form and its content. Since Eugène Ionesco wrote his play Rhinoceros in 1959, referring to someone as a rhinoceros is considered a political and moral slur.
In terms of content, what Im Tirtzu suggested was that Israel’s activities in the Gaza Strip, which the Goldstone Report investigated, were impeccable, and that the report would never have been written if all sorts of Israeli human rights organizations, financed by the New Israel Fund, hadn’t given false evidence to the Goldstone mission.
The truth of the matter is that Israel’s activities in Gaza were not impeccable, that most of the evidence given by the various Israeli human rights organizations was factually accurate, and that these organizations were within their legal rights to give their evidence. One might question whether it is proper for an Israeli organization to give evidence that might be harmful to Israel before a body thought to be biased against it, or whether there should be sanctions against an organization which spreads proven lies, but from there to the defamatory accusations against the New Israel Fund in general and Naomi Chazan in particular, there is a great distance.
The problem with Im Tirtzu’s activities and incindiary statements, as opposed to its official presentation of itself, is that it does not appear to be trying to renew the Zionist discourse, Zionist thinking, or the Zionist ideology, but rather merely to persecute personally any Israeli who is too left-wing for its taste, anyone allegedly more concerned with human rights than with Israel’s legitimate pursuit of self-defense, or who rebels against the collectivist or corporatist aspects of the state’s structure – i.e. bleeding-heart liberal individualists. Not infrequently, the group uses dodgy means, such as illegal surveillance, in performing this activity.
And what to do – these activities are reminiscent of fascist practices, and the justification behind them is reminiscent of fascist ideologies, even though it is the activities themselves that are more objectionable than the ideological touching points with fascism, of which even David Ben-Gurion's concept of mamlachtiut (statism), and the highly collectivist and conformist character of the State of Israel in the 1950s and 1960s, were not completely free, either.
If Im Tirtzu wants to redeem itself, and turn from a contemptible body into a relevant one, it should stop persecuting imaginary or totally insignificant enemies, and revert to its originally stated goals. This does not mean that occasionally left-wing movements and individuals, and human rights organization, do not go astray, or deserve reprimand or even punishment when they are in breach of the law, just as right-wing movements and organizations that focus on Jewish settlement across the Green Line should be treated when they go astray and break the law. It just means that one should see things in proportion, and try to be constructive.
May I suggest that rather than appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling of the Jerusalem District Court, the leaders of Im Tizu should take a look at Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, which inter alia explores the themes of conformity, culture, mass movements, philosophy and morality.
A good look in the mirror would also be useful, in case the leaders of the movement really do not understand why they cannot possibly be considered centrists.

The writer is a former Knesset employee.