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Im Tirtzu

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Im Tirtzu
Im tirtzu logo 40pc.png
Founded 2006[1]
Type Extra-parliamentary
Registration no. 580471662[2]
Area served
Israel
Key people
Ronen Shoval (Founder)[3]
Slogan "Building the Zionist dream"
Mission "to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel"[4]
Website https://imti.org.il/en

Im Tirtzu (Hebrew: אם תרצו, lit. 'If you will it') is a Zionist[5][6] extra-parliamentary[4] group based in Israel. Its name is based on a phrase coined by Theodor Herzl – "אם תרצו, אין זו אגדה" or "If you will it, it is no dream."

The organization’s stated mission is to “strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel” and to combat the “campaign of de-legitimization against the State of Israel and to [provide] responses to Post-Zionist and Anti-Zionist phenomena."[7]

Im Tirtzu operates fifteen branches at universities and colleges throughout the country[7] and runs the largest Zionist academic extra-curricular program in Israel.[8] Im Tirtzu is mostly known for its campaign against the New Israel Fund, foreign government-funded NGOs, and alleged bias in university curriculum.

Some have maintained that Im Tirtzu bears similarities to fascist groups,[9][10] and others have labelled it an important Zionist movement.[11][12]

Activity

Claiming bias in Israeli universities

In 2008, Im Tirtzu published a report about the syllabuses used in various academic departments in Israel. According to the report, authors who reject the notion of nationality, or support anti-Zionist views, get much more exposure in reading lists. In 2010, Im Tirtzu sent Rivka Karmi, the head of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev a letter, demanding that the university stop the anti-Zionist bias in its Department of Politics and Government. The letter alleged that 9 out of 11 professors in the department were involved in extreme left-wing activities (among others, attempting to persuade other countries to join the Academic boycott of Israel). Im Tirtzu threatened to notify the donors of the university if the problem was not rectified.[13]

In a joint statement about the above campaign, the heads of Israel's seven leading universities urged condemnation of what they called Im Tirtzu's "dangerous attempt to create a thought police".[14] Im Tirtzu responded, "All Im Tirtzu asked from BGU is that a solution be found to the extreme bias found in the Political Science department, where only post-Zionist opinions are presented."[15]

Following Im Tirtzu's report, the Israeli Council for Higher Education appointed an international committee to investigate the allegations. The committee came to the conclusion that the curriculum in the Political Science department was imbalanced. The committee said it was "concerned that the study of politics as a scientific discipline may be impeded by such strong emphasis on political activism", and recommended closing the department unless changes were made.[16] The report was widely criticized by academics, who said that it was politically motivated, noting that well-known scholars had been rejected from the committee because of their political views and that the original committee chair had resigned.[17] Minister of Education, Gideon Sa'ar, said "I believe the report is important since it encourages public discussion" but rejected any attempts to block or apply conditions for donations to Israeli universities.[18][19]

In 2016 Im Tirtzu released a report alleging the involvement of Israeli academics in the proposed resolution of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to impose an academic boycott on Israel. The report cited a letter allegedly sent by 20 Israeli academics that the group said encouraged the members to vote in favor of the resolution.[20][21] In light of the report, Yisrael Beitenu Member of Knesset Oded Forer called an emergency session of the Knesset Education Committee[22] that was attended by MKs from both sides of the political aisle.[23]

Nakba Harta Campaign

In May 2011, with the approach of Nakba Day, Im Tirtzu launched a campaign accompanied by a 70-page booklet titled "Nakba Harta" in Hebrew (נכבה חרטא), translated by the Jerusalem Post as "Nakba BS", and titled "Nakba Nonsense" in English.[24][25] The booklet describes the 1948 Palestinian exodus, called Nakba by Palestinians, as "a lie that threatens to drown us like a tsunami" and attempts to discredit what Im Tirtzu regards as "a narrative of myths and lies dealing with the teaching of the founding of the State of Israel".[24][25] On May 15, 2011, dozens of Im Tirtzu activists gathered outside the offices of UNRWA in Jerusalem holding signs and chanting, "They expelled, they attacked, they lost."[26]

In 2016, Im Tirtzu set up a 15-foot-tall inflatable Pinocchio doll across from the Nakba ceremony at Tel-Aviv University in order to "emphasize the lie of the Nakba."[27]

Campaigns against artists

Im Tirtzu organized a campaign against Israeli-Arab actor Mohammed Bakri. Im Tirtzu objected to Bakri because of his involvement in the film Jenin, Jenin. In a Haaretz opinion piece, Im Tirtzu chairman Ronen Shoval called Jenin, Jenin an antisemitic blood libel "unprecedented in its fierceness" and referred to Bakri as a "sophisticated enemy". Shoval accused the Tzavta Club of offering a platform to "an inciter and a liar".[28] Im Tirtzu opposed a production of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba which took place in 2012 at Tel Aviv's Tzavta Theater. Israel's Academy of the Performing Arts was behind the production.[29]

Israeli television personality Gal Uchovsky accused Im Tirtzu, in the context of this campaign, of employing tactics that had been used by Nazis to persecute Jews. He further accused Im Tirzu's Ronen Shoval of being a "racist" and an "Arab hater". The comments were made on an interview aired by Israel Channel 2 in January 2012.[30] Channel 2 demanded that Uchovsky apologize for his remarks, and in February Uchovsky apologized for his "impolite" conduct.[31]

Annual convention 2011

Following the 'Nakba Harta' campaign, Im Tirtzu held its third annual convention. More than 300 activists and supporters participated in the convention. During the convention speeches were made by the movement's chairman, Ronen Shoval, the Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon, Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, Coalition Chairman Ze'ev Elkin, and Knesset Members Faina Kirschenbaum, Tzipi Hotovely, Otniel Schneller (Kadima) and Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich (Kadima).[32]

Operation Protective Edge

During Operation Protective Edge, clothing and food products donated by the public were sent through Im Tirtzu to IDF soldiers.[33][34] Im Tirtzu also initiated a petition for filing UNHRC Complaints against Hamas.[35]

Work with minorities

Im Tirtzu has advocated for minorities in Israel to join the Israeli military. The Forum for Drafting the Christian Community and its founder Father Gabriel Naddaf have worked closely with Im Tirtzu to encourage and promote the safety of Christian Israelis who wish to perform IDF service.[36][37] Father Naddaf is a frequent guest speaker at Im Tirtzu events and sits on their Public Council.[38]

In 2015, a new parliamentary caucus to encourage minorities to join the army was created based on the idea of Im Tirtzu. The opening ceremony of the caucus was attended by MKs from the right, center, and left.[39]

Program for Zionist Thought

In 2012, Im Tirtzu inaugurated its first Program for Zionist Thought, a serious of lectures given by prominent Israeli figures and personalities. The Program is featured at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University, University of Haifa, Bar-Ilan University, and Ariel University.

Some of the speakers include Nobel Prize laureate Robert Aumann, Caroline Glick, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Father Gabriel Naddaf, Ben-Dror Yemini, Mordechai Kedar, Major General Yaakov Amidror, former MK Einat Wilf, Rabbi David Stav, Yoram Ettinger, and Ran Baratz.[40][41]

Campaign against NGOs

New Israel Fund

In 2010, Im Tirtzu published a document[42] and launched a campaign in the Israeli media that said there were connections between organizations supported by the New Israel Fund and the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (also known as the Goldstone Report). Im Tirtzu said that 92 percent of all Israeli testimonials in the report came from NIF funded organizations.[43] The campaign included posters of NIF chairwoman Naomi Chazan with a horn strapped by a string on her forehead (in Hebrew, the word for "horn" also means "fund").[44] A report by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) challenged Im Tirtzu's allegation, saying, "according to Im Tirtzu's own study, 16 NIF-affiliated groups comprise just 14 percent of all the sources for the Goldstone report." JTA also reported, "The 16 NGOs named in (the Im Tirtzu) report are a small portion of the more than 300 groups funded by the NIF, many of them having to do with building infrastructure, assisting immigrants, and defending the rights of women, the disabled and religious and ethnic minorities."[45]

As a result of the report there were calls in the Knesset to investigate the NIF and its operational arms in Israel.[46] Benny Begin, a cabinet minister at the time, characterized the allegations Im Tirtzu published as "lies" in a radio interview.[47]

Chazan claimed that, in her eyes, the campaign was directed against democracy itself.[44] The executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hagai El-Ad, denied Im Tirtzu's allegations.[48] Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, likened Im Tirtzu's campaign against NIF to fascist tactics.[49] Gershon Baskin, a columnist in The Jerusalem Post, spoke out about the newspaper's decision to cancel Naomi Chazan's column and accused Im Tirtzu of using an "anti-Semitic motif" as part of a "witch-hunt" that "is reminiscent of the darkest days of McCarthyism".[50] That poster was called "style Der Stürmer" by the Facebook group "Im Tirzu - fascists" and was charged for libel by "Im Tirtzu". Judge Refael Yaakobi accepted the characterization of Im Tirtzu's poster as being similar in style to that of the Nazi party's newspaper, writing in the court's decision, "examining that publication and the source for comparison reveals that indeed there is truth in the matter."[51]

During Operation Pillar of Defense, Im Tirtzu published an open letter in American Jewish newspapers addressed to the New Israel Fund chair. The letter gave examples of NIF funded organizations that Im Tirtzu said accused Israel of war crimes, and asked if the NIF agrees with their accusations.[52] The NIF rebutted Im Tirtzu's charges, stating, "Not one of the human rights organizations Im Tirtzu attacks accused Israel of war crimes in the recent Gaza action." NIF also quoted Avichai Mandelblit, the IDF's Chief Military Advocate General during Operation Cast Lead: "The organizations are a conduit for getting information on very important matters so that IDF activity is normative.... I'm trying to get at the truth and they really help us do that. Our cooperation with B'tselem [A NIF-supported group] stands out. They help us to speak with witnesses, to investigate complaints ... with all of the criticism from these organizations on us, their goal is to get to the truth."[53]

Machsom Watch

In May 2011 the organization called on Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein to launch a criminal investigation into the operations of Machsom Watch (an NIF funded organization) for allegedly violating an IDF order prohibiting Israelis from entering the Palestinian village of Awarta.[54] About a week before the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) revealed the identities of the murder suspects for the Itamar attack, senior Machsom Watch activist, Raya Yaron, was photographed hugging the mother of one of the men. Yaron said many other human rights organizations had also visited the village.[54]

Peace Now

In May 2012 Peace Now filed a police complaint that said Im Tirtzu activists had impersonated Peace Now activists and waved Palestinian flags during Jerusalem Day celebrations in what was reported as a presumed attempt to portray them as Palestinian sympathizers. They described Im Tirtzu as an "extremist movement" that, together with "extreme Islamic movements on the Arab side", they claimed would "drag us to a religious war steeped in blood". Im Tirtzu accused Peace Now of "impersonating an Israeli organization while operating with backing from foreign countries in order to give the Temple Mount to Palestinian Authority" and said freedom of speech gave them the right to ridicule Peace Now's positions.[55]

Foreign Agents Campaign

In December 2015, Im Tirtzu launched a campaign calling Israeli left-wing and human rights organizations that receive funding from foreign entities as "foreign agents".[56][57] It released a video depicting the heads of these organizations as foreign agents encouraging terrorist attacks; the Anti-Defamation League criticized the video as "hate speech;"[58] a lawsuit against Im Tirtzu for incitement to violence was dismissed after the Attorney General determined that the video was urging the Israeli public to support MK Yoav Kisch’s "foreign agent bill".[59][60] They also made a Facebook post calling a number of Israeli artists "cultural foreign agents." Following criticism, Im Tirtzu apologized and CEO Matan Peleg decided to suspend himself over the decision to upload the post.[61][62]

Funding

According to an article in Haaretz, Im Tirtzu in 2010 received funding from the following sources:[63]

  • The Azrieli Group, a shareholder in Bank Leumi and LeumiCard, which also owns 13 malls throughout the country and a controlling share in the Sonol, Tambour and Supergaz companies and is behind the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv
  • Leo Schachter, Israel's second-largest exporter of processed diamonds, headed by Elliot Tannenbaum
  • Keren Segal Leyisrael, a fund headed by Jerusalem businessman Yotam Bar-Hama
  • The Forum for Religious Zionism, an organization registered in 2010 in the name of Zvi Soibel, former director of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh.

John Hagee Ministries was a funder of Im Tirtzu but discontinued the funding on the grounds that Im Tirtzu "misrepresented its focus" by claiming that their work focused on "Zionist education" rather than "political" activity according to a spokesperson for the Evangelical organization.[64]

Leadership

The group was founded in 2006 by Ronen Shoval, who also served as its chairman until his retirement in 2013, and Erez Tadmor, who was a group spokesperson until his retirement in 2011.

Following Ronen's retirement, Matan Peleg was elected as Im Tirtzu's chairman.[65] Peleg was the founder of the Im Tirtzu branch in Haifa and the head of the northern branch of the movement.[66][67] After Erez's retired, Matan replaced him in the role of missions coordinator.[68] Alon Schwartzer was elected as head of the policy department alongside Matan.[69]

Matan Peleg suspended himself in January 2016 in the wake of an Im Tirtzu campaign against Israeli artists who supported human rights groups. [70]

Reception

Likened to Fascist groups

A NIS 2.6-million lawsuit was filed by Im Tirtzu against Israelis who had opened a Facebook page that suggested that Im Tirtzu was a Fascist group.[71] A court in Jerusalem rejected some of the charges but found one person guilty of slander.[9] In the verdict the Judge Refael Ya'akobi found that there were commonalities between the group and "certain principles of Fascism." He also stated that it is clear that the defendants are "bitter adversaries" of Im Tirtzu. He additionally wrote that the defendants do not imply a full identification Fascism with Im Tirtzu, but only some common lines. Finally the judge ruled that as Im Tirtzu emphasizes national aspects, the defendants can rely on the protections set in the law in order to be acquitted.[72][9] and wrote also that there is truth in comparing the poster of "Im Tirtzu" against the New Israel Fund to the style of the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer.[72] The judge wrote: "One should view these publications (against Im Tirtzu) as saying and warning that past experience teaches that support of similar principles to those that Im Tirtzu supports ... brought harsh and bad results."[73] In September 2013, the judge rejected the majority of Im Tirtzu's arguments, and cleared four of the five defendants. One defendant, Roy Yellin, was found to have libeled Im Tirtzu by implying that the group shared the "Nazi race theory". However, the judge criticised Im Tirtzu for bringing the action in the first place, and postponed awarding any damages for the one successful claim.[9][74] In February 2014, the court rejected Im Tirtzu's claim for damages, though it also rejected the defendants' claim for legal costs.[75] Both Im Tirtzu and the defendants appealed to the high court. In the appeal, the high court declared the previous ruling as void and null and decided that the libel suit should have not been heard in court, since the main discussion is ideological, not juridical.[76]

In court proceedings, Professor Zeev Sternhell, one of the world's leading experts on Fascism, testified that Im Tirtzu was "not worse than Fascism, it is that, more or less."[77] He also testified that Fascist principles "provide a basis for Im Tirtzu's operations."[78] Sternhell analyzed the writings published by Im Tirtzu and observed expressions of fascist thinking in the writings of the group's founder. These include seeing the nation as an organic body, viewing the West as being weakened, and describing the situation in the country as an emergency situation which requires unusual action against "traitors." [79]

Other court testimony documented that Im Tirtzu's founder admitted to drawing inspiration from German philosophers considered to have been precursors to Fascist ideology.[80]

In 2016, Knesset Member Benny Begin also used the term "Fascist" to describe a campaign by the organization.[81]

Opposition

In 2009, Im Tirtzu's largest donor was the John Hagee Ministries (JHM) via the Christian-Zionist organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Im Tirtzu received US$100,000 from JHM and $34,000 from other sources. In 2010, The Jerusalem Post reported that JHM "expressed deep displeasure" with Im Tirtzu after its campaigns against the New Israel Fund and Ben-Gurion University and announced the cessation of its funding. A JHM spokesman said that Im Tirtzu "misrepresented its focus when they told us their mission was strictly Zionist education".[64]

The group's spokesperson, Erez Tadmor, was found guilty of embezzling munitions from the Israeli military.[82]

The organization was accused of acting in an Anti-Semitic fashion, including emulating Nazi propaganda, in its criticisms of U.S. Ambassador Martin Indyk and of the New Israel Fund.[83][84]

Support

In a 2012 Ministry of Culture and Education competition, Im Tirtzu won first prize for their video titled, "Zionism Without Jerusalem?" In a competition featuring almost 150 entries, Im Tirtu's video won the most popular video, and was awarded a prize of 25,000 shekels.[85]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly endorsed Im Tirtzu.[86][87]

Im Tirtzu has been active on college campuses throughout Israel, and has received support from members of the Israeli Parliament and prominent Israeli writers and personalities.[32][88]

References

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  68. ^ "דנון: לעצור ההסתה של הח"כים הערבים" [Danon: Stop the incitement of Arab Mks] (in Hebrew). Arutz Sheva. 
  69. ^ הקרן לישראל חדשה מאחורי מחאת המסתננים של 2014 - גלי ישראל [New Israel Fund infiltrators behind protests of 2014 - Galei Yisrael] (in Hebrew). Im Tirtzu. 9 January 2014. 
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  72. ^ a b "Verdict of the regional court" (PDF). Jerusalem regional court. 2 September 2013. 
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  74. ^ Persico, Oren (7 September 2013). "לא לסטריליות" [No to sterility] (in Hebrew). HaAyin HaShevi'it. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
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  81. ^ Netanyahu condemns ads attacking left-wing artists: My political opponents are not 'traitors', Jan. 28, 2016, Haaretz
  82. ^ Omri Maniv. "מי אתה ארז תדמור?" [Erez Tadmor who are you?] (in Hebrew). nrg Maariv. 
  83. ^ "U.S. Peace Envoy Depicted as Puppet by Israeli Right-wing Group". Haaretz. 2 August 2013. 
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  86. ^ "PM Netanyahu's message to 'Im Tirtzu' supporters". YouTube. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
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