In the beginning of February, Im Tirtzu ("If you will it"), a relatively new purportedly-Zionist group, organized a brutal campaign against the New Israel Fund (NIF), an organization committed to democratic change and social justice in Israel, which has - in the last three decades - supported more than 800 cutting-edge civil society organizations.
Representing nationalist ideologies, Im Tirtzu vilified the NIF for financially supporting sixteen organizations that had supplied materials cited in the Goldstone Report (the product of a UN inquiry into the war in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009), maintaining that these materials effectively marred the image of Israel. Among the organizations named for "collaborating" are The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Center for the Defense of the Individual, Doctors for Human Rights, and Rabbis for Human Rights - just a few amongst the dozens of social justice organizations supported under the NIF's umbrella.
Im Tirtzu makes opaque claims that 92 percent of the negative citations in the Goldstone Report supplied by Israeli sources came from these sixteen organizations. In fact, it seems that the organizations funded by the NIF constituted only 14 percent of the sources the Goldstone Report used overall, the rest coming from Palestinian or international sources. Moreover, the group accuses the NIF of being funded by organizations that support anti-Israel groups across the Arab world and within the Palestinian Authority. Im Tirtzu's report relies on the example of the Ford Foundation - a donor of the NIF - which it cites for also aiding the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).
Subsequent to the group's initial claims, the attacks continued. The group ran a slanderous newspaper advertisement campaign against the NIF and its chairwoman, Prof. Naomi Chazan, drawing a horn on her head (a disturbing choice of anti-Semitic imagery, made by a so-claimed Second Zionist Revolution movement, to ridicule a former Knesset member). The group next staged a mock rally in front of Chazan's home, purporting to be Hamas terrorists celebrating her actions. Then, in a recent TV talk-show interview, the founder of Im Tirtzu ridiculously claimed that the NIF's funding comes from organizations that also support Hamas and added that supporting the NIF is equivalent to supporting Hamas.
Im Tirtzu and its followers seek to delegitimize the NIF and these sixteen organizations, as well as to intimidate these types of groups from exposing misconduct. Moreover, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has already urged European governments to cease aid to groups of this kind. Referring to one of the organizations, Breaking the Silence (which publishes testimonies of Israeli soldiers that served in the occupied territories), the Prime Minister said that "there is no silence to break; what are they talking about?" He views the Goldstone Report as one of Israel's "strategic threats" (as if Iran is not enough), and more than a year after the war in Gaza, there is still no national commission of inquiry.
Hence, it is not surprising that Knesset members in Netanyahu's coalition were enthralled by Im Tirtzu's report, as it plays directly into the hands those trying to conceal Israeli misconduct in the occupied territories and during the war in Gaza. The Law and Justice Committee, chaired by Knesset Member David Rotem (of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party), hurried to vote in favor of creating a committee to investigate the NIF's financial sources (although the committee seems to be stalled, at least for now). Likud Knesset Member Danny Danon announced that "the committee will have to act swiftly in order to remove the strategic threat that the New Israel Fund poses to Israel."
In a democratic country, Im Tirtzu has the right to express its discontent that human rights organizations air Israel's "dirty laundry" and that such organizations' findings found their way into the Goldstone Report. But doing so in a defamatory and intimidating way alludes to the group's non-democratic and nationalist goals.
Airing the "dirty laundry" in Israel has long been an issue and it became even more acute following the war in Gaza and the resulting Goldstone Report. Israel - still struggling with its right to exist, with its undefined international borders, and with its Palestinian neighbor - strives to portray itself as the victim in the longstanding conflict in lieu of the occupier and as conducting only "wars of necessity" by "the most moral military in the world." Therefore, Israel was deeply troubled by the Goldstone Report, with many citizens, amongst them Knesset members, calling the report's author an anti-Semite and Israel-hater (ironic considering Judge Goldstone's Judaism and history of Zionism). But Im Tirtzu used the general Israeli disappointment from the Goldstone Report and took it one step forward, launching a witch-hunt to track down inside "collaborators," accusing them of anti-Zionism.
Chazan, on her side, responds that these organizations were "the first to declare that the Israeli government should launch an independent inquiry into the events of Gaza. Had that been done, perhaps there would not have been a Goldstone Report." Moreover, she views Im Tirtzu's campaign as a provocation: "This isn't freedom of speech, this is incitement. It's an attempt to eradicate legitimate protest and opposition. And without opposition, there is no democracy."
The acrimonious dispute between Im Tirtzu and the NIF is a microcosm of two schools of thought that dominate Israel today. The first claims to strengthen the values of Zionism and patriotism, supports the expansion of settlements, views security as paramount, and effectively denies any Israeli responsibility or accountability for the Palestinians' circumstances and welfare.
The other school of thought, spearheaded by movements such as the NIF and the political party Meretz, advocates a broad definition of social justice for everyone who lives in or under Israel's authority. It aspires to guarantee equality of social, political and human rights for all of Israel's inhabitants, without regard to religion, race or gender. In order to maintain Israel's Jewish and democratic characteristics, this movement pushes for equality of law for all with the aim of employing a two-state solution so as to both ensure a Jewish majority in Israel and a fully-exercised democracy.
Theodor Herzl, the leading spirit of the Zionist movement in the late nineteenth century, strived to create a safe haven for the Jews and coined the phrase "if you will it, it is no dream." Herzl placed his faith in the founding of a Jewish state, but at the same time, advocated for tolerance and peace, including between the Jewish and the Arab populations. Any group or movement resting upon his legacy should respect Herzl's fundamentals of tolerance, justice, integrity, and equality for all peoples. Lack of tolerance for civil-society groups in Israel should be condemned and rebuked by the Israeli people and the nation's leadership.