In September, the right-wing organization Im Tirzu will celebrate 10 years of its activity – and will do so in Beit Shmuel, a conference center owned by a progressive Jewish organization with links to the Reform movement.
As Im Tirzu was in the vanguard of the assault on human rights NGOs and academic freedom in Israel, it is surprising and disheartening news to learn its conference will be hosted at a conference center owned by the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), which is dedicated to strengthening Reform Jewish life.
It is stranger still when you examine the list of speakers: it includes Dr. Mordechai Keidar, an orientalist who became notorious when suggesting raping the sisters or mothers of Palestinian terrorists as a terrorism counter-measure (Hebrew). The conference will also host the singer Ariel Zilber, noted for his support of Meir Kahane (his greatest hit in the last decade being “Kahane was right”) and of Elor Azariya, the soldier recently convicted of killing a defenseless Palestinian attacker.
Zohara Berger-Tzur, a spokesperson for the WUPJ, was flabbergasted to hear of the Im Tirzu event (“you’re kidding me! It can’t be!”), and promised to get a formal reply, and got back to me with this response:
“Beit Shmuel serves as a conference and visiting center, and rents space and rooms to conference and events. As such, it is prevented by law from boycotting organizations due to their ideology.”
Im Tirzu is a GONGO (government-operated NGO): it has received funds from Netanyahu aides (Hebrew) and, as recently documented (Hebrew), by Netanyahu donors. Raviv Drucker, a prominent Israeli investigative journalist, found (Hebrew) that the movement leaders were working in concert with Netanyahu since 2007. Im Tirzu, all of whose founders are settlers and whose leaders were long connected, masqueraded as a “central Zionist” movement, to the point of threatening to sue the Hebrew Wikipedia when it correctly described them as a right-wing movement (Hebrew).
The organization rose to prominence in 2010, following a massive and well-funded campaign against the New Israel Fund, and then continued attacking basically every Israeli human rights NGO. It was used by the Netanyahu government as “special experts” before acting against NGOs. Neither the government nor Im Tirzu ever admitted the connection between them.
In 2010 the organization overstepped, and as part of its campaign of intimidation sued for libel 10 Israeli activists who dared to call it a fascistic movement for a staggering sum of 2.6 million NIS, some $650,000 USD in 2010 terms. In 2013, the Jerusalem District Court rejected Im Tirzu’s suit, accepting the defendants “we have spoken the truth” defense. After listening to lengthy witness testimony, the court found the movement “contains fascist elements.” (Hebrew document) Im Tirzu appealed, and the Supreme Court expressed displeasure the suit was even allowed to be registered, striking the whole process down and slapping Im Tirzu with damages. In 2016, Im Tirzu overstepped again, and began a campaign against “moles”, first targeting human rights NGOs and then publishing a list of artist “moles”. This caused a huge backlash and the GONGO had to backpedal (Hebrew).
Im Tirzu’s vision of Israel demands loyalty to Israel as a Jewish state and is highly militaristic, claiming that basically every criticism of the military, in particular the military regime in the Occupied Territories, is bordering on treason. The group’s first manifesto dropped the “democratic” from the standard “Jewish and Democratic” formula describing the regime in Israel. The movement popularized support for the late Yair Stern, the leader of the Stern Gang, the terrorist force in the 1940s, while conspicuously dropping Yitzhak Rabin from their list of approved Zionist leaders. The group’s recommended Zionist reading listed omitted Theodore Herzl’s Altneuland, the novel describing the future Jewish state; a major conflict in Altneuland is between liberal Jews and a racist rabbi who demands only Jews will have civil rights. (Im Tirzu refused to comments on my request to clarify why they dropped the book.) Im Tirzu has participated in intimidation campaigns against NGOs and lecturers they described as “non-Zionists”.
The movement’s founder, Ronen Shoval, has openly called for building the Third Temple on Temple Mount [Hebrew photo] and described the relations between Jews, Israel and their history in mystical terms, calling the Temple Mount “the beating heart of the people.” He also developed a concept of “unconscious anti-Zionists”: people who think they’re Zionists but have internalized the wrong ideas, therefore serving anti-Zionism. It was Shoval’s written corpus, and his admitted reliance on fascist thinkers, which convinced the court Im Tirzu contained fascist elements. During cross interrogation, Shoval admitted sending private detectives to monitor Adv. Michael Sfard’s office, calling him a “traitor” during his testimony (Hebrew).