Israel’s Im Tirtzu student organization bills itself as the “Second Zionist Revolution.” Until a few weeks ago, that sounded like youthful bravado. But the group has raised eyebrows – and hackles – with its unprecedented grand slam in the Israeli media against the New Israel Fund.
Led by Hebrew University graduate student Ronen Shoval, Im Tirtzu has emerged as the leading campus organization among Israeli students. It is solidly Zionist and nationalist, and has both secular and religious members.
Im Tirtzu had been making headlines even before the controversy surrounding NIF. It earlier collected complaints from students at several schools, especially Tel Aviv University, concerning harassments of Zionist students by anti-Israel faculty radicals. Many students claim they are penalized by leftist faculty members if they dare challenge the classroom biases imposed on them.
In response to Im Tirtzu’s complaints, the administration of Tel Aviv University launched an investigation into those abuses and the matter was also raised for debate in the Knesset.
The New Israel Fund is a left-of-center outfit funded in part by American Jews but mainly by the Ford Foundation and some groups in the EU. Critics of NIF sometimes claim the “New Israel” it seeks to fund is really Palestine.
Some of what NIF funds is harmless, or even beneficial, like shelters for battered women. But the bulk of its funding goes to leftist political activism inside Israel.
The current media frenzy began when Im Tirtzu released a 120-page report on the activities supported by the New Israel Fund. As Im Tirtzu’s Shoval told me: “Supposedly in the name of freedom of speech, the New Israel Fund has financed a massive campaign of defamation against Israel and its soldiers, but then has demanded that Im Tirtzu be silenced. Inventing imaginary war crimes by Israel is NIF’s idea of progressive democracy, but criticism of NIF by students is incitement and must be suppressed.”
The new controversy was triggered by the UN’s Goldstone report, which denounced Israel for war crimes and human rights abuses supposedly committed by Israeli soldiers during Operation Cast Lead while glossing over the thousands of rocket attacks that had made military action necessary in the first place.
The fairy tales of Israeli “human rights abuses” and “war crimes” by Goldstone were taken not from the usual anti-Israel propaganda websites and media outlets but were provided to the Goldstone “investigators” by numerous radical Israeli propaganda groups.
The funding of these extremist groups has long been the focus of the NGO-Monitor watchdog group, headed by Bar-Ilan University professor Gerald Steinberg. His website exposes non-governmental organizations that pretend to be human-rights or peace organizations but are in fact nothing more than Bash-Israel hate groups. They invariably get the bulk of their funding from outside Israel, often from sources hostile to Israel.
The Im Tirtzu students gathered data from NGO-Monitor and other sources and issued their devastating report (which includes 60 pages of tables). According to it, 92 percent of the anti-Israel smears in the Goldstone report came directly from organizations financed by the New Israel Fund.
Within days, the Israeli daily Maariv carried the story of the Im Tirtzu report on its front page, with several news and opinion pieces congratulating the students for their work and denouncing the New Israel Fund.
The Maariv story was followed up by the rest of the Israeli mainstream media. Only Haaretz, the daily described by some wags as the Palestinian newspaper published in Hebrew, denounced the students as “inciters” and “right-wing extremists” and launched a shameless campaign of vilification and defamation against them.
The Knesset announced it would hold hearings into Im Tirtzu’s findings. Within days, public statements endorsing the student report and denouncing the New Israel Fund were being published, notably one by a group of Israeli army generals.
Meanwhile, Im Tirtzu students escalated their criticism of the current president of the New Israel Fund, former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan. They mischievously issued a poster/advertisement with a cartoon showing Chazan with a rhino horn coming out of her forehead.
It was all a play on words: “new fund” in Hebrew is exactly the same expression as “new horn.” So the poster shows Chazan wearing her “new fund” as a rhino horn on her forehead. The cartoon also played on the Israeli slang expression l’hitkarnef, literally “to become a rhinoceros,” a popular term referring to “selling out.”
Chazan and her leftist legions were not amused. She and NIF decided to bully the students by threatening to sue. They also instituted a lawsuit against the Jerusalem Post for running the Im Tirtzu ad. The Jerusalem Post responded by sacking Chazan, who had been a Post columnist. A “progressive” group of Jews in Australia, hearing about Chazan’s behavior, decided to withdraw an offer to host her for a speaking tour.
Leftist groups, led by the anti-Israel Human Rights Watch, repeated their familiar take on democracy: Israelis denouncing and demonizing Israel build peace and progress, but people denouncing leftists threaten democracy itself.
A few dozen far-left academics, joined by some others, placed large ads in newspapers denouncing Im Tirtzu and endorsing the agenda of the New Israel Fund. Leftist professors filled the chat lists with messages insisting Im Tirtzu was a clear and present danger to democracy and freedom of speech in Israel.
Several tenured leftists insisted that Im Tirtzu’s exercise of freedom of speech would lead directly to political murder, repeating the old calumny about how right-wingers exercising their freedom of speech caused the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Others, led by Haaretz writers, argued that the rhino horn in the Chazan cartoon was anti-Semitic.
That so many of Israel’s leftists have stooped to such nonsense shows only one thing: They are in a high state of panic over the appearance of possibly the most important authentically Zionist grassroots movement in Israel in decades.
Steven Plaut is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.