Recently, the right wing Israeli group Im Tirtzu created a highly inflammatory video singling out leaders of four leading Israeli human rights groups as “plants” by foreign powers seeking to undermine the State of Israel and supporting terror attacks. The video has been widely condemned as incitement to violence against these individuals and their organizations. The Foundation for Middle East Peace quickly moved to support our Israeli colleagues, as did many other organizations.
The groups – B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, Hamoked, and the Public Committee Against Torture In Israel – are among the many peace and human rights NGOs that are increasingly targeted by hateful rhetoric and even by anti-democratic legislation in the Knesset, much of which has been spurred by Im Tirtzu and their allies in the Likud and Jewish Home parties, the two largest parties in Israel’s governing coalition.
Defenses of these human rights workers and condemnations of Im Tirtzu have come not only from the Israeli left and its supporters, but also from key officials in the Israeli government, military and intelligence communities.
Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, to Netanyahu: “Take responsibility, tell Im Tirtzu that its video is beyond the ‘separation wall’ of what is acceptable in our democratic society… Stop those who stain your (Netanyahu’s) whole camp with hate.”
Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: “I will oppose any attempt to paint people or entire communities as collaborators with the enemy.”
MK Zehava Gal-On, Chair of the Meretz Party: “This is an explicit call to action for these people’s blood. The public atmosphere of violence assisted in spreading this material like wildfire, and is further encouraged by politicians’ blazing hatred and populist appeals. I am afraid for their safety.”
Yuval Diskin, Former Director General of the Shin Bet: “[Israeli human rights groups] provide another, important mirror to our actions. Even if they can make us angry, even if they are sometimes inaccurate or not doing their jobs correctly – their contribution is very important.”
Amiram Levin, former IDF General and former Deputy Director of the Mossad: “’Breaking the Silence’ strengthens the IDF and its moral code…‘Breaking the Silence’ guards IDF soldiers in the impossible place in which politicians have abandoned them.”
Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet: “As a former soldier and commander of the army and who is today a private citizen who believes that the IDF is a moral army only when its fighters are reporting what they saw with their own eyes, I break the silence.”
J Street: “It is time for American Jewry to make its voice heard loudly and clearly. Whether we personally agree with the work of Breaking the Silence or the other NGOs targeted or not, we hope there can be near unanimous consensus across the political spectrum that [Im Tirtzu’s] behavior is outside the bounds of our community’s values and standards.”
The Anti-Defamation League: “Im Tirtzu’s highly disturbing video employs fear tactics to accuse Israeli human rights activists and organizations of being culpable in the ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorism. This is a form of incitement which clearly crosses over into hate speech.”
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “A particular concern is that the violent rhetoric doesn’t come only from the extremes, but is echoed by public figures, members of your government, and the media. That is why it is essential that you exercise your leadership to set the tone of civil discourse – preventing incitement and violence – regardless of any disagreements you may have with the views of the human rights NGOs. We have seen the horrors that occur when words of incitement turn to acts of violence; such incitement cannot go unchecked.”
Joint Statement of the Worldwide Conservative/Masorti Movement: “We must hold leaders and neighbors alike accountable for a society in which issues are debated based on facts, people are treated with respect regardless of their beliefs, and tolerance and acceptance drown out the noise of hate.”
New Israel Fund: “The new campaign by the extremist Im Tirtzu group, naming and inciting against four human rights leaders, is designed to further delegitimize the proper work of human rights organizations while endangering the personal safety of these leaders who are our friends and allies. Not for nothing did an Israeli judge deem Im Tirtzu to have “fascist attributes.”
Americans for Peace Now: “American Jewish leaders have, with good reason, long pointed to Israel’s vibrant civil society and freedom of speech as evidence of the robustness of Israeli democracy in an un-democratic region. Today, these same leaders must recognize that burgeoning attacks on Israeli progressive civil society are a threat to Israel’s democracy and feed the kind of extremism that has already led to attacks and the murder of an Israeli prime minister.”
T’Ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights: “This hateful rhetoric is all too reminiscent of the time when the walls of Jerusalem displayed posters of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin z”l in a Nazi uniform, and when crowds chanted “Death to Rabin” at rallies.”
B’Tselem USA: “This crude attempt to gin up support for silencing human rights activists by publicly attacking them for political gain is nothing short of sickening. This attack may come in Im Tirtzu’s voice but the hands are those of the current Israeli government.”
Ameinu and ARZA: “Im Tirtzu’s actions are a direct threat to Israel and a desecration of the Zionist Dream of Israel’s founders…this video adds to a growing culture of incitement within Israel and the Palestinian territories — one that is strengthened by divisive and irresponsible statements by government ministers and Members of the Knesset — which has already lead to violence…Im Tirtzu, the racist Lehava movement, the Tag Mechir (Price Tag) vigilantes and other foes of Israeli democracy must be denounced without reservation.”
Peace Now ad: “Whoever finances Im Tirtzu also supports Jewish terrorism”
Partners for Progressive Israel: “These are the tactics that resulted in the assassination of YItzhak Rabin twenty years ago; and these are the same tactics used by totalitarian parties of the right in Europe in the inter-war period in their successful campaigns to destroy democracy in Italy and Germany.”
Jewish Voice for Peace: “This video is just the latest, and perhaps most egregious, example of the climate of hate and violence directed at anyone who stands up for the rights of Palestinians.”
Foundation for Middle East Peace: “FMEP’s support for these groups is based on shared values of democracy, equality, and tolerance. Hateful attacks like the one launched by Im Tirzu undermine those values. The activists named in the video represent the best of an open, democratic civil society, something of which all Israelis should be proud, just as we at FMEP are proud to share in the common work of advancing human rights in our societies.”
Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories: “I’m not afraid of Im Tirtzu. I’m afraid of the occupation, of indifference to injustice, sanctimoniousness and passing shock.”
HaMoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual: “There can be no doubt that this campaign which targets private individuals falls outside the protection of freedom of speech. It constitutes unbridled incitement and dangerous provocation that put at risk the personal wellbeing and safety of the organizations’ employees who “star” in it.”