A news analysis has surfaced about a recent incident involving an Israeli pro-Israel NGO called, Im Tirtzu (Gil Ronen, “Im Tirtzu saga: The Israeli Right needs to learn from the Left”, Arutz Sheva, February 2, 2016). This analysis offered a criticism of Israel’s political Right. The criticism is correct. But it doesn’t go far enough.
To discuss this issue, let’s start with that Im Tirtzu ‘saga’ (above).
Im Tirtzu is an Israeli NGO that dedicates itself to renew “Zionist discourse, Zionist thinking and Zionist ideology” (Im Tirtzu homepage-about us-movement). A major portion of its work focuses on “combating the campaign of de-legitimization against the State of Israel and to providing responses to Post-Zionist and Anti-Zionist phenomena” (ibid). In practical terms, this means that Im Tirtzu fights Israel’s Left, mainly Leftist Human Rights NGOs.
On Israel’s political battlefield, Im Tirtzu hardly registers as a player. It’s small. But, despite its size, it’s become a thorn in the side of the Left.
In December 2015, Im Tirtzu drew Leftist blood. It posted a video claiming that several named Israelis from leading Left-wing Rights organizations in Israel worked actively against Israel by aiding terrorists (Reut Rimerman et al, “Right-wing group: leftist activists are 'implants'”, YNET, December 15, 2015). The video refers to these named individuals as foreign ‘plants’ (ibid) who aim to harm Israel on behave of foreign nations (they are believed to take money from foreign countries specifically to delegitimize Israel). The video makes the statement that, while Israel fights against terrorism, these individuals fight against Israel (ibid). Nowhere in the video do we see or hear the words, ‘traitor’ or ‘moles’. The video calls these individuals ‘agents’ of foreign countries (“Right-wing group accuses activists of being foreign agent ‘moles’”, Times of Israel, December 15, 2015).
Immediately, Israel’s Left screamed, ‘foul’. The Left called this video ‘incitement’. At least one of the Leftists named said he became afraid he’d be killed in the street because of this ‘incitement’.
The Leftist Haaretz went ballistic. It stated as fact that Im Tirtzu had called “human rights activists as terrorist-supporting traitors” (Chemi Shalev, “Im Tirtzu and the Proto-fascist Plot to Destroy Israeli Democracy”, Haaretz, December 15, 2015). It called the video part of a Proto-fascist plot to destroy Israel.
With that, everyone else went ballistic. Every politician with a recognizable name condemned Im Tirtzu for calling individuals ‘traitors’ or ‘moles’. The uproar was so great that the director of Im Tirtzu apologized to the public—and then suspended himself.
Im Tirtzu had opened fire on the Left. It had struck hard. It had hit a nerve. But it then felt forced to retreat in shame.
According to Akiva Bigman, editor-in-chief at a conservative-nationalist website called, Mida, what happened to Im Tirtzu shows how seriously the Left controls the Right. The Left, he says, knows how to deploy all its assets in a campaign against the Right (Arutz Sheva, above). It knows how to cast anything the Right says into the most negative light (ibid). It knows how to control an issue so as to “portray the right as reckless, boundary-less, fascistic, fanatic, threatening, speech-stifling and dangerous” (ibid).
This, Bigman asserts, is exactly what the Left did to Im Tirtzu. Im Tirtzu never used the word ‘traitor’ in its video. But the Left made ‘traitor’ the key reason Im Tirtzu had crossed the line to ‘incitement’. It was also the main reason many on the Right jumped to condemn Im Tirtzu.
As Bigman put it, the Left knows how to use the media, academia, courts and cultural institutions in an orchestrated way. “The media creates the storm, intellectuals make harsh statements, the courts are asked to intervene and some ‘cultural icons’ often add their writing and acting talents to the mix” (ibid). The Right, he said, has not learned how to play this game. Therefore, he suggested, it cannot compete with the Left. Indeed, until the Right learns to adopt a similar approach, it can’t beat the Left (ibid).
He’s correct. But his assessment doesn’t go far enough. There’s another reason the Right cannot compete with the Left: it isn’t unified.
The Left in Israel is unified. It focuses on four issues: two states for peace, human rights, democracy over religion, Arabs over Jews. Any time any of these issues makes the headlines, the Left speaks with one voice.
The Right cannot do that on any of these issues. It’s not unified. It’s divided over the two-states issue. It’s divided over how human rights should be applied in Israel. It’s divided over the question of religion in the public domain. It’s divided over how much Israel should cater to the Arab population.
Compared to the Left, the Right is chaotic. In the Im Tirtzu affair, the Right didn’t defend Im Tirtzu. It didn’t point out how the Left’s accusations were false. Instead, it joined the Left’s fictitious portrayal of the video—and condemned Im Tirtzu.
They reacted that way because the Left raised such a cry the Right froze. It feared it’d be crushed by the Left if it didn’t join the condemnation. It was easier to condemn than to fight.
That’s not the way to win against the Left. Until the Right gets its act together and starts to speak with one voice, it will always come in second to the Left.