Silencing dissent in Israel

“Im Tirtzu,” an organization that defines itself as “an extra-parliamentary movement that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel,” has embarked on a campaign calling on Tzavta theatre in Tel Aviv to boycott Palestinian artist and director, Muhammad Bakri.

As part of this campaign, In Tirtzu has asked members to send letters to the theatre house protesting Bakri’s scheduled appearance in Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba.”

Im Tirtzu has also scheduled a demonstration for January 30. The protest will begin one hour before the play starts.

The right wing organization claims that the boycott is a response to Bakri’s movie “Jenin, Jenin,” which is based on real events. The movie reconstructs the 2002 battle in the Jenin refugee camp using the residents’ testimonies.

The film was banned from public screening in Israel and reserve soldiers who had served in Jenin filed a defamation suit arguing that the movie had sullied their names. While the court dismissed the case, the judge claimed that Bakri had not shown “good faith” and that he had not proven that his interpretation of the events were supported by reports from human rights groups. In response, Bakri said that he “seen hundreds of films that deny and ignore what happened to Palestinians, yet [people haven’t] complained or tried to ban any film.”

The call to boycott the Palestinian artist is Im Tirtzu’s latest move in the broader they are waging against those they accuse of disloyalty, subversion, and treason against Israeli institutions. Among other things, Im Tirtzu activists have spied on classes in Tel Aviv University, reporting on professors and lecturers who disagree with the movement’s radical ideology.

Earlier this month, sociology professor Yehouda Shenhav, of Tel Aviv University, was taped in class and he later received a letter advising him to think twice before he expresses his ideas “in a way [that] reveals your shame, because it is wise to keep silence.” Im Tirtzu also sent a letter of complaint against Shenhav to the National Council for Higher Education.

A recent study conducted by a group of academics, students, and artists found that a blacklist maintained by Im Tirtzu and two other groups, Isra-Campus and Israeli Academia Monitor, delineates ten percent of Israeli academics as anti-Zionists. The list includes over a thousand Israeli citizens, made up mostly of academics but including writers, journalists, politicians, and other public figures.

These neo-McCarthyist organizations are not marginal to Israeli politics. According to Haaretz, contributions to Im Tirtzu increased fourfold last year. Among the donors to were major financial groups such as the Azrieli Group and Leo Schachter Diamond Company.

In most cases, however, donors conceal their identity.

In 2007, Im Tirtzu reported a total income of 260 thousand NIS in contributions. According to the association’s most recent financial statement, it spent 1.14 million on promotional campaigns in 2010–more than ten times than it spent in 2009. The report also reveals that the organization received a total of NIS 1.66 million in contributions in 2010, almost four times more than in 2009.

In 2008 and 2009, Im Tirtzu also received an annual donation of NIS 374,000 (about 100,000 USD) from “Christians United for Israel” (CUFI), a Christian fundamentalist organization based in the United States.

CUFI, which is part of the pro-Israel lobby in the US, is headed by David Brog. Reverend John Hagee, a vociferous anti-Catholic and Islamophobic preacher from Texas, also serves on its executive board. Hagee has stated that be believes that the Holocaust was God’s will because most Jews ignored Herzl’s Zionist call to immigrate to what was, in Herzl’s time, Palestine. Hagee has also claimed that Hitler’s persecution of Jews was a “divine plan” to lead Jews to form the modern state of Israel.

Im Tirtzu’s call for a boycott against Bakri and the organization’s attacks on prominent Israeli academics are part of an attempt to secure Netanyahu’s permanency in government by erasing the last reminders of Israeli liberalism. Similar to their fundamentalist donors, Im Tirtzu does not attack organizations that openly oppose Zionism but attempts to chase those who criticize the state and Zionism out of mainstream institutions.

On a related note, Netanyahu himself recently claimed that Haaretz newspaper, which adopts a more liberal interpretation of Zionism, is an enemy agent. According to The Jerusalem Post Editor, Steve Lindy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that “the New York Times and Haaretz set the agenda for the anti-Israeli campaign all over the world. Journalists read them every morning, and base their stories on what they read in The Times and Ha’aretz.”

This article was originally published by the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

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