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Incitement Against Israel’s Human Rights Community, and the Flag Unfurled

18 December 2015

The extremist Israeli organization Im Tirtzu published a video this week targeting four employees of Israel’s human rights community. This was accompanied by a coordinated attack on NIF grantee Breaking the Silence, and some manufactured controversies regarding the extraordinarily successful HaaretzQ with New Israel Fund conference on December 13.

Here are a few key facts about what’s going on:

1) Who is Im Tirtzu?

Im Tirtzu is an organization that has in the past targeted campaigns against Ben Gurion University, against the High Court of Justice, and, yes, also against NIF. It’s a group so hardline that an Israeli court ruled that the group has “fascist attributes.” The video they released seems to support that determination.

Im Tirtzu has close links to the Jewish Home party, a key part of the governing coalition. The media has reported that the producer of the hate video is an adviser to Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

More information:

2) Why is this attack coming now?

The release of the video comes in the context of a loud debate around legislation intended to shame Israeli human rights groups who receive foreign funding. The hypocrisy of the bill’s proponents was exposed by a Peace Now report and a Haaretz investigative series that found that right-wing organizations are opaque about their sources of funding. This, along with pressure from pro-democracy advocates,has frozen the law, with a Kulanu MK saying in an interview that his party cannot support the bill that was introduced earlier this fall. (Kulanu is the only somewhat centrist party in the current governing coalition.)

In this context, new proposed legislation was introduced that would effectively bar the Israeli government from interacting with human rights groups at all, despite repeated testimony by military and security officials that these organizations’ provide crucial information to the IDF. This video encourages watchers to express their support for this latest law.

The video also appears to be part of a larger effort to distract the Israeli public’s attention from the current government’s failure to provide Israelis with security and increasing sentiment worldwide against Israel’s settlement enterprise. Israeli ultra-nationalists are also very angry at the pushback from the international community about yet another attempt to punish or curtail the activities of liberal civil society.

More information and statements from American organizations:

  • Who is Funding the Right-Wing NGOs? — via Peace Now
  • Statement From NIF RE: Im Tirtzu Campaign Against Human Rights Activists — via
  • FMEP [Foundation for Middle East Peace] Affirms Support For Israeli Human Rights Organizations — via
  • Time to cut off Im Tirzu — via J Street Blog
  • Conservative/Masorti Statement on Incitement — via The Rabbinical Assembly
  • ADL Disturbed by Video Targeting Israeli Human Rights Activists — ADL Press Release
  • A Knife in the Heart of Zionism — via Ameinu
  • End Incitement Against Israeli Human Rights Leaders — via T’ruah
  • Press Release: APN Condemns Extremists’ Attacks on Progressive Israelis — via
  • Joint Statement of Worldwide Conservative/Masorti Movement — via Newsroom

3) Why does NIF support Breaking the Silence and other Israeli human rights groups?

Human rights watchdog groups operate in every democracy worldwide. They ensure that there is an independent voice reporting on government activity and they serve as a check and balance on potential abuses of power. No internal government mechanism can effectively examine the government’s actions without outside reports and pressure. This is true in Israel, as it is true across the globe.

Reports by human rights groups can be painful and difficult to read for all who care about Israel. This is doubly true inside Israel, where the context is the sense of insecurity that Israelis feel. Yet, no matter how unpopular the work of Israel’s human rights watchdog groups are, NIF will not back away from our support for them. Israel’s democratic character and future is too important to us.

Breaking the Silence is one such Israeli human rights group, which has been the focus of a delegitimization campaign coming from Israel’s hardliners, including some within the government coalition. Its mission is to provide combat soldiers with the means to promote a public discussion about the nature of the country’s longstanding military occupation and the conflict, primarily by offering personal testimony about their own direct experiences serving in the territories or in the Gaza wars. More than 1,000 IDF soldiers have contributed testimonies to Breaking the Silence, some anonymously and some publicly and on the record.

Given the centrality of the army in Israeli life and the fact that most do serve, it is not surprising that Breaking the Silence elicits more opposition and anger than any other human rights group. Although we understand Israeli resentment of stories that illustrate the ugliness and inhumanity of the occupation, one that is enforced by their own young adult children, we know that nothing and no-one is served by hiding the truth.

More information:

  • Breaking the Silence website — View
  • Israel Should Be Proud of the Open Criticism Democracy Provokes — via the Independent
  • Don’t Shoot Down Breaking the Silence, It’s Just the Messenger — via
  • Ex-IDF General Takes Out Ad to Support Breaking the Silence — via Times of Israel
  • Ex-Shin Bet Chief, -Top Cop Support Breaking the Silence — via Times of Israel
  • Why Breaking the Silence Became the Most Hated Group in Israel (Analysis by Anshel Pfeffer) — via
  • Diskin Comes to Defense of Breaking the Silence — via Times of Israel
  • A Facebook photo album — View

4) Why is the Haaretz/NIF conference coming under criticism for removing the Israeli flag for Secretary Erekat’s speech?

The issue over the Israeli flag at the HaaretzQ Conference is a manufactured controversy. President Rivlin’s office requested that there be an Israeli flag behind him when he spoke, as his government’s protocol requires. Secretary Erekat¹s staff requested that there not be an Israeli flag behind him when he spoke, as his government’s protocol requires. We honored both requests. Beyond that, there was no intentional placement of flags on the plenary stage during the conference. We did have both an American and an Israeli flag at the entrance to the conference.

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