Im Tirtzu in Goldstone's Footsteps

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published February 09, 2010, issue of February 19, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

By and large, I resist conspiratorial explanation of events. Most often, coincidence governs; things that seem related have arrived together from different sources, and their togetherness is curious rather than significant.

Now, however, I admit to alarm. We are witness to an escalating series of events that begin to feel cumulative, moving faster and faster to subvert Israel’s democracy and transform its political and social life into a kind of Absurdistan.

As so often happens, the first steps in this new and perilous direction were barely noticed. A nip at freedom of expression here, a tuck at dissent there, another permit refused, another home demolished, another protest quashed. No big deal, except to those directly involved. The police put down a demonstration the courts have permitted, and still more people show up the following week. An opaque organization called NGO Monitor whines tediously on about the lack of transparency in Israeli NGOs, and the earth still spins safely in its orbit.

But suddenly in recent days, the dots have begun to seem connected. The precipitating event was the publication, in Israel, of a document of 69 pages (plus 43 pages of appendices) alleging that save for the support of organizations funded (in part) by the New Israel Fund, there’d have been no Goldstone Report. This utterly preposterous allegation is quite explicit. It appears, among other places, in a full-page ad by the document’s publisher, an organization called Im Tirtzu (“if you will it …”): “Fact,” the ad asserts in large letters: “Without the New Israel Fund, there could be no Goldstone Report, and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes.”

The Im Tirtzu report was immediately picked up by the Israeli press — most provocatively by Ben Caspit in Maariv, and insult was added to insult when Im Tirtzu took a full-page ad in The Jerusalem Post that featured a crude caricature of the NIF’s president, Naomi Chazan.

There is for me an odd sense of familiarity as I make my way through the Im Tirtzu report and various of the documents it has precipitated. Wait, is this not a replay of the Goldstone Report? As in: The more carefully you read and review these lengthy documents, the less persuasive they become. In particular, even if we ignore the shabbiness of Im Tirtzu’s effort to present its “findings” as serious research, we are left with the following problem: In almost none of its more than 50 references to the Israeli organization B’Tselem does the Im Tirtzu report allege that B’Tselem’s criticisms of Israel’s behavior in last year’s Gaza war were mistaken. Indeed, the report’s own summary of B’Tselem’s “main activity against IDF” accuses B’Tselem of “Promoting the delegitimization of IDF operations by sullying the IDF’s and the State of Israel’s image in Israel and abroad via documentation and publicity.” And so it is with almost all the other organizations that Im Tirtzu accuses of seeking to undermine Israel’s legitimacy; B’Tselem is just one example.

There is a serious question here. If what B’Tselem and the others have said is true — I write here not of the conclusions some of them reach but of the facts they allege — then who is it that “sullies” the IDF’s and the State of Israel’s image in Israel and abroad? Is it the human rights organizations that seek to hold Israel to high standards of performance, or is it the IDF when it falls short of those standards? Is it the messenger, or is it the message?

Clarity: Saying “no” to Im Tirtzu does not mean saying “yes” to Goldstone. Reading Goldstone, you are invited to conclude that for all practical purposes the IDF treated Gaza as a free-fire zone. Thus, Goldstone: “The instructions given to the Israeli armed forces moving into Gaza provided for a low threshold for the use of lethal fire against the civilian population.” (p. 228) Or: “[I]n none of the cases reviewed were there any grounds which could have reasonably induced the Israeli armed forces to assume that the civilians attacked were in fact taking a direct part in the hostilities and had thus lost their immunity against direct attacks.” (p. 231)

The problem with taking such statements seriously is that the number of civilian deaths, even if every single one was part of a “disproportionate” response, does not begin to approach numbers that would have been expected in a “free-fire” setting. After a three-week-long battle against an essentially absent foe, in congested urban spaces, from sky, sea and ground, the highest estimate of the deaths of innocent civilians comes to about a thousand. The alleged “low threshold for the use of lethal fire against the civilian population” cannot have been all that low.

In this as in other ways, Goldstone is off the mark. (Which is one reason the Israeli government should conduct the independent investigation of Operation Cast Lead that so many have called for.) At the same time, to say “no” to Im Tirtzu is not necessarily to say “yes” to all the activities of the 16 NIF-supported organizations it assaults. There are some I find disturbing. And yes, it is true that Israel is regularly singled out for behavior that elsewhere often goes unremarked. But I am among those who believe that it is the job of human rights organizations, in Israel as elsewhere, to be responsibly vociferous — not to be shy, not to be infallible, but to be ever on watch.

As to the New Israel Fund itself, an organization I have been proud to be identified with since very nearly its inception, both for years as a board member and now as a member of its International Advisory Board, the idea that it seeks anything more than or different from an Israel that behaves in all respects in accordance with the highest ideals of the Jewish people is a calumny. I have long believed and often remarked that the strength of Israel’s civil society is largely a gift to the Jewish state by NIF and its supporters.

Oh yes: Those dots that connect the effort to discredit and marginalize NIF (and others), expressions in the main of a Jewish right wing that disguises itself behind an ill-fitting centrist mask? More to come.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.