More than 1,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv Friday afternoon to hear artists and musicians named in Im Tirtzu’s “culture moles” campaign listing top Israeli cultural figures associated with leftist organizations.
The campaign, launched on January 27, targeted such notables as writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor and singer Rona Kenan, and accused them of being “moles,” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.
Im Tirtzu later apologized and withdrew the campaign, and organization director Matan Peleg suspended himself from his post.
More than 50 left-wing groups organized the counter-event at the Tel Aviv Port’s Hangar 11 on Friday, including Breaking the Silence, Meretz, Zochrot, the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, Peace Now and others.
“This event is part protest and part demonstration of strength,” said Talia Sasson, the international president of the New Israel Fund, which provided part of the funding. “It shows the wide range of voices in Israel that support freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”
Like many of the organizers, Sasson stressed the protest was in favor of democracy and not against Im Tirtzu.
“What’s forbidden is the delegitimization,” she said. “Today the debate is between people who support debate, and people who don’t. President [Reuven] Rivlin is certainly not a leftist, and look what they did to him, they put him in a keffiyeh. It’s not just about being a leftist, there are rightists who support this event,” she said, though it was difficult to find people identifying as right-wing participating in the event.
One woman protested outside of the event, with a sign calling members of the organizing groups “traitors” and “moles.” Vered, 75, who declined to give her last name, received a shower of taunts from participants as they entered the event.
“I believe in freedom of expression, and I think if you are part of a group you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it,” she said, adding that she saw no problem with Im Tirtzu’s list of “leftist” cultural figures.
Artists and musicians taking part in the event included Nir Baram, Renana Raz, Zeev Tene, journalist Dror Feuer and others, some of whom appear on Im Tirtzu’s list.
Actress Samira Saraya, who performed a spoken word piece at the event, was not on Im Tirtzu’s list. “As an Arab, I don’t need to be on their list, since they already paint me as a traitor,” she said, laughing.
Artists and lawmakers hit back at Im Tirtzu over the past week, calling the organization “fascist” and its campaign inciting and slanderous.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said he opposes calling his political opponents “traitors,” while Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon denounced the “obnoxious and dangerous” move by Im Tirtzu.
On Friday, Alona Livneh, a 25-year-old student originally from Toronto who has been in Israel for a decade said she came to the event because she wanted to show widespread support for the organizations and figures on the list.
“Jewish Canadians confuse support of Israel with blind Zionism,” said Livneh, who identifies as a leftist but is not part of any of the participating organizations.
“Support for Israel doesn’t mean support for everything the country does. I have a lot of friends back in Canada who are active in pro-Israel groups. They have a lot of happenings with Israeli flags, without talking so much about what they’re supporting, like what’s the price we’re paying for our government policy in the West Bank and Gaza?”
Bassist Mark Kirzhner performed a jazz set with a group of musicians who came together for the event, but said he wasn’t totally comfortable with the political agenda. “I thought it was about human rights, but this is more about right versus left and not connected to human rights,” he said. “I would play in a Palestinian refugee camp as well as a hard-core settlement, as long as they were respecting each other,” he said.
“This separation between people is a slap in the face to the idea of loving each other,” Kirzhner said. “The problem comes when you don’t allow other people to share their opinions. And you can see this also with the leftists, that they shut down everything that they don’t agree with. You can see this with ultra-Orthodox Haredim who isolate themselves, and you can also see it with secular people who denounce all Haredim. Everyone has the right, and the responsibility, to give a platform for different opinions, even if they don’t agree with them,” said Kirzhner, who plays with the Moroccan band Zaaluk in Jerusalem.
Music and art, he said, is one way to overcome political divisions.
“I can love the writing of Amir Shalev, even if I’m not a leftist,” Kirzhner said. “We need to communicate with language that connects people and does not divide people. Music is that space within people that allows them to think differently.”