The controversy-courting right-wing group Im Tirtzu faced a torrent of criticism Thursday over a new campaign that singles out Israeli artists and performers associated with left-wing organizations.
The campaign, launched on Wednesday and titled “Moles in Culture,” features a list of artists that includes a number of well-known Israeli authors, actors and musicians — writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor, and singers Rona Keinan and Chava Alberstein are featured — accusing them of being “moles” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.
The Im Tirtzu campaign extends a drive by the group in late 2015 to accuse leading figures in Israel’s human rights organizations of being “moles” operated by foreign countries.
While Im Tirtzu’s director, Matan Peleg, maintained in interviews Thursday that the campaign was a merely a consciousness-raising effort, artists and lawmakers hit back at the group, calling it “fascist” and its campaign inciting and slanderous.
One of the most vociferous responses in the Knesset came from Benny Begin, a veteran lawmaker from the right-wing Likud Party, who accused Im Tirtzu of fascism and called the new campaign “a new level of ugly.”
“There is an effort here to replace the word ‘mole’ with the word ‘traitor,'” he told Israel Radio Thursday. “The singling out of so-called traitors is an old-fashioned fascist technique that is both ugly and dangerous.”
Begin, the son of the late former prime minister Menachem Begin, called for an investigation into Im Tirtzu’s financial backers so that Israel could rid itself “of this evil.”
Other prominent right-wing lawmakers also pummeled the campaign, including Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett, who called it “embarrassing and unnecessary.”
Actress Sarit Vino-Elad, who was also on Im Tirtzu’s list, told Channel 2 Thursday morning that she feared the discourse could lead to violence. “Blood may be spilled over this,” she said. “I’m sure that all of this will end in violence somehow — we are not far away from that at all.”
She assigned officials in Israel’s right-wing government a large share of the responsibility for “delegitimizing” the left. “This crazy incitement doesn’t just happen behind the closed doors of the Knesset, but openly, in committee meetings and plenum discussions,” she said.
The veteran actress and satirist Rivka Michaeli said the campaign stigmatized entire groups of people for their political beliefs. “I do hope the people of Israel will wake up and realize the greatest divisions in this country’s history could be done in the name of nationalism,” she said.
Others singled out by the group seemed less concerned for their safety. “I take a dump on Im Tirtzu’s head,” Globes journalist Dror Feuer tweeted. “I’m proud to be on the list and proud to have attended a Breaking the Silence event.” Breaking the Silence is a group that encourages IDF veterans to reveal abuses against Palestinians they either witnessed or were party to while serving in the army.
Im Tirtzu’s campaign will see billboards across the country linking artists with the groups they have expressed support for, and the release of a report listing hundreds of individuals the group considers to be left-wing.
Zionist Union’s Stav Shaffir was among the battery of lawmakers who denounced the campaign. She said Im Tirtzu “undermines the foundations of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and should be outlawed for “incitement.”
Yesh Atid party chairman called members of the organization “extremists who are out of their minds” and said its “campaign of hatred incites violence and crosses a red line.”
Peleg, the Im Tirtzu director, rebuffed claims the campaign amounted to a political witch hunt, telling Israel Radio Thursday that the public had the right to know the political affiliations of its entertainers.
“I want the public to know that Gila Almagor is a member of B’Tselem,” he said, linking one of Israel’s most respected stage and screen actresses to a human rights group that often criticizes the government’s policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank.
Many critics of Im Tirtzu likened its actions to those of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who led a state-sponsored campaign against alleged American Communists in the 1950s, singling out many members of the government and cultural elite as Soviet agents and agitators as well as denouncing homosexuals. The vast majority of the accusations he leveled ultimately proved false.
“This Israeli McCarthyism and the losers spearheading it will disappear just like it did in the US,” opposition leader Isaac Herzog said in a statement. “The question is when and what will it cost us.” He called on Im Tirtzu, which he sarcastically termed “champions of transparency,” to disclose their financial supporters so that “we can all know where they get their money for their miserable campaign.”
On Tuesday Ronen Shoval, one of the founders of Im Tirtzu, took to social media to defend McCarthy.
“[I’m] not familiar with the exact historical details regarding Joseph McCarthy, but you see who is coming out against him currently and you can’t help but be in his favor,” one Twitter user posted.
In response, Shoval tweeted: “The historical details reveal that he was mostly correct in most cases.”
Shoval was scolded by Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Galon said in a statement. McCarthy, she continued, “persecuted and ruined the lives of many hundreds of Americans, a sizable number of whom were Jewish, with false allegations of support for Communism.”