The director of the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization suspended himself from his post Sunday over what he called a “mistaken” campaign to tag left-wing artists and cultural figures as “foreign-agent moles.”
Matan Peleg told Channel 2 that the campaign not only harmed Im Tirtzu, but gave the mistaken impression that the organization was persecuting individuals. “Every move of ours has to be precise to the letter,” he said in a statement, adding that he was taking time off for “soul-searching.”
It was not immediately clear how long his self-imposed suspension would last.
The right-wing group apologized Friday for “not sufficiently considering” the ramifications of the culture campaign.
“Dear friends, we were wrong,” the group wrote on its official Facebook page. “We posted a mistaken post on a topic that is very important and essential, and precisely because of that we should have been more careful.”
The campaign, launched on Wednesday and titled “Moles in Culture,” features a list of artists that includes a number of well-known Israeli figures — among them writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor, and singers Rona Kenan — and accuses them of being “moles,” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.
“There was no ‘campaign,’ nor were there any statements about ‘traitors’ that the media stuck to us and we never said. We take total responsibility and promise to continue to work with great faith for the sake of Israel and IDF soldiers,” the statement continued. “We will continue to deliver sharp criticism of organizations that present IDF soldiers as war criminals and against those who call for a boycott of the state.”
Director Peleg had maintained in interviews Thursday that the campaign was merely a consciousness-raising effort. He rebuffed claims the campaign amounted to a political witch hunt, telling Israel Radio 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.
Responding to the campaign, artists and lawmakers hit back at the group, calling it “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.
The campaign was also condemned by several lawmakers earlier on Thursday, including Likud MK Benny Begin who said it was “fascist,” as well as “ugly” and “dangerous.”
Zionist Union’s Stav Shaffir said Im Tirtzu “undermines the foundations of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and should be outlawed for “incitement.”
Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid 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.”
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.