Right-wing group deemed to have fascist characteristics

Rejecting libel suit, judge says extra-parliamentary Im Tirzu draws influence from authoritarian ideology

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Im Tirzu activists demonstrate during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, on May 13, 2013. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Im Tirzu activists demonstrate during a rally marking the Nakba anniversary at the Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, on May 13, 2013. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

The right-wing, extra-parliamentary group Im Tirzu draws influence from fascist ideology and, therefore, implying that the group is fascist does not constitute an act of incitement, a Jerusalem District Court judge ruled.

Justice Refael Yacoby determined in a decision last week that the founders of a Facebook page that regularly criticized Im Tirzu and accused it of being fascist did not suggest that there was a full parallel between the group and fascist ideology, but rather pointed to some similar underlying characteristics.

Yacoby’s verdict came in response to a libel lawsuit filed in 2010 by Im Tirzu against the eight founders of the Facebook page. Im Tirzu demanded NIS 2.6 million ($713,000) in compensation from the founders of the Facebook page.

The statement “Im Tirzu is fascist” does “not imply complete identity between the plaintiff and the principles of fascism in all its components, but only to a certain resemblance to fascism,” the judge wrote in his decision.

“Simply put, the plaintiffs see nationalism and the Israeli public as paramount, while the defendants advocate for a more universal aspect,” he added.

Yacoby acquitted seven of the eight defendants of all charges, but ruled that a Facebook post published by one of the accused, Roy Yellin, could be seen as suggesting that Im Tirzu wished to promote a Nazi-like racist ideology. The judge concluded that Yellin’s statements could therefore be considered libelous and advised both parties to independently reach an agreement with regard to compensation.

A number of high-profile witnesses were called to the stand to attest to Im Tirzu’s alleged fascist undertones, among them historian and writer Zeev Sternhell, who argued that the group displayed traits that are similar to early-stage fascist movements; and religious scholar Tomer Persico, who testified that, during a public debate with Im Tirzu founder Ronen Shoval, the latter admitted that he was influenced by thinkers whose teachings later served as a basis for fascist ideology.

During the trial, Shoval admitted that Im Tirzu had hired private investigators to gather incriminating material from human rights organizations that, he claimed, were engaged in “covert anti-Zionist” activity. Shoval further admitted to sending investigators to the office of one of the defendants’ attorneys, Michael Sfard.

Yacoby concluded by expressing criticism of the group’s conduct prior to, and throughout, the trial and stated that, in his opinion, Im Tirzu should not have filed the suit to begin with.

In response to the verdict, Im Tirzu’s attorney Nadav Haetzni issued a statement condemning the court and accusing the judge of overlooking integral aspects of the lawsuit.

“The courts ignored the most critical legal aspects and arrived at a flimsy conclusion that severely imperils Israeli democracy,” Haetzni said, adding that Im Tirzu would appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

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