How did Im Tirtzu-The Second Zionist Revolution, which was created less than four years ago as a small student organization to voice support for IDF reservists, go from organizing campus demonstrations during the Second Lebanon War to compiling a major report that has reverberated into a major scandal?
One of the reasons, The Jerusalem Post learned this week, was that the document the group released last month, now known as the “Im Tirtzu Report,” which listed the New Israel Fund as a main financier of more than a dozen Israeli NGOs – including: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel; Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel; Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights; Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; HaMoked-Center for the Defense of the Individual; Physicians for Human Rights-Israel; the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights – that provided testimony used in the UN’s Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead, was the result of efforts modeled after military intelligence operations that trace and pinpoint money trails leading to terrorist organizations.
Im Tirtzu head Ronen Shoval, told the Post this week that the detailed report, which has continued to make waves both in civil society and government circles, was “modeled after the way intelligence agencies look into the financing of terror groups.”
“We invested great efforts to understand the funding strategy and ideology behind the NIF, and what we found out is just the tip of the iceberg,” Shoval said, although he declined to elaborate.
While some questions regarding Im Tirtzu’s inspiration and practical use of intelligence tactics remain unanswered, Shoval did say that he and his group had “always known that the [NGOs that reported to the Goldstone Commission] were getting support from the same place, but after the Goldstone Report was released, we saw that they had crossed a red line.
“The Goldstone Report was our smoking gun,” he said. “It showed that these groups were not engaging in constructive criticism, but destructive criticism, and working to harm the state.
“We also knew that the testimonies they gave were highly flawed and often without attributions,” he said. “So it was important for us to research these groups and expose who they’re connected to.
“All we had to do was follow the money,” he continued. “If we were to have gone after these individual groups one at a time, it wouldn’t have been nearly as efficient. Instead, we decided to go after the source – the NIF – because that’s where the money trail kept leading to.”
While the report resulted in increased support for Im Tirtzu – in addition to the massive publicity it produced, Shoval said hundreds of people had joined Im Tirtzu in the weeks since the report’s release – it also became a strong rallying point for the group’s opponents, including the very NGOs the report targeted.
Dozens of newspaper articles and blog postings accusing Im Tirtzu of “McCarthyism” and even “fascism” surfaced in the wake of the report.
Additionally, an advertisement that was published throughout the Hebrew and Israeli English-language dailies, featuring a caricature of NIF chairwoman and former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan with a horn strapped onto her forehead, drew condemnations comparing it to Der Stürmer – drawing a parallel between Im Tirtzu’s efforts and the Nazi weekly used to dehumanize Jews between 1923 and 1945.
Shoval was unapologetic regarding the ad, dismissing the criticisms as “nonsense.”
“Was the ad successful?” Shoval asked. “I know it was, and therefore it didn’t go too far. Sometimes you have to put the truth right in people’s faces.
“It’s interesting that in the name of free speech, [critics of the ad and report] tried to shut us up,” Shoval continued. “But as far as the ad campaign was concerned, we had to figure out how to come out against a group that no one even knew existed. No one knew who the NIF was, but everyone knows Chazan.
“I don’t have anything personal against her,” Shoval said. “But I’d be happy if her group stopped financing these organizations.”
Shoval also rejected the notion that Im Tirtzu had received government support for the report’s creation.
“A lot of groups, including government bodies, support it,” he said of Im Tirtzu’s report. “But it’s not as if we were receiving instructions from above to carry this thing out. Government officials have responded with interest to our findings, simply because they agree that these groups and their actions present a strategic threat.
“For us, we look at this information as an ethical issue, not a legal one,” he added, stressing that he had received thousands of e-mails thanking him for the report.
“People have written me saying things like, ‘Finally, you said what we’ve all wanted to say for so long,’ and, ‘It’s about time someone did this’. I think people have just had enough of what these groups are doing.”
And what it is that these NGOs are doing, Shoval clarified, is undermining the state, and disseminating anti-Zionist tropes into Israeli society.
“Basically, anti-Israel groups, including many in Europe, have found Israelis who are willing to do their dirty work,” he said. “In that vein, this is not a right-wing or left-wing issue. It’s about being a Zionist and supporting Israel as a Jewish state – that’s it.”
And such is the essence of Im Tirtzu, Shoval said. What began as an effort to support IDF soldiers – especially during anti-war protests – on university campuses during the Second Lebanon War, has seen Im Tirtzu come into its own as a forceful movement with thousands of members, and the attention – if not backing – of the government.
“We’re trying to bring back faith in the way of the early Zionists,” Shoval said. “And we’ve been successful because we’re portraying our cause as cool and trendy. We want people to understand what it means to be a Zionist today – why they should stay in Israel, why they should go to the reserves.
“And so,” he continued, “Im Tirtzu began as a way to get back to the basics and present alternatives to all of the anti-Zionist sentiments that are out there.”
Shoval said his group was nowhere near slowing down. As for its success in growing from a small, student-based campus organization into a movement with front-page headlines and Knesset members citing its work, Shoval said luck or being in the right place at the right time had little to do with it.
“From the start, we’ve had very intelligent people on-board, planning out how to make this thing work,” he said.
“We always saw the university campuses as a means to an end, and part of a 10 year plan that would bring us from a student group to an influential force in Israeli society.”
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