MK Otniel Schneller with Im Tirtzu, Tess Scheflan, 2009
MK Otniel Schneller with Im Tirtzu in Jerusalem in 2009. Photo by Tess Scheflan
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Eight leftist activists who established the Facebook group "Im Tirzu - a fascist movement" filed a defense brief last week in the unprecedented NIS 2.6 million libel suit brought by the Im Tirzu movement. They say Im Tirzu is indeed fascist and chauvinist and want the organization to deposit NIS 250,000 with the court to insure trial costs will be met if the organization loses the cases, as its main backer has reportedly withdrawn support. They also ask that the libel suit be thrown out as a nuisance action intended to interrupt and silence opposition.

Im Tirzu's suit, filed by attorney Boaz Ha'etzni, argues that the establishment of the Facebook group is "an attempt at a public execution," intended to delegitimize the movement and remove it from Israeli public discourse. According to the suit, the organization is a "moderate Zionist" group aiming to strengthen classic Zionist values.

Attorneys Michael Sfard, Ishay Shneydor and Shlomy Zachary, authors of the defense brief, write that "the terms 'fascist' or 'fascist movement' are generic and legitimate, common and acceptable around the world and in public discourse in the state of Israel [...] The term[s refer] to anti-democratic activities which do harm to freedom of speech, human rights in general and those of minorities, ethnic minorities in particular, and [refers to] all those [activities] stemming from an extreme nationalistic ideology [...] The defendants reserve the right to argue that the plaintiff's activities are based on various fascist foundations, which make it a fascist movement in every way and form."

Along with the defense brief, the defendants filed a request that the court reject the suit since its goal, they claim, is to threaten those who criticize the group and instigate public debate. In evidence they point to the amount of money requested in the suit, five times the amount ever awarded for slander in Israel. In response Im Tirzu director Ron Shoval said that the organization will be glad to have the suit heard in court: "They are swimming in vermin-infested waters. This crude attempt to silence us, to slander us with a blood libel, won't work. I am sure the court will understand the gravity of the deeds by these super-radical people."