Jerusalem Court Starts Debating Meaning of Fascism as Im Tirtzu Sues Activists

Rightist organization sues seven people behind Facebook page called 'Im Tirtzu - Fascists,'claiming libel; defense stands by statement.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

What is fascism? How is the word "fascist" perceived in the current Israeli discourse? And does the group Im Tirtzu meet the definition of a fascist movement? These are the questions which the Jerusalem District Court will deliberate in an upcoming libel suit.

Im Tirtzu styles itself as an "extra-parliamentary movement that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel." It has a filed a suit against the seven people behind a Facebook page called "Im Tirtzu - Fascists," and the defense is due to present its depositions on Sunday. The page's activists, being sued for NIS 2.6 million, are defending themselves with the argument that they are merely speaking the truth, in an effort to prove that Im Tirtzu contains fascist elements.

An Im Tirzu protest on the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev campus after the IDF raid of a Gaza-bound flotilla in May.Credit: Archive

They add that presenting the group as fascist is protected by the principle of freedom of expression, and that theirs is an opinion they are entitled to hold and express.

One of the depositions comes from Prof. Zeev Sternhell, an internationally-recognized expert on fascism. He concluded that Im Tirtzu's ideology and actions contained elements of fascism.

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There is also a deposition from journalist and spoken Hebrew expert Rubik Rosenthal, who concludes that in the current Israeli discourse, the term "fascist" is being used by both right and left and does not necessarily refer to the historic meaning of the term.

Another interesting deposition comes from Tomer Persico, a journalist writing a Ph.D. in philosophy. Persico describes a conversation he had with one of Im Tirtzu's leaders, Ronen Shuval, in which Shuval admitted to being influenced by German romanticism's ideologues, regarded as the precursors of European fascism.

Im Tirtzu filed its suit a year ago against the seven owners of the Facebook page: Roy Yellin, Yuval Yellin, Edan Ring, David Remez, Noam Livne, Tal Niv and Ari Remez. The movement's suit argues that the aim of the seven is to silence the activities of Im Tirtzu by delegitimizing it.

In their defense, the group says that Im Tirtzu, in its overall activities and particularly in its campaign against the New Israel Fund and human rights organizations, is characterized by nationalist and also fascist elements. They also say that the purpose of the suit aims to threaten and silence criticism.

The defendants, all left-wing activists, say the suit may result in their financial demise, launching a website to collect contributions that would cover their legal expenses.

In his deposition, Prof. Sternhell says there is no clear and unequivocal definition of a fascist movement, and that no movement in history has all the components of the definition.

In texts written by Shuval, Sternhell sees a clear expression of fascist thinking. References to the nation as an organic body, Sternhell says, are fundamentals of fascist thought. Other signs of fascist thought include the view of an atrophied West and the sense that the situation in Israel is an emergency requiring extremist action and struggle against the "traitors."

Sternhell points out that a decision on whether a movement is fascist or not must be based not on comparison with a classical fascist state but with movements at their early stages, and which later turned the state into a fascist one.

"If we take into account that Im Tirtzu is just beginning and is operating in a society where rejection of the fundamentals of liberalism is perceived to be a sin, then it is showing early and troubling signs of fascist potential," Sternhell writes.

Attorney Nadav Haetzni, representing Im Tirtzu, said: "This is an attempt by members of the radical left to publicly destroy Im Tirtzu, which is a Zionist and Democratic movement in line with the spirit of Zeev Benjamin Herzl." He charged that the defendants have violated the law because their actions are slanderous and libelous.

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