Right-wing Israeli Group Admits Using PIs to Spy on Leftist NGOs

Revelation made during libel trial filed by Im Tirtzu against eight left-wing activists who established a Facebook page calling the organization fascist.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The Im Tirtzu organization used private investigators to collect information on human rights organizations, its leader told a court Thursday. Chairman Ronen Shoval said his group also asked investigators to snoop on the lawyers representing those groups.

Shoval was testifying in a NIS 2.6 million libel case at Jerusalem District Court, filed by Im Tirtzu against eight left-wing activists who established a Facebook page calling the organization fascist. (One of the defendants is a Haaretz journalist.) The group styles itself as a movement "to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel."

Im Tirtzu gave some of the information it collected to two newspapers, Makor Rishon and Israel Hayom. In at least one case, Israel Hayom decided not to publish the information as the newspaper feared it might violate privacy rules as well as attorney-client privilege.

Most of the cross-examination of Shoval, conducted by Michael Sfard - who also represents the Yesh Din rights organization - focused on Shoval's political views. Sfard filed a complaint with the police two years ago after he thought documents relating to Yesh Din had been stolen from his office and given to right-wing newspapers.

In his testimony, Shoval spoke of the need to uncover "hidden anti-Zionism" among political activists and organizations. When asked by Sfard what methods were used to uncover such anti-Zionism, Shoval said: "We read the publications and listen to the claims and look at the motives people talk about, and then we reach conclusions."

When asked if Im Tirtzu had ever used material collected by private investigators, Shoval said: "Definitely." In response to a question that the organization had used documents obtained from Sfard's office, Shoval replied, "We see you as someone who is consistently involved in harming the State of Israel. Your ideological rejectionism from [your time in the] army has continued until now, in providing your services to organizations that consistently persecute IDF soldiers and identify Zionism as racism.

"It seems to me that it is legitimate to send a private investigator to the office of someone I view as a political opponent," Shoval added. In response to Sfard's question regarding the legality of the matter, Shoval said it was legal to do so.

Sfard later asked whether there were materials Israel Hayom had refused to publish due to privacy issues. "There are a lot of documents. This is an article from two years ago, I don't remember all the details. It is possible there was what you say," Shoval said.

Shoval was later questioned by attorney Yishai Shneider, who asked about sending private investigators to gather information on other human rights organizations. Shoval said there were three or four such events, but didn't remember exactly. He refused to name the organizations but said Im Tirtzu's main interest was with groups connected to the New Israel Fund. When asked whether his organization had sent private investigators to the New Israel Fund's office, Shoval said "No. But it is a good idea. [But] all within the framework of the law."

Shoval later accused Sfard of being a traitor, saying the state should prosecute him: "I regret that until the court determines you are a traitor, then you are not one."

At the time of the reports of Sfard's complaint to the police, December 2010, Israel Hayom said: "The newspaper acted according to the principles of the law." Makor Rishon said they had no stolen documents and did not send "reporters or 'plumbers,' like in the Watergate affair, and of course we have not stolen any documents. We received the documents and cannot reveal their source, as is accepted here."

Yesh Din said on Thursday: "Secret surveillance of a human rights organization is a despicable act of political violence."

Im Tirzu activists protesting in front of UNRWA offices. Their signs read 'Nakba nonsense.'Credit: Moti Milrod
Ronen ShovalCredit: Michal Fattal

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