Rejecting Bulk of Libel Suit, Court Rules Im Tirtzu Movement Can Be Likened to Fascism

Extra-parliamentary Zionist movement sued a number of left-wing activists who described it a fascist movement in a Facebook page, demanding compensation of NIS 2.6 million.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A Jerusalem district court judge rejected the majority of the claims made by the extra-parliamentary Zionist movement Im Tirtzu, voiding null the bulk of charges it filed against five left-wing activists who described it a fascist movement in a Facebook page.

While clearing four of the five defendants (one of whom works at Haaretz) of all charges, the judge ruled one of the Facebook posts in question did constitue slander. Full responsibility for the post, which implied Im Tirtzu concurs with Nazi race theory, was claimed by one of the defendants.

The ruling stated one cannot interpret the phrase 'Im Tirtzu is a Fascist movement' – (a paraphrase of the activists' Facebook page title) as meaning a full correlation exists between the plaintiff and the Fascist movement in its entirety, but, rather, implies certain equivalents exist, and no more.

During the trial, various expert witnesses were called upon by the defense. These included Prof. Zeev Sternhell, who claimed several similarities exist between Im Tirtzu and the Fascist movement in its infancy, Hebrew language expert Rubik Rosenthal, who spoke about the usage of the term 'Fascist' in current-day Israeli discourse, and religions scholar Tomer Persico, who testified about a public talk in which he participated, where Im Tirtzu's founder Ronen Shoval admitted to drawing inspiration and ideas from thinkers such as Johann Gottlieb Fichte, the German romanticism ideologue regarded as among the precursors of European fascism.

In his final statement, Judge Raphael Yaakobi criticized Im Tirtzu's choice to file charges, opining that in order to ensure a healthy exchange of ideas, it is preferable to allow discourse between embittered political rivals to proceed with the ''least possible restrictions or sanctions''.

Im Tirtzu filed charges against the five some three years ago, demanding compensation of NIS 2.6 million. The movement styles itself as an "extra-parliamentary movement that works to strengthen and advance the values of Zionism in Israel."

Saying it means to appeal in Israel's supreme court, Im Tirtzu issued a response to the court's decision through lawyer Nadav Haetzni:

"Firstly, one must note that one of the defendants was convicted of defamation due to serious incitement that accuses Im Tirtzu of Nazism. That said, this verdict is essentially flawed, and very odd, since it entirely fails to address a substantial part of the legal issues brought before it and presented with great detail during the trial. Choosing to ignore major, central legal aspects, the court got to a point that presents great danger to Israeli democracy; if the high court will not amend this decision, Israel will find itself a place that allows an extreme freedom to defame, a freedom that will allow incitement and delegitimization of public from both sides of the political spectrum. And worse, it will allow every Zionist to be labeled a Fascist. These reasons are why Im Tirtzu means to appeal this verdict in the supreme court."

Im Tirtzu founder Ronen Shoval in court. Jerusalem, January 17, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman

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