Im Tirtzu Admits Mistake in Campaign Against 'Left-wing' Israeli Cultural Figures

The right-wing group's director tells Haaretz, however, that the public has the right to know about cultural figures' left-wing affiliations.

The latest Im Tirtzu campaign, which targets left-wing artists. Pictured (from left): Sha'anan Street, Amos Oz, Joshua Sobol and Gila Almagor.
From the Facebook page of Im Tirtzu

The right wing Im Tirtzu group, which last month stirred controversy over its video targeting figures from left-wing organizations as foreign "moles," acknowledged that it had erred in a new poster that purports to expose some of Israel's leading cultural figures as left-wing.

The acknowledgment of the mistake with regard to the poster, in which authors Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor and singer Chava Alberstein among others were labeled "moles in culture" was posted on the organization's Facebook page over the signature of its director general, Matan Peleg. The poster, which was put on the group's Facebook page on Wednesday, disclosed what Im Tirtzu claimed was  the cultural figures' association with left-wing groups.

Despite the admission of error, in a conversation with Haaretz, Peleg defended the poster and said the public has the right to know about the political activities of those featured in it. The poster prompted widespread condemnation from politicians on the right as well as the left, inccluding condemnation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Among those criticizing it were Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-of-center Habayit Hayehudi party, who called the material "embarrassing, unnecessary and humiliating." His party colleague, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked added that artists identified with the left should not be placed out of bounds. For his part, Likud Knesset member Benny Begin called the outing of purported traitors "a longstanding ugly and dangerous fascist trait."

In its Facebook post on Friday, Im Tirtzu did not provide detail regarding what it viewed as mistaken in the poster, and did not remove it from its website or remove the list of artists and intellectuals that accompanied it. In a separate statement, Im Tirtzu reaffirmed that it was proud of its initial "moles" campaign directed at figures associated with Israeli human rights groups and left-wing organizations receiving foreign government funding, saying that the mistake that it was acknowledging only related to the poster featuring the cultural figures.

Friday's Facebook post over Peleg's name contained the following admission regarding the poster: "We made a mistake. We put up a mistaken post on a very important and substantial subject and therefore we need to be much more careful." Saying that the poster didn't constitute a campaign and that the organization wasn't calling anyone a traitor, despite media allegations to that effect, the statement in Peleg's name added: "We take full responsibility and promise to continue to work with great faith on behalf of the people of Israel and the soldiers of the IDF," the Israel Defense Forces.

"We will continue to convey pointed criticism of organizations that present IDF soldiers as war criminals and against those calling for a boycott of the country. Many thanks to all those who have supported us over the past two days and thank-you also to those who set us straight over our mistake," the statement added.

Later Im Tirtzu issued a clarification that the acknowledgement of the error related only to Wednesday's post of the poster and not the earlier campaign "which exposed those who harm IDF soldiers, [a campaign] over which we are proud and will continue [to publicize]."

In his conversation with Haaretz, however, Peleg defended his group's publication of the list of cultural figures, information that he said was already available elsewhere on the Internet. "The major advantage of the media storm that erupted is that now many in Israeli society know that when they say 300 cultural figures have signed a petition of one kind or another, they know they can check it name by name, and it's possible that they will see some of the names on the public boards of outside organizations," he explained.

When asked about his group's future direction, he replied: "The DNA of Im Tirtzu is to work against organizations that harm IDF soldiers, and that won't change." He explained that the Facebook post with the poster on cultural figures was not removed because the group viewed the material posted on Facebook as an ongoing feed, meaning that, with the posting of additional material, the poster appears lower down.

"If you assume responsibility, you assume responsibility," he said. "Now that we have written what is mistaken in it, we will certainly leave it so anyone who wants to form an impression will do so. We are not evading responsibility. We wrote in the post what we view as a mistake and we are moving forward."