Jerusalem Vetoes Far-right Billboard for 'Inciting Violence' Against U.S.-based New Israel Fund

The Jerusalem municipality says the campaign shows an accurate drawing of NIF president Talia Sasson that marks her as a target and could encourage violence against her personally

Im Tirtzu protest in Jerusalem, November 2017
Olivier Fitoussi

The city of Jerusalem has vetoed a billboard campaign by the far-right organization Im Tirtzu against the New Israel Fund, saying it incites violence.

According to the Jerusalem municipality, the campaign shows an accurate drawing of NIF president Talia Sasson that marks her as a target and could encourage violence against her personally. Its legal counsel wrote to Im Tirtzu, saying that as is, the campaign is banned.

Im Tirtzu ad banned by the Jerusalem municipality
Im Tirtzu

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Im Tirtzu planned for the billboards to say, “The New Israel Fund gave 308,774,383 shekels for activity against IDF soldiers and the State of Israel. The New Israel Fund should be thrown out of Israel.” the ad also shows a picture of a soldier and the caption, “Yotam Zilber, 22, a fighter in the paratroopers.” By Sasson’s picture the ad says, “The New Israel Fund is fighting Yotam.”

The ad is part of Im Tirtzu’s latest of several campaigns against the NIF. It has hung billboards much like the one now banned in Jerusalem all around the country, including along the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv.

Even though political freedom of expression is broadly defended, the Jerusalem city legal counsel explained, for the ads to show the NIF president with the soldier creates a personal, easily identified (even if unnamed) target. It constitutes incitement that could lead to harm to Sasson. In general the city does not intervene in advertising content except in clear cases of the law being violated: incitement or fear of libel, the legal counsel wrote.

The city said it had agreed to let Im Tirtzu use the billboards if they removed the picture of the soldier, of Sasson and the captions beside them, but Im Tirtzu has not yet gotten back to them with an amended ad.

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The NIF addressed law enforcement chiefs earlier this week, asking they investigate Im Tirtzu for suspected incitement. In a statement, NIF CEO Mickey Gitzin said: "We must discern between broad freedom of speech and clear calls for violence, such as the ones presented in the Im Tirtzu campaign. Unfortunately, Israel has witnessed, more than once, wild political incitement which led to murder, and must act on the subject with political means before it is too late."

The city stated that it hadn’t ruled out the whole ad, but its legal counsel did not approve including the pictures, which constituted incitement and creation of a personal target.

Responding to Haaretz's inquiry regarding the approval of the ad in Tel Aviv, its municipality said "it does not intervene in the content of billboards hung around the city, unless they harm the well-being of the public. In cases in which complaints are filed, the subject is examined. The aformentioned sign was up for a short period of time and no complaints were received."

Im Tirtzu stated that "the exulting by the foreign political organization NIF firmly attested to its distress, which is hard to find surprising: the fund finances persecution and smears against Israeli soldiers and the legal defense of terrorists." It is only natural, Im Tirtzu stated, that the NIF would find itself hated and rejected. “Given the security challenges that the State of Israel faces, we call on Talia Sasson to immediately halt financing of organizations operating in these moments to make it hard for IDF fighters and tie their hands on the border of the Gaza Strip. The legal battle of the fund’s organizations gives a backwind to terrorism against the people of the State of Israel and could lead to deaths of civilians and soldiers.”