Analysis

Lowbrow Right-wing Group Has Friends in High Places

A message to Israeli politicians: if you will allow it, Im Tirtzu will run roughshod over the country.

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

This week saw the launch of a new campaign by Im Tirtzu, this time against left-leaning Israeli artists. The group takes its name from the first words of Theodor Herzl’s motto, “If you will it, it is no dream,” and this fascist, lowbrow organization is descending to new depths of moral beastliness. In doing so, it is putting a smile on the face of rabid anti-leftist, U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy as he mutters from his grave, “I have successors!”

The previous week ended with a massive political attack on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who dared enforce the law in Hebron and ordered the Israel Defense Forces to evacuate settlers from two houses before their legal standing was fully finalized. Let there be no doubt – it’s all interconnected.

Likud ministers Yariv Levin (Tourism), Zeev Elkin (Immigrant Absorption; Jerusalem Affairs) and Miri Regev (Culture and Sports), for whom the law is a mere recommendation except when it serves their agenda, fought Ya’alon tooth and nail.

MK Oren Hazan (Likud), meanwhile, threatened not to vote with the coalition until such time as our precious children are permitted to return to their homes. And only in Israel are a justice minister (Ayelet Shaked) and education minister (Naftali Bennett) – both from Habayit Hayehudi, which published a strong statement condemning Ya’alon – capable of such blatant disregard for the laws of a state.

The most surprising figure among those who attacked Ya’alon was Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), a rich man’s Oren Hazan. He accused the “political level,” and by implication the defense minister, of “fanning the flames” (you see, it wasn’t settlers who did the fanning but those who evicted them). He added that, especially in these times, “It is only right to send a message that we have come home.”

Prior to Edelstein, every Knesset speaker tried to disengage from the faction and ideology they had come from and to behave in a dignified, nonpartisan and statesmanlike way, as the position requires. And they usually succeeded. Reuven Rivlin was the most statesmanlike of all, which eventually led to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ousting him from office and replacing him with Edelstein.

The current speaker operates according to different norms. He rebelled in the past when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon led the disengagement from Gaza (in 2005), and he remains a kind of rebel now in his second term as the second-highest ranking official in the land (after the president).

Michal Fattal

His troubling attack on someone who is a stickler for the law passed without a word, totally under the radar and with nary a whisper of public protest. True, Edelstein isn’t an interesting character, but that’s not the only reason. It’s a sign of the times, and a sign of this government.

Im Tirtzu wouldn’t be allowing itself to run riot like this if its leaders weren’t feeling strengthened by winks from senior politicians in the cabinet and Knesset, mainly in Habayit Hayehudi but also in Likud – and at the top of the pinnacle. This time, though, the group overdid it, and even its supporters admitted as much. On Thursday, Naftali Bennett tweeted (albeit very late in the day) that the campaign against the artists was “embarrassing, pointless and degrading.”

And just as happened previously, after Bennett’s condemnation it was Netanyahu’s turn to issue a reluctant statement, his eyes darting ever rightward. When Bennett shifts a smidgen to the left, the prime minister follows in his wake like a mime artist, or simply a coward.

Miri Regev, the queen of provocations and the destroyer of culture in Israel, also tweeted something. But it was actually MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) who claimed the hypocrisy award. All of a sudden, he was shocked by the group’s actions.

Im Tirtzu’s most enthusiastic ally in the vicious pursuit of Breaking the Silence now became a man of reason. “The extremists have lost their senses,” he wrote. “We must not allow the persecution of artists, intellectuals and writers in Israel.” Combat officers in the reserves, of course, is just fine.