Netanyahu Condemns Ads Attacking Left-wing Artists: My Political Opponents Are Not 'Traitors'

'At the same time I oppose Breaking the Silence that slander Israel abroad,' prime minister says, as fellow party member Benny Begin calls new Im Tirtzu campaign 'fascist,' and Bennett says it's an 'embarrassing, pointless' campaign.

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

Politicians from across the spectrum on Thursday condemned the Im Tirtzu group for its latest campaign, which attacks left-wing artists. Benny Begin (Likud) labeled the campaign fascist, while MK Dov Khenin (Joint List) called on the attorney general to investigate the organization for potential incitement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "I object to the use of the term 'traitor' for those who don't agree with me, but at the same time I oppose Breaking the Silence that slander Israel abroad."

Following a recent campaign in which it “outed” activists that it dubbed “traitors,” Im Tirtzu launched a new campaign on Wednesday, singling out Israeli artists associated with the left. Under the banner “Moles inside culture,” the campaign names hundreds of artists, including writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actor Gila Almagor, and singers Rona Keinan and Chava Alberstein.

Speaking on Israel Radio on Thursday, veteran Likud MK Benny Begin said “the search, identification and marking of alleged traitors is an old fascist characteristic, an ugly and dangerous one.” He called for Im Tirtzu’s funding sources to be exposed.

Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi chair Naftali Bennett voiced his opinion on the matter on his Twitter account, stating that "the campaign against the artists is embarassing, pointless and degrading."

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev also responded to the campaign saying that "while the public has the right to be informed, comments that could lead to incitement or violence should be avoided. Harming any person because of his political opinions is unacceptable."

Daniel Bar-On

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told Army Radio: “I don’t think the campaign against ‘moles’ serves any agenda – artists holding leftist opinions should not be disqualified,” she said.

Interior Minister and Shas party leader Arye Dery severely condemned the "hate campaign," saying it is "serious, reprehensible and outrageous." "Those artists and culture figures are good citizens, and it's a shame we've fallen down to such places."

The leader of the opposition, MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union), compared the new campaign to the days of communist witch hunts in the United States. “McCarthyism is making an odious attempt at a takeover of this country,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “However, the glorious works created by Israel’s writers and artists will remain forever. Israeli McCarthyism and the nonentities leading it will disappear, just as they did in the United States. The only question is when, and how much it will cost us. Groups such as Im Tirtzu, Guardians of Transparency and Knights of Correct Governance should reveal their funding sources for the miserable campaign they have embarked upon.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) voiced concern that Begin was the only Likud MK to speak out against the campaign. “It’s shocking that among all the members of Likud, which used to be a sane, right-wing liberal party, only one just person was found – namely, Benny Begin – to oppose this wave of McCarthyism, witch-hunting and incitement that the right is directing at anyone who’s not on the extreme right. In this new and dangerous situation, Begin himself will soon be condemned as a ‘mole,’” she said.

Yacimovich called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to intervene and urgently take responsibility, and stop this turbid fascist wave that threatens to sweep away Israel’s democracy and irrevocably change its image.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also took to Facebook to condemn Im Tirtzu, writing that “the extremists have lost their senses.” He asked, “Are the grieving father David Grossman, who lost his son in the Second Lebanon War, and [actress-entertainer] Rivka Michaeli traitors? Is Amos Oz a mole? Are Gila Almagor, [author] Sami Michael and [musician] Sha’anan Streett spies?

“We must not allow the persecution of artists, intellectuals and writers in Israel – the state of the Jewish people, the People of the Book,” he added. “The hate campaign waged by Im Tirtzu, with its incitement to violence, has crossed a red line.”

MK Esawi Freige (Meretz) called on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) to disqualify Im Tirtzu as a legitimate organization. According to Freige, the group has taken steps that, “through its propaganda, encourage the dissolution of Israel’s constitution and the rule of law.”

Last week, the State Prosecutor’s Office decided not to open an investigation into Im Tirtzu’s earlier campaign, which was directed at “moles” in leading NGOs, including the New Israel Fund, which it accused of acting on behalf of foreign agents.

The New Israel Fund recently launched its own campaign to counter Im Tirtzu’s. One ad showed assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the caption “They already took care of this foreign agent.”