Israelis Must Look at the Ugly Truth of Surging Fascism

Today it targets anyone who protests against the occupation and the settlement of the territories. Tomorrow it will target you.

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Im Tirzu activists rallying in Tel Aviv, February 2013. Credit: Moti Milrod

The ultra-right-wing Im Tirtzu movement has removed the ugly and inflammatory anti-human rights banner it had erected on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard. Rogel Alper called for its removal in a recent article in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition.

Personally, I think the banner should have remained. Like the A area settlements map, Ofer prison and the code of laws being written by Ayelet Shaked, Benjamin Netanyahu and Bezalel Smotrich, it is the stuff that Israel’s gloomy history is made of.

Im Tirzu’s shameful sign represented the masses and their spiritual decline. It covered not only a building, but the Israeli eye in general.

Anyway, why should the so-called leftism of Rothschild Boulevard residents be respected? Either we respect humanity and all human dignity, or we don’t. Im Tirtzu doesn’t respect anything – not even the “Jews” whom its leaders love so much – so the fact that its (foreign) funds were spent to wrap a building in a central, symbolic place is another provocation, which there is no need to respond to hysterically.

Six years ago, Roy Yellin saw an Im Tirtzu sign that portrayed former Knesset Member and New Israel Fund director Naomi Hazan with a horn – a stale but effective pun (the Hebrew word for “horn” also means “fund”) – and set up a Facebook group called “Im Tirtzu (‘if you want it.’ in Hebrew) a fascist movement – you have one.” Im Tirtzu leader Ronen Shoval – who had previously threatened Wikipedia over the description of his organization as “rightist” and forced them to change it – sent Yellin a letter demanding that the Facebook group be deleted immediately.

Yellin replied: “I received your ridiculous letter,” and naturally refused to delete the Facebook group.

The Im Tirtzu banner against left-wing "moles" on display above Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, December 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod

When the issue came to court, attorneys Micael Sfard, Ishay Shneydor and Shlomi Zachary, who had volunteered to assist Yellin, fought not only for Yellin’s right to express an opinion, but also to prove that Yellin’s description of the extreme right group was accurate. And they succeeded. Im Tirtzu lost the court case.

Since then, the phrase “I received your ridiculous letter” has become a code name for courage. What is the answer to wrapping a building in Tel Aviv with a false, inflammatory message? “We received your ridiculous message.”

Israeli fascism is beginning to ripen and one of the characteristics of fascist behavior is that any random person can become an instantaneous dissident. The sign may have pointed to “foreign agents” (among which it apparently includes the New Israel Fund, an organization that finances social equality for needy population groups,) but it was general enough to convey a message to every Israeli who still enjoys the fruits of democracy. The nation is against foreign agents, was its message. Beware lest the nation turn against you.

The sign was both a testimony and a warning signal. This is how fascism will look in its complete configuration. Today it targets anyone who protests against the occupation and the settlement of the territories. Tomorrow it will target you. It will target someone who may have said something about his army commander, who may have made a joke in the office about the prime minister. Or someone with a Palestinian friend.

The banner – the stain – should have remained. So that no one will be able to say “we didn’t see.”

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