Being sued is never pleasant. That is reason enough for me to congratulate the eight pro-democracy activists who were sued for libel by members of a right-wing organization on their legal victory.
- Hagai El-Ad / An Assault on Israeli Democracy
- Major Israeli Businesses Helped Quadruple Donations to Right-wing Im Tirtzu Movement
- Rightist Group Can Be Called 'Fascist'
- Does It Pay to Sue for Libel?
- Paying a Price for Silencing Public Debate
- Don’t Delegitimize Me
- Court Throws Out Claim Against Activists
But the significance of Judge Refael Yacobi’s ruling goes well beyond the relief the eight accused activists must be feeling. It serves to remind anyone who is inclined to forget that in a democracy one has the right to espouse even positions that go against those of the many and the powerful.
One can criticize, even harshly, even pointedly, even impolitely. This is not only permitted but is actually a civic duty for anyone who holds the state and its society dear to their hearts.
It is the civic duty of all citizens to warn against dangers, against a society losing its moral compass and its values.
This is precisely what the people behind the Facebook group “Im Tirtzu is a fascist movement” (in English: Im Tirzu - Fascists) did. They saw an extreme political movement working to distance Israel from the community of democratic nations, and they raised the alarm.
For some years Im Tirtzu has been waging a contemptible, baseless and slanderous campaign against the New Israel Fund and the social organizations that benefit from its aid. We have refrained from suing members of the group, preferring not to resort to silencing others.
We knew we would overcome their lies not with legal arguments, but by spreading the truth regarding the need for a society based on solidarity and tolerance and by supporting hundreds of organizations that help disadvantaged communities in Israel to create such a society.
“My friend and adversary,” Menachem Begin addressed his political opponents during debates.
I would like to appeal to my “friends and adversaries” in Im Tirtzu, whose name, echoing Theodor Herzl, means “if you will.”
It’s regrettable that you chose a campaign based on lies and violence. However, your actions had a positive consequence. They clarified to the public that there are two clearly opposed camps.
Yours, which believes our fear is our power, that we can survive as one nation only if we have many enemies and we can unite against any criticism.
And ours, which believes our power lies in the values on which Israel has prided itself since its founding: the democratic values cited in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, values such as equality, acceptance of the other and extending our hand in peace.
Only these can bring the people of Israel a life of peace and security and the hope that the storms of the Middle East will be followed by a better future.
If you will, read and study the court’s ruling. You will find that the judge did you a favor. With judicial delicacy, Yacobi showed you the dangerous lines linking you to fascist movements that brought disaster upon their nations.
In the view of the democratic camp, it doesn’t matter whether your intentions are malicious or benign, and only historical blindness keeps you from seeing the end of the road you are walking down and trying to send others down.
Either way, the result is the same: a real danger to every Israeli citizen. That is the difference in our positions. That is the heart of our dispute.
Yom Kippur is a time for soul-searching. So this is what I would like to say to you: Let’s wage our public battle on the public playing field, without lawyers or threats, investigations or wiretaps. Let’s wage it with dignity, clean hands and truthfulness. Let’s address the hearts, minds and consciences of Israel’s citizens.
The author is the New Israel Fund’s executive director in Israel.