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Let Im Tirtzu Defend Itself Before an Arab Judge

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

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected the Im Tirtzu organization’s request that a libel case in which it is the defendant be transferred from the Acre Magistrate’s Court to a court in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

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The lawsuit at issue was filed by an Arab student from Tel Aviv University whom Im Tirtzu accused of participating in an assault during the Nakba Day events on campus – an accusation that he says has damaged his good name. Im Tirtzu argues in its defense that among other things its accusations constitute “freedom of expression” and that “the freedom of political expression and expression meant to ensure students’ welfare should be given priority.” It noted that it had erased all the comments on the issue made by third parties.

The student comes from Majdal Krum, and the witnesses he intends to call also live in that area, which is why he filed his suit in nearby Acre. Im Tirtzu wanted the case to be moved to one Tel Aviv or Jerusalem on the grounds that the student’s center of life is currently in Tel Aviv, the incident around which the suit revolves took place in Tel Aviv, and the organization’s activity are mainly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

In their submissions to the court, both sides acknowledged that when it comes to statements published online, like most of those that sparked the suit, it makes no real difference where the case is heard. Nevertheless, Im Tirtzu said in its petition that if the case were heard in Acre, it would be “a severe nuisance to the petitioners, their witnesses and their lawyers.”

But let’s acknowledge the truth. What Im Tirtzu more likely fears is that the case will wind up with an Arab judge, given that more than half of the 12 judges on the Acre Magistrate’s Court are Arabs.

So, what does Im Tirtzu really fear? That if it has to account for its actions in accusing an Arab student of terrorism before an Arab judge, the chances of a ruling in its favor aren’t high. This fear is understandable; everyone wants a sympathetic judge.

But let’s not forget who we’re talking about. Im Tirtzu is an organization that specializes in gagging its ideological opponents, smearing their names, seeking to strip their organizations of funding, running networks of informants on campus and so forth. Its members, who rush to court when unwelcome things are said about them, are masters of taking offense when it comes to their organization’s reputation. But they’re apparently afraid to appear in the courtroom of a judge who is likely to be an Arab.

Will a judge’s Arab identity necessarily cause him to be biased and hand down a verdict not based on the facts and the law? Maybe, maybe not. But Im Tirtzu, an organization that has made intimidation into a profession, doesn’t dare take the risk.

Beyond the racism that may be hiding in the assumption that an Arab would be biased against the group from the outset, this is above all pathetic. An organization that has launched a campaign to stigmatize an entire community by accusing it of treason, which has gotten academics to censor themselves lest one of its moles is attending their lectures, which has made actors prefer confessing their greatest sins to admitting their political opinions lest the latter cost them their job, that same organization is afraid to fight for its truth? Is it trying to flee to its religious friends in Jerusalem or (how embarrassing!) to the espresso drinkers in Tel Aviv?

Go to Acre, and deal with the accusations against you like big boys and girls, with or without an Arab judge. And if you have to, pay any fine imposed on you proudly.

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