Editorial

If You Wish to Be an Informant

On the website of far-right organization Im Tirtzu, there’s a special section for informers. The recent goings-on at the Hebrew University shows how the organization’s efforts are bearing fruit

Im Tirtzu protest in Jerusalem, November 2017
Olivier Fitoussi

On the Im Tirtzu website, there’s a special section for rats. “Do you have news for us? Did you witness an incident? Did you film an important incident? Do you have information about a course or lecturer who is distorting the truth and slandering Israel? Tell us – and we’ll tell everyone,” it says.

Click on the link and the email box opens. If you wish to be an informant – this is the address. What’s been going on recently at the Hebrew University shows how the organization’s efforts are bearing fruit. Im Tirtzu can certainly take credit for the harassment of Dr. Carola Hilfrich, including the death threats she has received and the fact that as a result she won’t be teaching at the university in the coming weeks.

But the organization would not have succeeded in its mission without the help of the spineless administrators at Mount Scopus – who, in deciding to issue a public apology for an incident that didn’t take place, abandoned Hilfrich to the harassment campaign being waged against her – and without the help of the organization’s accomplices in the media, who reported the blood libel against the lecturer without bothering to check into it first.

The wave of protests from lecturers, students and many faculty members at the university following the public apology signed by the university president and the chair of the student council is justified. The president, Professor Asher Cohen, and the student council chairperson, Shir Mordechai, betrayed their roles. They didn’t insist on accurate information and on defending a colleague who is being subjected to threats, as a result of a false report that said she rebuked an IDF officer for her appearance.

They didn’t defend the students who became unwitting pawns in an ideological war nor send an unmistakable message that Im Tirtzu’s encouragement of “informing” is unacceptable. Instead, the university chose to play right into the inciting, divisive hands of the ultra-nationalist right, by means of a shameful display of “loyalty” and an apology for an incident that never happened.

The explanations provided by the university administration for its embarrassing behavior only make matters worse. “This all happened as a result of false manipulation and disinformation from the despicable organization called Im Tirtzu. The students, the lecturer and the Hebrew University were all victims of this false manipulation,” said Cohen in a desperate attempt to absolve himself and university rector Barak Medina of guilt for the faulty judgment that led them to publish a public expression of sorrow, one seasoned with affirmations of patriotism when the report was already known to be false.

But Cohen and Medina are not the victims here. With their conduct and their choice to abandon their colleague in order to protect Hebrew University’s patriotic image, they chose to stand beside Im Tirtzu.

Their conduct would be disgraceful for any institution, let alone an institution of higher education. University heads in Israel face a historic test. They must stand on the side of justice and not be deterred by outside pressure. Otherwise, they are not worthy of holding their jobs.