Susan Hattis Rolef
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
February 27, 2012 - 1:00am

The Jerusalem District Court will soon be deliberating on an interesting libel suit; the Im Tirzu movement is suing a group of talkbackers who claimed that Im Tirzu’s campaigns against the New Israel Fund and various human rights organizations in Israel smack of fascism.

The defendants claim that what they said is the truth, and have presented the court with several expert depositions that attempt to show that the ideology of Im Tirzu, as publicly manifested by its founder, Ronen Shuval, contains fascist elements, especially in terms of how it views the nation and the role of the individual within it, its contempt for “decadent” Western liberal values and its obsessive search for “traitors.”

It should be noted that until Benito Mussolini became Hitler’s ally there were right-wingers in the pre-State Yishuv, such as Abba Ahi-Meir, who openly sympathized with Italian Fascism. It should also be pointed out that in the current public discourse in Israel it is not only the left-wingers who accuse certain right-wingers of fascist inclinations, but also vice versa. For example, Moshe Feiglin and his Jewish Leadership Movement in the Likud refer to the removal (or expulsion) of the settlers from Gush Katif as a fascist act, and those who participated in the act as fascists.

Beyond the issue of who is or is not a fascist, and when calling someone a fascist is libelous, there is another question of definition that is intricately connected with the doctrines and activities of bodies such as Im Tirzu and the Jewish Leadership Movement.

Both Im Tirzu and the Jewish Leadership Movement, as well as many other bodies in the political Right, are in the midst of an attempt to redefine the term “Zionist” in the public consciousness.

This process has even manifested itself partially in a teaching kit on Gush Katif recently issued by the Ministry of Education to all the schools in the national education system.

According to this new definition, to be considered a Zionist you must believe that the whole of Eretz Yisrael belongs exclusively to the Jewish People, support Israel’s settlement activities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and object to the removal of any Jewish settlements in these territories.

True Zionists, so it is implied, should refrain from any public criticism of the State of Israel and its agencies, and are expected to believe that the Jewish faith, heritage and culture are superior to all others, including the Western cultural heritage, which emphasizes such universal values as equality and human rights.

Certainly all those who hold the above-mentioned beliefs are Zionists, but so is anyone who believes that the Jewish People has the right to a state, like all other Peoples, and that this state cannot be anywhere else but in Zion – the historical homeland of the Jewish People.

However, he (or she) does not stop being a Zionist even if he also believes that our rights in the Land of Israel are not exclusive, and that the Arabs of Palestine have inherent rights here as well.

One can be a Zionist and a liberal as well, and believe in equality, human rights and other universal democratic values. One is still a Zionist if one believes that whether or not we are a chosen people, due to our historical experience we should set higher moral standards for ourselves than those we expect from others. That means that it is perfectly OK (and not an act of treason) to seek to ensure that the IDF – one of the most moral military forces in the world – avoids performing acts that fall within the definition of “war crimes.” It also means that one can criticize the humiliating treatment of Israeli Arabs at security checks at Ben-Gurion Airport and still be a Zionist who supports Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against enemies.

Incidentally, in the early years of the state the Mapai leadership had us believe that kibbutzniks and members of the Histadrut were somehow superior Zionists, and that others were at best second-rate Zionists. That was as objectionable as the claims of Im Tirzu, the Jewish Leadership Movement and the Ministry of Education are today.

The Jerusalem District Court will have to determine whether those who accuse Im Tirzu of Fascist inclinations are guilty of libel. It has not been called upon to determine whether Im Tirzu, and others, are guilty of libel when they claim that those of us who do not accept their ideological premises are not Zionists, or are even anti-Zionists. Refusal to accept the legitimacy of those who disagree with you is not necessarily a manifestation of fascism. However, it is a manifestation of intolerance, and a denial of the pluralistic nature of our democratic state.


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