The first time I heard about Im Tirtzu I was in a kosher Florida pizzeria that was selling the organization’s shirts in exchange of a substantial donation. I asked the cashier what the group was all about.
“Tzionut,” she said. Zionism. Bu what kind of Zionism? She didn’t give any specifics.
Last week, I found out more. Im Tirtzu–a right-wing Israeli students’ group–has come out attacking the New Israel Fund–a group that distributes money to progressive Israeli nonprofits advocating civil rights, women’s rights, Arab rights and other like causes–for enabling the Goldstone Report, which Im Tirtzu vilifies as anti-Israel. Their argument is that because NIF funds many groups that contributed testimony to the report, NIF is anti-Israel, as is its chairwoman, Naomi Hazan, whom they attacked in an ad in the Jerusalem Post a few days ago.
By doing this Im Tirtzu is attacking Zionism, not defending it. NIF is in no way responsible for the Goldstone Report–just because they fund organizations doesn’t mean they influenced the report’s findings–and by seeking to delegitimize NIF Im Tirtzu is saying that progressive Zionist views are not welcome: in other words, that the only true Zionism is their right-wing Zionism.
If their campaign succeeds at all, it would be a tragedy for the Zionist movement for two reasons. First, Zionism has never pertained to right or left: the only tenet necessary to call oneself a Zionist was to advocate for a Jewish national homeland. Even those who supported the establishment of a Jewish state in Uganda were considered Zionists. And the same is true today. NIF is an actively Zionist organization: it funds groups that support the growth and development of the Jewish national homeland. If they were to be blocked in any way, the Zionist discourse would lose out. Furthermore, it would send the message that in order to be Zionist, one must conform to a political ideology.
And that is the second key feature of the NIF: it is not political. While the group’s policies are decidedly liberal, it does not fund Labor, Meretz, Hadash or any other party. Rather, it funds NGOs that work on building civil society, galvanizing the grassroots and fighting for change on issues, not on whole platforms. This kind of grassroots effort is key to the functioning of democracies, moreso than Israel’s dysfunctional, overbureaucratic government.
If anything, the NIF is what we should be putting our support behind. It funds not oversensationalized UN resolutions but people trying to effect real change and expand the discourse in Israeli society. That is the enduring backbone of Zionism: that it empowers the Jewish nation to speak out and act. By trying to silence that voice, Im Tirtzu is doing a great disservice to the cause it pretends to support.