Freedom of Speech Makes For Strange Bedfellows

Analysis / Interpretation / Press PostFreedom of speech makes for strange bedfellows By BEN HARTMANLAST UPDATED: 04/19/2010 02:12ACRI, funded in part by the New Israel Fund, stands up for Im Tirtzu’s freedom of expression. Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski The arrest last week of two men paid to hang posters for an Im Tirtzu PR campaign against the New Israel Fund infringes on freedom of expression, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said in a press release on Sunday.

ACRI attorney Lila Margalit wrote Israel Police Insp. Gen. David Cohen to voice the group’s complaint, and to ask him to ensure that arrests like Thursday’s did not take place again.

ACRI is funded in part by the New Israel Fund (NIF). According to its Web site, ACRI “deals with the entire spectrum of human rights and civil liberties issues in Israel and the Occupied Territories.”

Student group Im Tirtzu – The Second Zionist Revolution*, announced on Sunday that it was behind the posters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former prime minister Ehud Olmert with the word “wanted” written across the bottom.

According to Im Tirtzu, the posters and a report being released this week titled “The New Israel Fund and Lawsuits Against Israeli Leaders” are part of a new campaign against the NIF called “Subversives, we’re sick of you!”

The “wanted” posters reference the possibility that Olmert and Barak, as well as other Israeli leaders, could face war-crimes charges abroad following last winter’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Im Tirtzu says such charges would be based largely on testimony and evidence collected by organizations funded by the NIF.

ACRI executive director Hagai El-Ad told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that Im Tirtzu’s public campaigns against the NIF were not relevant to the ACRI’s defense of its freedom of expression.

“We at ACRI are steadfast in our commitment to freedom of speech for everyone, regardless of their political position,” he said.

“It’s clear that the ads that Im Tirtzu put out are part of a legitimate expression of freedom of speech and the police had no right to arrest them,” El-Ad said. “We think this is another alarming incident in which the police have shown a basic misunderstanding of the proper defense of the freedom of speech.”

El-Ad referred to ACRI as “the flagship organization of the NIF, with a deep and lasting cooperation with them for many years in the past and for many years to come as well.

“The values of ACRI and the New Israel Fund deal with democracy, which include freedom of speech for everyone, including those who criticize the work of the NIF,” El-Ad added.

Im Tirtzu spokesman Erez Tadmor said it was commendable of ACRI to support his group’s freedom of expression with regard to the new campaign, which is meant “to show again to the public how organizations supported by the NIF are working in a serious, open way to bring war crimes charges against IDF officers abroad. The public must know that the NIF is involved in radical campaigns against the state and the army.”

Tadmor added, “Issues that affect our freedom of expression affect theirs as well. I think it’s nice on their part that they did this. I have nothing else to say.”

In February, Im Tirtzu released a report that accused the NIF of being directly responsible for the lion’s share of findings critical of Israel contained in the UN’s Goldstone Report.

Ahead of the release of that report, Im Tirtzu sparked outrage in Israel and abroad by running a full-page ad in Israeli newspapers, including the Post, that showed a caricature of New Israel Fund head and former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan with a rhinoceros horn sporting the letters “NIF” tied to her forehead.

The word “keren” means both fund and horn in Hebrew.

At the time, many critics said the caricature resembled past anti-Semitic portrayals of Jews and could constitute libel.

On Sunday, Im Tirtzu took out another large ad for Remembrance Day, which also appeared in the Post.

“We remember – they persecute,” the ad declared. “Fact: The New Israel Fund betrayed IDF officers to international courts!”

NIF communications director Naomi Paiss said that the “ACRI’s job is to support freedom of speech, so they did the right thing. In regards to the Im Tirtzu report, it’s been completely debunked.”

Paiss denied that the NIF supports placing Israeli officials on trial in foreign courts.

“The truth is that this issue of universal jurisdiction is so remote from the NIF and the work we do that we never even formulated a policy on it,” she said.

“Israel has a free press and an independent judiciary and has a track record of independent commissions of inquiry examining official wrongdoing. It’s our job to strengthen these issues. We firmly oppose any attempt to try Israeli leaders in foreign courts,” Paiss said.