Blacklist of artists and intellectuals published by Israeli right-wing group prompts warnings of 'McCarthyism'

Novelist who appears on the list says Im Tirtzu is targeting independent thought

The publication by an Israeli right-wing group of a blacklist of 117 artists, writers, performers and intellectuals it linked to those who oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank has prompted warnings by opposition leaders that “McCarthyism” is making inroads in the Jewish state.

The group, Im Tirtzu, which depicts itself as being at the forefront of advancing Zionist ideology and shares the government’s expansionist approach to the West Bank, said it was publishing the list to support efforts by the Culture Minister Miri Regev, of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, to pass a bill that would ensure that only cultural bodies “loyal” to the state will be eligible for government funding. 

Ms Regev’s plan has come under sharp criticism from left-wing cultural figures who accuse her of stifling freedom of expression. Im Tirtzu said it wanted to expose to the public the affiliation of her opponents with “mole organisations that operate with foreign government funding”. It labelled as “moles” the renowned writers David Grossman and Amos Oz and leading actress Gila Almagor because they serve on the public advisory board of the human rights group B’Tselem, which monitors Israeli abuses in the Occupied Territories. 

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Gila Almagor has been labelled a ‘mole’ for serving on the board of B’Tselem (Film Magic)

The group also sought to stigmatise the leading playwright Yehoshua Sobol, who serves on the public board of Yesh Din, a group that opposes violence by Jewish settlers and, like B’Tselem, receives foreign government funding. Some 89 cultural figures were blacklisted by Im Tirtzu for participating last year in an event supporting Breaking the Silence, a doveish army veterans’ group, which was banned by the Education Minister Naftali Bennett from schools last month on the grounds that it besmirches the name of the army.

The “moles in culture” campaign is a follow-up to Im Tirtzu’s release of a video that singled out figures from Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and two other human rights groups as foreign “moles” who encourage Arab stabbing attacks against Israelis. 

According to Israel’s Channel Ten television station, that video was produced for Im Tirtzu by the public relations consultant Moshe Klughaft, a close associate of Mr Bennett who served as campaign manager for his Jewish Home party in last year’s elections. Im Tirtzu’s director Matan Peleg told The Independent that Mr Klughaft was not involved in the blacklist. Mr Peleg said his group does not have any connection to the government.

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Im Tirtzu's new campaign 'outs' leftist artists and other individuals inlcuding renowned writers David Grossman and Amos Oz

“We are fighting against the delegitimisation of the state of Israel and organisations and foreign agents funded by foreign governments,” he said. The opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union party attacked the blacklist as part of “a dirty attempt by McCarthyism to take over Israel”. He said: “Israeli McCarthyism and the zeros who are leading it will disappear just as they disappeared in the United States. The question is when and how much it will cost us.” His party colleague, MP Stav Shaffir, pointed the finger at the government, saying there was “complete co-ordination between this fascist organisation and the Minister of Education and the Minister of Culture”.

“Im Tirtzu is threatening the foundations of the state of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state,” she said.

Amid the uproar, Mr Bennett criticised the campaign, writing on Twitter that it was “embarrassing, unnecessary and degrading”. Later in the day, Ms Regev also voiced objections to the campaign. Remarking on the controversy, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he opposed “the use of the word traitors to describe those who disagree with me”. He added: “We are a democracy and there are a multitude of opinions.” However, he also sharply criticised Breaking the Silence, according to The Times of Israel website.

Novelist Anat Einhar, recipient of the prime minister's award for literature last year and a figure on Im Tirtzu's blacklist for participating in the Breaking the Silence event, told the Independent that Im Tirtzu is targeting independent thought. ''It's a very twisted stance that suppresses any spark of free thought and anything that has something enlightened. These artists are people with a critical interpretation of what is going on around them and it is this very individualism, the idea that you are an individual and not just a subject in a nationalistic society, that is very threatening to Im Tirtzu.''

Ms Einhar added that she thinks that Mr Netanyahu ''is enjoying this. Im Tirtzu are the hunting dogs of Netanyahu's rule. He cannot express himself as they do, he has to be more statesmanlike. But they serve him and there is a complete fit between the messages of fear that Netanyahu projects in order to stay in power and the activities of Im Tirtzu.''

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