The far-right NGO Im Tirtzu has made headlines again in the Hebrew press because of its new campaign that labels leading Israeli cultural figures as “moles.” On Wednesday night, the group published a long list of artists, including Israel Prize-laureates Amos Oz and Gila Almagor, accusing them of “supporting organizations of moles”—by which it means key left-wing NGOs. The term was instantly recognizable to many Israelis in the wake of Im Tirtzu’s recent ad “exposing” certain activists from left-wing Israeli NGOs, including anti-occupation groups B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, as terrorism-aiding “foreign moles.”
The controversial campaign by Im Tirtzu—which comes at a time of heightened public attention towards the activities of left-wing NGOs, and the question of their funding by foreign states—was roundly excoriated across the political spectrum. Israel’s Channel 2 called it “the first [campaign] in a long time that has united Left and Right.” Even those politicians seen as most hostile to left-wing NGOs came to the defense of Israel’s beleaguered artists, acknowledging that Im Tirtzu’s crosses a line as it amounts to an accusation of treason.
On Thursday, Im Tirtzu chairman Matan Peleg, defended the campaign; the next day, however, he appeared to retract it, calling it “mistaken” in an apologetic Facebook post, while defending the broader “moles campaign” and vowing to continue it.
Critics of Im Tirtzu frequently call the organization “fascist”; indeed, Likud MK Benny Begin attacked the use of the word”mole” as a “synonym for ‘traitor,’ ” saying that “labeling people as traitors is an old, ugly, and dangerous fascist trait.” The group is more accurately described, however, as McCarthyist—after Joseph McCarthy, the Cold War-era American Senator infamous for making dubious allegations of treason against opponents.
The campaign was scathingly dismissed as “embarrassing, unnecessary, and degrading” by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party. But the day before the latest scandal, Dr. Ronen Shoval, who ran for the Knesset on the Jewish Home list in 2015, tweeted in support of McCarthy, writing: “The historical facts are, it turned out that in most cases, [McCarthy] was right.”
In the increasingly ugly controversy surrounding Im Tirtzu, therefore, the label of McCarthyism might just be one thing on which all concerned parties can agree. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who stands behind a bill for special transparency requirements for NGOs predominantly funded by foreign governments, said: “Not all leftists need to be demonized.” Even Culture Minister Miri Regev—who shares bad blood with the country’s cultural establishment, and recently proposed conditioning state arts funding on “loyalty” to the state—warned against “statements that are likely to lead to incitement and violence. It is unacceptable to harm people because of their political opinions.”