On February 2, Meretz USA President Lawrence Lerner and Chair Theodore Bikel issued the following statement to the press:
This is an ominous hour for Israeli democracy. The recent attack on the New Israel Fund and its President, Prof. Naomi Chazan, by the Im Tirtzu organization – base and reprehensible as it is – is just the most recent in a frighteningly consistent series of events in Israel that evokes the McCarthy period in America, and worse.
The thuggish Im Tirtzu ad campaign, depicting Prof. Chazan, a three-term Meretz MK and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, as a treasonous “informant”, should serve as a chilling reminder of how quickly a society can degenerate when the right to criticize one’s own government policy is delegitimized.
Im Tirtzu is just the latest manifestation of this worrying trend. But after the Jewish-terrorist bomb attack against peace activist, Prof. Ze’ev Sternhell, in 2008; the attempt to ban Arab parties from running in the 2009 Knesset elections; the branding of Peace Now as a “virus” by Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon; and the defamatory remarks made about the “Breaking the Silence” organization by Prime Minister Netanyahu – not to mention Avigdor Lieberman’s proposal of a “loyalty test” for citizenship – the Im Tirtzu campaign, in truth, should not come as a complete surprise.
The attack on Prof. Chazan is also further proof – if we needed it – of the corrosive effects of the Occupation. Although the Occupation might legally stop at the Green Line border, its fundamentally anti-democratic character continues to seep into Israeli society, poisoning its values, weakening its foundations and creating the environment in which groups like Im Tirtzu can thrive.
Meretz USA calls on all those who care about Israeli democracy to stand up in solidarity with Prof. Chazan, the New Israel Fund and the many important organizations it supports, which are working to promote pluralism, equality and justice in Israel. And we call upon the Israeli government to publicly condemn the Im Tirtzu campaign, so that Israeli citizens will know that their elected officials can be counted upon to defend their basic rights and freedoms.