Did rightist NGO leader admit to being inspired by fascist thinkers?

As Im Tirzu takes its opponents to court, a troubling picture of the inspiration of its leader emerges

Yesterday, the defense in the trial of Im Tirzu vs. the Facebook group “Im Tirzu – a fascist movement” presented its depositions. The plaintiff is the infamous right-wing group, the defendants are a group of leftist activists, the issue is libel. It began in 2010 when Ronen Shoval, chairman of Im Tirzu, sent the following email to Roy Yellin, who started the group:

Hello Roy,

From perusal of the Facebook page “Im Tirzu – a Fascist movement” it seems you created it.

Im Tirzu is not a fascist movement, and will not suffer being defamed. I wish to inform you that if you won’t delete this Facebook group within 72 hours, we intend to contact a law firm the following Sunday and sue you personally for defamation and libel.

Just to make this clear: turning the “Im Tirzu – a fascist movement” Facebook page over to another person will not diminish your personal responsibility.

I ask you to consider the issue carefully, before we are forced to turn to legal measures.


Ronen Shoval

 Yellin did not fold, and the trial commenced. Im Tirzu demands NIS 2.6 million (about USD 702,000) from the eight administrators of the group (full disclosure: I know some of them personally) for defaming it.

Im Tirzu always used goon tactics. For a long time, there was no page about Im Tirzu in the Hebrew Wikipedia, because Shoval threatened to sue if it was described as a right-wing movement. It demonstrates classic hypocrisy: Im Tirzu whines about being silenced while silencing others. Its lawyer claimed the Facebook group was “an attempt to publicly assassinate Im Tirzu.” I guess a lawsuit for 2.6 million is just a nicety.

Im Tirzu is using foreign funds, particularly from the American right wing – much of its money came from John Hagee, so I guess we can term it “rabid right wing” – and is copying the oh-so-American system of SLAPP lawsuits and bringing it to Israel.

In order for the SLAPP tactic – i.e., a suit that is intended not to win in court but to make the opponent cower and remove an annoying truth he or she published – to work, you need a scared opponent and a malfunctioning legal system. The Israeli one fits the bill: trials last for years, and and even if you do win, as a rule the courts awards you just a fraction of your expenses. So, if you are forced to go to court, you have already lost, even if you win. How convenient for NGOs (or, in Im Tirzu’s case, GONGOs) who are backed by shadowy donors from abroad; how unfortunate for political activists who try to speak truth to power.

Is Im Tirzu a fascist movement? I think so. So does the world-renowned expert on fascism (and victim of Jewish terrorism) Prof. Ze’ev Sternhall (see the legal opinion he provided to the court here, in Hebrew). Comparing Im Tirzu to the 14 points of fascism is instructive, but there’s more.

Among the depositions by the defense is one by Tomer Persico, who is a researcher of religions and the writer of one of the most important blogs on the issue in Israel (and, full disclosure, is a friend). Persico himself was once the victim of a SLAPP lawsuit after he described the court of a new-age guru who dubbed himself “the Buddha from Orion” (I kid you not), which made him a cause celebre in the Israeli blogosphere.

Im Tirzu leader, Ronen Shoval (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)
Im Tirzu leader, Ronen Shoval (Photo: Yossi Gurvitz)

In his deposition, Persico described a conversation with Shoval that took place a few months ago, as they were being interviewed by the paper Makor Rishon. In the recorded conversation, Persico told Shoval that he was surprised to see clear romantic German influences in a book by Shoval, and was surprised when the latter freely admitted it. Shoval said that “in my thesis, I dealt a lot with Ficthe, Schelling, Herder and George Sorel.” The latter is considered to be one of the inspirations of Italian fascism, and was fascinated by political violence: he praised Action Francaise, the nationalist movement which was a precursor  of French fascism, he praised Mussolini – and Lenin, too. He was also an anti-Semite who spread the blood libel (though he was on the side of the angels in the Dreyfus Affair). This is, to say the least, a rather strange inspiration for the leader of a so-called neo-Zionist revival movement. Persico said he was “stunned.”

Shoval, says Persico, claimed Persico was unkind in his review of his book, since when he used the ideas of Herder and Fichte about the organic nature of the volk, he was speaking metaphorically. Shoval said he didn’t put it quite that way in his book, since the purpose of the book “is to express ideas simplistically – I say, simplistically – ideas which are very deep… to make it clear to the multitude… the meaning of the word ‘Zionism’ today.” Persico claimed that such simplicity is dangerous and that it is typical of Im Tirzu’s activity; Shoval replied that “this is an issue of marketing strategies.”

So, in the name of marketing strategies, Shoval is injecting volkist concepts into the Israeli mindset, concepts which originally – and he claims to know the original very well – have caused untold suffering both to the people they were injected into, to the minorities living among them, and to nearby nations. Ronen Shoval is exposed as a political charlatan, who knows precisely which poisoned wells he is using, knows precisely what his goals are, but is unwilling to be stamped with the proper title – volkist fascism – because of “marketing strategies.” He and his movement do all that by getting large sums of money from abroad, which they try to conceal to the extent of the law, and when someone points out their true nature, that is calls them a fascist movement, they sue him for NIS 2.6 million.

The intimidation works: Persico, who already went through the nightmare of a SLAPP suit (which ended very quickly, and in a victory for him) decided not to publish the conversation he had with Shoval, just not to risk another lawsuit. Now this conversation is a part of a legal deposition, and hence protected.

So if you believe you should support a small group of young activists fighting for freedom of expression in Israel and for the ability to speak the truth even in the face of fascist groups with plenty of money from unknown sources, and if you think people are entitled to legal representation even if their father, unlike Shoval’s, is not a multi-millionaire, go here and donate. I already did.