Exclusive: The gov’t connection of rightwing group Im Tirzu

Is Im Tirzu a protest movement or a government funded entity? Two more puzzles

The Galilee Development Authority recently published a call for volunteers, asking them to join an Im Tirzu nucleus in Nazereth Illit, the Jewish town built above historic Nazareth. For unknown reason – the spokeswoman of the Authority refrained from answering a list of detailed questions sent by mail – the Authority later removed the item from its website, though it can still be seen through Google Cache (slow loading Hebrew page).

The document is illuminating. It declares that “Nazareth Illit suffered in the last few years from a negative emigration of Jews, and so it is losing its Jewish-Zionist nature. The negative emigration is defined by the leaving of many old and established Jewish families, as well as many young people. As a result of this emigration, the demographic and socio-economic situation in the town has changed.” This is merely a long-winded way of writing a rather simple sentence: “There are more Arabs and fewer Jews in Nazereth Illit.” The Galilee Development Authority is dealing in what was called, before the fear of the Supreme Court and its nagging demands for equality made the Zionist regime engage in complex bureaucrat-speak, “Judaizing the Galilee.”

Just what would  Tirzu activists do (with government funding, such as rent aid, city tax benefits, and possibly other grants) in Nazareth Illit? They would operate a “Zionist Beit Midrash,” i.e. extra-curricular school, in “neighborhoods requiring substantial support.” Which is to say that the government noticed a distressing lack of loyalty to Zionist orthodoxy in parts of the town, and that there is a pressing need for young people with “proven leadership ability,” who served a “full and significant national service,” who also have a “deep comprehension of the going-ons,” in order to preach some of that old-time Zionism to the wavering residents.

Participation in the project is limited to students of the Jezreel Valley College, which found itself recently in the news (Hebrew) after management conspired to prevent an Arab student party from winning the local student union elections. The CEO of the college, Yoram Raz, was quoted as being very worried by the rise of the numbers of the Arabs in Galilee. Two of the criteria of the project seem to intentionally prohibit Arab students from participating in what is a publicly-funded project. One is the demand for “full and significant national service” (even if an Arab student did some national service, it could always be deemed as not significant enough), and the other is a personal interview with the Im Tirzu project manager, who leads the Im Tirzu faction in the student union.

Nazereth Ilith has experienced several incidents in the last few months, which indicate tensions between the Jewish and Arab residents. Even though some 15% of the population is Christian, the mayor refused to allow the placing of Christmas trees, claiming the town is Jewish. David Druckman, the government-funded rabbi of Kiryat Motzkin, called upon the Jews of Nazereth Ilith to “scare the Arabs away from Nazereth Ilith… The Arabs should feel the Jews have gone mad.” (Hebrew). In August, an alderman protested the idea of building an Arab school, even though 20 percentof the population is Arab. Inserting an Im Tirzu nucleus into Nazareth Illit seems like a planned provocation.

Im Tirzu has excellent contacts with another group, “Hashomer Hadash” (the New Guard). This is a vigilante group, based on memories of the old Shomer (guard) movement formed by the first Zionist pioneers who arrived in Palestine during Ottoman time; the purpose of the new Shomer is (Hebrew) “to create a mental and strategic shift in Israeli society, to re-forge the weakened link to the land and the ground, and increase the importance of holding lands in the open territories in the Negev and Galilee. The method of the organization is creating watch outposts near the grazing lands, to which the volunteers come and create the presence on the ground.” In other words, it is dedicating to keeping Arabs off Israeli lands.

Hashomer Hadash does not rely only on volunteers: It received a quiet nod from the IDF. The latter is so impressed with the goals of HH, it permits dozens of its volunteers to defer their military service for a year, so they can be indoctrinated by the organization. Such indoctrination includes “understanding the value of land,” horse-riding lessons, theory lessons about “minorities in Israel, security and law enforcement,” the herding of cattle and sheep, welding, carpentry, construction and mechanics. During an interview with one of HH’s representatives, he confirmed that dozens of volunteers will soon start the first ever army service deferral, but failed to explain the criteria by which it selects candidates.

It is understandable that this romantic Orientalist fantasy appeals to teenagers newly graduated from high school, just as it appealed to the young romantics of the original Hashomer. It’s less clear what the IDF stands to gain from allowing a bunch of youngsters to spend their time riding horses and herding cattle, unless the IDF is interested in Hashomer Hahadash’s political orientation. I asked the IDF Spokesman why the HH received a service deferment, and according to what criteria the deferment was granted. The Spokesman did not reply by the time of publication.

When you remember that the Knesset’s Education Committee asked Im Tirzu to write a report about the state of Zionist education in the campuses; when you remember senior government ministers, such as hawkish Likud MK (and former IDF chief of staff) Moshe (Boogie) Ya’alon, was a speaker in its conference; when you remember that it received most of its fund through the Jewish Agency; when you remember that a “senior Netanyahu bureau aide” spoke of how the bureau manipulated the reservists’ movement after the Second Lebanon War, and that Im Tirzu is the heir to that movement; when you put all that together, one wonders just how much Im Tirzu and its sister organizations are truly a non-governmental protest movement, and to what extent they are collaborators with the current far-right government. You can’t claim to be both a “protest movement,” and a leader of a “second Zionist revolution,” while locked in the government’s embrace. Unless this is another example of that classic rightist move – of being in office while blaming the leftists for anything that goes wrong.