Daily Israel Report

Court Rejects Libel Suit Filed by Nationalist Group

Im Tirtzu slams ruling as "essentially wrong" and "very dangerous for Israeli democracy."
By Gil Ronen
First Publish: 9/8/2013, 3:59 PM

Illustration: Im Tirzu activists
Illustration: Im Tirzu activists
Flash 90

The Jerusalem District Court rejected on Sunday most parts of a libel suit filed by nationalist group Im Tirtzu against a Facebook page that called the group "fascist." Judge Refael Yaakobi ruled that there is, indeed, similarity between the principles of fascism and those of the movement.

Im Tirtzu filed the 2.6 million shekel lawsuit three years ago, against the Facebook page's eight founders, one of whom is an employee of Haaretz. The lawsuit focuses on three publications: the title of the page, which implies that Im Tirtzu is a fascist group, and two status messages that were published on the page. One status message asks: "My father's grandfather was not a pure Jew; may I still march in your group tomorrow in the human rights march?"

The other status message accuses Im Tirtzu of publishing caricatures that are reminiscent of Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer.

Judge Yaakobi ruled that the publications did not claim that Im Tirtzu's principles are identical to those of fascist groups, but only said that there were "some similarities" between them. After hearing testimony from defense witnesses including historian Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell and from Im Tirtzu Chairman Ronen Shoval, the judge determined that they tend to show "the existence of a certain common denominator between the positions of the plaintiff and certain principles that are at the base of fascism."

The judge rejected most of the libel suit but agreed that the status that implied that Im Tirtzu follows a Nazi-type race theory constitutes defamation. He recommended that the sides reach an agreement about the sum of compensation to be paid for this slander.

Attorney Nadav Haetzni, who represented Im Tirtzu, said in response that the ruling is "essentially wrong and very strange, since it does not give any treatment to a large part of the issues that were brought before it and raised in great detail in the course of the trial."

"The court ignored the crux of the legal aspects and reached a place that is very dangerous for Israeli democracy," Attorney Haetzni said, "because if the High Court does not correct this verdict, there will exist in the state of Israel a freedom of extreme defamation, which…makes it possible to 'crown' every Zionist as a fascist."

Im Tirtzu gained national prominence in 2010 when it spearheaded a campaign targeting the New Israel Fund and its president at the time, Prof. Naomi Chazan, over their role in providing incriminating quotes to the Goldstone Report. The Goldstone report was issued by the UN following the IDF's counter-terror operation, Cast Lead, and accused Israel of war crimes.