Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg
Im Tirtzu CEO Matan Peleg Yoni Kempinski

Following the apology and self-suspension by Matan Peleg, the head of grassroots Zionist group Im Tirtzu over criticism of a Facebook post, some nationalists think the entire affair shows that the Israeli Right needs to learn from the Left: never apologize, always stay on the offensive.

Key political figures including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Miri Regev and Benny Begin, as well as influential journalists associated with right-of-center views, sharply criticized Peleg and dissociated themselves from Im Tirtzu in the days after Peleg posted a status criticizing artists and men of letters who are official members of extremist political groups. The criticism led Peleg to apologize and suspend himself as Im Tirtzu's chairman.

But some nationalists think the right wing's self-flagellation was out of place.

The framing battle

Leading the critics of the critics is Akiva Bigman, editor-in-chief at conservative-nationalist intellectual website Mida.

Bigman wrote an article analyzing the entire Im Tirtzu debacle. To begin with, he explained, the entire fuss was much ado about nothing. Peleg wrote a post – accompanied by a graphic file and a small pdf file – that sought to focus attention on Israeli left wing artists who are either officially part of the leadership of extremist groups, or who have taken part in activity on their behalf.

Presumably, Bigman noted, this was done as part of the debate between Culture Minister Miri Regev and artists who object to a bill she has proposed, which would make state funding to institutions conditional on their not displaying blatantly disloyal behavior, like defacing the flag, inciting racism, or calling for violence or terror.

Bigman described the media assault on Im Tirtzu following the post. The leftist press and the artists whom it interviewed, he said, succeeded in framing the post as something completely different from what it really was.

The leftists described the post as one that called people with different opinions "traitors" – but the post had not been about opinions and did not use the word "traitors."

Meanwhile, bodies like Peace Now exerted heavy pressure on politicians to dissociate themselves from Im Tirtzu.

The right falls for it

The right-wing, lamented Bigman, fell right into the trap. From Netanyahu on down, the speakers denounced Im Tirtzu for calling people it disagreed with "traitors" – except it had never done that. The right bought into the left's framing of the event, hook, line and sinker.

Bigman noted that this is a time-honored tactic of the left. "The left deploys all its systems in a never ending campaign, which frames any action or statement from the right – legitimate as it may be – in the most negative way. In this way, the leftist oligarchy attempts to portray the right as reckless, boundary-less, fascistic, fanatic, threatening, speech-stifling and dangerous, in the public consciousness."

The old elites know that they will have a hard time gaining power democratically, he argued, but they are able to use the systems still under their control – media, academia, courts and cultural institutions – in an orchestrated way. The media creates the storm, intellectuals make harsh statements, the courts are asked to intervene and some "cultural icons" often add their writing and acting talents to the mix.

The right has not learned how to play this game, according to Bigman. It needs to identify the leftist strategy of the endless attack, and refuse to surrender to the way leftists frame the issues. And it needs to adopt a similar tack, and go on the offensive, instead of always waiting for the left's next onslaught.

"When we see that all of the TV channels, radio stations, newspaper headlines (other than Israel Hayom), all the 'men of letters,' all the leftist NGOs and politicians, all the jurists and academicians, all agree on something, that is a sign that it is probably false," he summed up.