Im Tirtzu activity in Israel
Im Tirtzu activity in IsraelCourtesy

Likud MK Amichai Chikli, the CEO of Im Tirtzu, and Israelis who have lost family members to Palestinian terrorism accused the German government and its publicly funded NGO German-Israel Friendship Association (DIG) of waging an anti-Israel boycott campaign targeting Zionist organizations.

MK Amichai Chikli claimed that “The incessant involvement of the German government and agents on its behalf in internal political issues in Israel through various funds and even more so under the guise of ‘pro-Israel’ organizations such as the DIG which boycotts conservative Zionist organizations in Israel such as Im Tirtzu and its employees, crosses every possible line.”

In an audio recording of a conversation that took place during the summer of 2022 in which Volker Beck, the Green Party politician and president of DIG, argues that the DIG banned Yonatan Shay, who is a fluent German speaker, from delivering talks at their events in Germany. Shay is the Head of the Im Titrtzu Hasbara (Israel Advocacy) Department.

Beck was heard saying in the recording: “We wanted to explain again why we decided not to grant the application…And I don’t want to hide it, there was also a little apprehension from the Foreign Office when we let Yonas Shay train us there.”

Beck noted that “We are just under observation by the foreign office.”

The German foreign ministry funds the DIG. Israel National Newsexclusively reported last year that internal email dialogue shows how German officials from the foreign ministry lash out at Im Tirtzu.

Im Tirtzu, which was founded in 2006, is a grassroots organization with 6,000 volunteers and chapters on 20 college campuses.

According to its website, Im Tirtzu works to “strengthen the values of Zionism in Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and “also works closely with a variety of groups within Israeli society, including bereaved families of terrorism, wounded IDF veterans, and Israeli minorities who wish to integrate into Israeli society.”

Beck claimed on the audio recording that Im Tirtzu “are pretty hot-tempered and I would say not responsible.”

Beck accused Im Tirtzu on the audio of sending a “Price Tag” message to the “Israeli left,” stating Im Tirtzu left a sign for Israeli leftists with the motto “Watch out, we were there.” Beck provided no evidence for his claim.

Beck also criticized Im Tirtzu on the audio for seeking to hold a Jerusalem flag day event to celebrate Israeli patriotism.

Beck further said on the audio that Shay “has radicalized a bit over the last few years…We spend money from the Foreign Office... and when things like this are involved, it can get really tricky for us.”

A spokesperson for the German foreign ministry wrote: “The German-Israel Association has been institutionally funded by the Federal Foreign Office since 2012. Projects that go beyond this are applied for and approved on a case-by-case basis. However, the Federal Foreign Office has not received any application for funding for the lecture tour mentioned. Of course, the Federal Foreign Office does not put any pressure on its partners and does not maintain any lists like the ones you mentioned.”

The alleged list is to exclude Israeli organizations like Im Tirtzu from speaking at DIG events.

Beck refused to answer multiple queries regarding the recording.

The popular German Jewish monthly magazine, Jewish Review, first reported in September on the Beck audio recording. The DIG told the Jewish Review that the matter involving Shay was about “internal decisions about funding.”

MK Amichai Chikli added in response to the quotes: “Phony and fake friends of Israel in Germany such as Volker Beck from DIG exclude Israeli conservative right-wing speakers while legitimizing hostile anti-Zionist entities like the NIF [New Israel Fund], allocating resources to encourage voting for certain parties and above all dirtying the face of the State of Israel through a chain of propagandist ‘human rights organizations.’’’

“The German establishment crossed every line." he added, "No self-respecting sovereign country in the world allows such blatant subversion to go unchallenged. I appeal to every member of the German government and to the real friends of Israel in Germany who reads these things: Stop this despicable phenomenon instead of talking rubbish and bullying Zionist-right wing Israeli movements and respect the right of the Jewish people to exist in their homeland. The German people should know what happened to them (the Jewish people) last time when they were uprooted from their historical homeland.”

Matan Peleg, CEO of the Im Tirtzu Movement, told Israel National News that “ It turns out that the German-Israel Friendship Association is no longer so friendly to Israel. It is a scandal when their leader admits that the German Foreign Ministry, known for its anti-Zionist policy, is pulling the strings behind the association's activities and blackmailing it into acting against the Zionist majority in Israel and working to silence them. The subversion of the German government is insatiable. In recent years, Germany has financed dozens of Israeli radical left organizations that work to discredit IDF soldiers and to encourage international pressure against them in a sum exceeding NIS 154 million, they now work to blackmail the only official pro-Israel association in Germany.”

Peleg, who just authored the book “State for Sale,” added: “We call on Mr. Volker Beck to stop cowering and make a decision about his identity. Is he an anti-Zionist activist and hence unfit to head a leading pro-Israel organization in Germany? Or is he a true friend of Israel? If he is he should call on the German government to stop blackmailing the association."

Peleg’s book contains data on how German-funded NGOs are allegedly undercutting and assaulting Israel’s democracy.

Merav and Herzl Hajaj the heads of the Israeli organization Choosing Life Forum told Israel National News: "The families bereaved by Arab terrorism whose children were murdered by terrorists understand that the antisemitic foreign policy of the German government did not end 70 years ago and it is still alive and well today.'

"Not only does it endanger the lives of Jews in Israel when German taxpayers' money is poured into the defense of the killers of Jews in Israeli courts and to finance anti-Zionist delegitimization organizations that operate from within, but now the exact same funds are being used to extort the German-Israel Association in order to shut the mouths of leading Zionist organizations in Israel such as Im Tirtzu on German soil.”

Merav and Herzl Hajaj, whose daughter was murdered in a ramming attack in Jerusalem in 2017, commented: “The German-Israel Friendship Association and its chairman, Volker Beck, are supposed to act against the hostile foreign policy of their government against Israel and not against Jewish-Israelis like Yonatan Shai from Im Tirtzu. Activists such as Yonatan Shay’s voice issues and what they have to say is very uncomfortable for the German establishment which gives the impression that it has learned nothing from its antisemitic history. We will continue our fight together, alongside Im Tirtzu, against the German government that is pouring money into the murderers of our children, and if the Friendship Association does not want to help this holy cause, at least they should not interfere and not present themselves as friends of Israel.”

Im Tirtzu claims that the German government has provided 84 million Shekel ($25, 981, 980) to anti-Israel NGOs over the last decade. Israel’s former Strategic Affairs Ministry revealed in 2019 that the German organizations Bread for the World, World Peace Service and the Green Party’s Heinrich Boll Foundation supply funds to the Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights NGO Al-Haq.

Israel’s government classified Al-Haq as a terrorist entity because of its links to the Palestinian terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The author of this article contacted all 14 members of the DIG executive committee for a comment. Aras-Nathan Keul, a member of the committee, said that he voted in favor Shay speaking at DIG events. Keul declined to comment on why the other members of the executive committee voted against Shay.

A number of German MPs are on the DIG’s executive committee whose parties are part of the current “traffic light” coalition named after the party’s political colors.

Marcus Faber is a MP for the Free Democratic Party on the DIG committee. He is joined by MP Michelle Müntefering from the Social Democrats. Green Party MP Lisa Badum MdB is also on the executive committee.

The author also spoke to Yoram-Illy Ehrlich, the only Israeli on the executive board, who lives in Germany, about the vote against Im Tirtzu’s Shay. He declined to comment on the phone and did not answer an email press query.

Beck said on the audio call that Im Tirtzu is not a “mainstream” Israeli organization. Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated and praised Im Tirtzu in a video. Former Israeli culture minister Miri Regev also thanked Im Tirtzu for its work.

Critics say Beck’s tenure, as president of the DIG, has been marked by controversy. Beck expressed solidarity on Twitter with Michael Blume, a German civil servant accused of antisemitism and denigrating the father of the IDF, Orde Wingate. Israel National Newsreported in September that there are mounting calls for Blume to be fired for his anti-Israel activity.

In an interview with German TV station ZDF, Beck said after Israel’s election that “If he [Netanyahu] actually goes the way, and that is the assumption of Likud, of ruining Israel’s democracy and the rule of the law, then he will certainly not improve relations” with Germany.

The director of Im Tirtzu’s EU research desk, Naftali Hirschl , blasted Beck for trashing the Likud party. Hirschl told Israel National News that Beck’s comment is “appalling nonsense and agitation against Israel, in which he defamed the largest democratic party, Likud, as undemocratic.”

Beck has faced criticism over the years from the best-selling Israeli-American author Tuvia Tenenboim and the pro-Israel German-Iranian publicist Saba Farzan.

“With friends like Volker Beck we, Jews, better have enemies!,” wrote Tenenbom.

Farzan wrote on the micro-blog Twitter: “I’ve always been critical of Volker Beck – he participated in a debate at the Islamic Center in Hamburg, run by the Iranian regime, with representatives of that mosque. There’s nothing to discuss with Sharia-loving criminals – absolutely nothing.”

Farzan, the German-Iranian dissident, added that “now, would a true Democrat and friend of Israel and the Jewish people do that? I don’t think so. Solidarity is not something that you can show in a convenient moment – it is a support in the most critical situation. Each time, Beck has been absent."

The author's queries to Germany’s ambassador Steffen Seibert went unanswered. Seibert previously served as former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman.

The German-Israel Friendship Association (DIG) submitted the following response:

To our knowledge, such a recording does not exist. We dispute the representation with lack of knowledge and contradict the representation of our position.

By the way: If a confidential conversation were recorded without permission, the person recording it would have been liable to prosecution under German law. And for us it is completely unclear to which conversation the author wants to refer.

The article does not reflect the opinion of the DIG and our President as well as the members of the executive committee.

The DIG is funded by the federal government and is a "recognized educational institution by the Federal Agency for Civic Education". The government is not an anti-Zionist entity. It does not impose any regulations on us beyond our statutes and the notification of grant. We are not aware of any lists.

But: The standards of the "Beutelsbach consensus" must be applied to political education, in particular: "What is controversial in science and politics must also appear controversial in the classroom."

These standards are quality standards for democratic educational work.

In the opinion of the executive committee, the event concept did not meet this requirement. Not sponsoring an event or inviting anyone to a particular event is not a boycott. Therefore, according to our record, the governing board unanimously denied the motion regarding specific events involving Mr. Shay. No one has the right to have trips financed by the funds of the German-Israeli Society. A boycott of a specific person or organization was not linked to the decision and does not exist.

Benjamin Weinthal is a freelance reporter