Influence is no longer a function of overriding wealth or coercive power. When the Elites, who have been used to telling regular folks what their values should be, lose their monopoly, they often lash out.
In a recent column that was long on vitriol and short on accuracy, former Shin Bet director Carmi Gillon criticized Im Tirtzu with a breathtaking list of implications and condemnations. These included accusations of political murders committed some 25 years before its establishment, and driving demonizing wedges between Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews, all of whom have found a home in Im Tirtzu.
A fitting aspect of his paranoid rant was the left-handed compliment that “Im Tirtzu is the most influential organization in Israel in recent years.” As the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, I was overtaken with many reactions, including the thought that, “this being the case, why am I still being given short shrift on the line at the supermarket?”
Seriously though, such a statement is both a jaw dropper and unwittingly, profound. It is a jaw dropper in the sense that it smacks of the historical accusations leveled against Jews in general, about running the international banking system, and while we’re at it, the world. I am certainly not saying that Gillon is an anti-Semite, but he is exhibiting the same bogeyman-like obsession that one associates with classic paranoid anti-Semitism.
The idea that Im Tirtzu, whose budget is a rounding error in the world of NGOs, whose offices are part of the itinerary of meeting with donors so they can see how little of their contribution is going into overhead, is the most influential organization in Israel is, on a certain level, laughable.
Except that Gillon, inadvertently in all likelihood, is making a prescient comment about Israeli society. The great influence that Gillon attributes to Im Tirtzu is purely a function of the fact that the public supports what we advocate. In turn, Im Tirtzu, fairly reliably, mirrors the values that Israel, particularly Middle Israel, holds dear.
This reality leads to an even more disruptive truth: we live in a world where influence is no longer a function of overriding wealth nor coercive power, but stems from the heretofore restricted ability to reach, motivate and galvanize the public.
Im Tirtzu’s rise mirrors the growth of social media, the democratization of news and information and the ability to communicate effectively for pennies on the previously valued dollar.
Of course, we are not unique in using social media. At the end of the day, our messages of having the people of Israel take it upon themselves the preservation, nourishment and cherishing of Zionist values, such as an unembarrassed defense of the legitimacy of the State and its key institutions, and the recognition that the strength of our society is inextricably tied to the appreciation of these values by individual citizens – these are the key to our influence.
Elites who have been used to telling regular folks what their values should be, are naturally bothered by the loss of the monopoly on providing direction to society. They often lash out at organizations such as Im Tirtzu, accusing us of “anti-democratic” behavior; the no longer meaningful accusation of fascism hurled against us, most recently by Gillon, is thrown around like it is a fashion statement, or part of a restaurant review.
Ironically, Im Tirtzu and the larger Israeli society are part of a massive democratization of public sentiment in Israel. The mobilization of displaced residents of South Tel Aviv, the organizing of the bereaved families of terror victims, the coming together every year of thousands of college and university students to demand that not just anti-Israel voices be protected on our campuses, these are among the many examples of the proliferation of democracy in Israel.
This kind of democracy is messy in the sense that it cannot be easily channeled. But it is the ultimate expression of a people, demanding to have a role in shaping its own destiny, in asserting the rightness of its own beliefs and values.
I for one, while occasionally frustrated at the meagerness of our material resources, am humbled and inspired by the strong connection that Im Tirtzu has with Israeli citizens and our ability to give voice to what they most value. At our 10th anniversary conclave last September, I told the audience that quite simply, if Im Tirtzu did not exist, Israel would have to invent it; that our society would ultimately come together with an organization to project their own voices onto the national stage.
I am proud to live in an engaged society in which the people insist on their collective voice, and are not apologetic nor defensive about those who would reflect that voice.
Israel is only headed down the road of fascism only if fascism is defined as holding to beliefs that I don’t. Israel’s democracy is vibrant, messy, and strong. Who would want it otherwise?
Douglas Altabef is the Chairman of the Board of Im Tirztu and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at [email protected]