When US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was a “mistake” for Israel to demand recognition as the Jewish state it showed how deeply the language of delegitimization has been adopted by even the most ardent of Israel supporters.
Another example of this was New Jersey governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie. In front of a crowd of Jewish Republican fund-raisers in Los Vegas, hosted by Sheldon Adelson, a close friend of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Christie said, “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories and felt personally how extraordinary that was, to understand the military risk that Israel faces every day.”
When challenged by the head of Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, Christie apologized, saying his remark was not meant as a statement of policy. Didn’t he know that Israel has legitimate claims to this land? The UJA-Federation of New York decided this year to allow organizations such as New Israel Fund, which promote the boycott of Israel, to march in the annual Israel Day Parade. How misguided and wrong can that be? They permit groups that assist in the delegimitization of Israel in an event that should be affirmatively pro-Israel.
We increasingly see well-intentioned, powerful and influential people, who have the close attention of the media, make misplaced statements that feed into the adoption of a viewpoint that Israel has no legitimate right to be where it is. The misuse of language and deed is an indicator not only of the general public’s views, it also displays how pro-Israel influential voices are chasing a narrative that is driven by the Palestinian side of the conflict.
One perfect example of terminology drift can be seen with the area once known as Judea and Samaria becoming “disputed territory,” then the “West Bank,” and now “illegally occupied Palestinian land.” Any staunch Israeli, or dispassionate neutral, would argue that it is neither illegal, nor occupied, and certainly not Palestinian land according to international law and binding resolutions going back as far as the League of Nations Mandate of 1922. All this has not stopped the flow of terminology becoming accepted language.
How did this state of affairs come about? Well, it boils down to two major factors: 1) A highly successful pro-Palestinian publicity campaign. 2) Dereliction of duty by consecutive Israeli governments and prime ministers.
Some say the demonization and delegitimization of Israel began at the infamous 2001 UN Conference on Racism at Durban in South Africa which produced the hateful “Zionism is Racism” slogan, and gave birth to the accusations of an apartheid Israel.
However, the refusal to accept Jewish rights to an independent state was forcefully demonstrated back in 1947 when the Arab nations violently rejected UN Resolution 181 which called for recognition of a Jewish state.
They unsuccessfully launched major wars against the nascent Jewish state which led them in anger, following yet another defeat in 1967, to gather in Khartoum and declare three “No’s” against Israel.
No peace, no negotiations, no recognition. This was reconfirmed by the Arab League as recently as March 25, 2014, when Arab leaders again declared that they will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state. So much for the Arab Peace Initiative! But, to go back in time, out of Egypt came Yasser Arafat to cloak himself in the mantle of Palestine.
Initially, he saw himself as the spearhead of the Pan-Arabic aggression against Israel. As he said in a 1970 interview with Italian journalist Arianna Palazzi, “The question of borders doesn’t interest us.
Our nation is the Arabic nation. The PLO is fighting Israel in the name of Pan-Arabism. What you call Jordan is nothing more than Palestine.”
This hatred of Israel conglomerated into what is known as the Palestinian cause. By portraying Israel as a colonialist, powerful, aggressive, oppressive, racist occupier of a poor, defenseless, weak, indigenous Palestinian people a picture is painted that, to the impressionable, inevitably leads to a negative opinion of an Israel accused of the worst examples of war crimes and human rights abuses, and a sympathy for the weak Palestinians. That is the perception today.
It leads to the ridiculous, but dangerous, situation where church leaders gather in Bethlehem to accuse Israel of abuses – this in a once-Christian town from which their co-religionists have been driven out and persecuted not only by the non-Christian Palestinians who have taken over their homes and businesses, but also by officials of the Palestinian Authority, including Arafat himself, who confiscated the Greek Orthodox mission to make it his official Bethlehem residence.
The Palestine cause has become so “flavor of the month” that the British Methodists have abandoned Wesleyan hymns, and the founding principles of their own faith, that call for the return of the Jews to their homeland in Zion, in favor of declaring it as Palestinian land.
When you see that happen you know that the Palestinian PR machine has won the battle ofr public opinion.
The seeds of delegitimization are planted when the official voice of Israel is missing. Opposing voices get their message over with clarity. Their message may be wrong, it may be false, but told often enough, and loudly enough, it leaves people waiting to hear a clear voice of reason from our side.
That voice is seldom heard. That voice has been missing. The result of this silence has been to convince the undecided to side with the voice they hear, and the result of that is all too plain for us to see. The international community and public opinion is against us.
It doesn’t matter whether the political position in Israel is to surrender land or not. The starting point of both camps must be grounded in our heritage and rights. What is critically important is publicly and repeatedly to claim Israel’s legitimacy to the land, clearly elucidating Israel’s legal precedents, of which we have many, for existing and for sovereignty.
Without this, we have no basis for honesty and no credibility in the international community or with public opinion both at home and abroad. It is from this certain and firm starting point that either side can then move forward. Without it, we have no legitimacy anywhere.
Official voices have either been silent or waffling on this vital issue. There are thousands of supportive voices that are broadcasting strong pro-Israel messages but they are merely the choir. The lead singer has been absent from the stage, or strikes a discordant note. This is not the way to sell a hit record.
The Israeli government must get its act together and start to sing out in clear, clarion tones. The backing group of organizations and individuals will take up the lyrics to amplify the convincing message of our song, and drown out the opposing voice.
This, surely, is the only platform from which Israel can, and must, claim any legitimacy from which to move forward. Without it, we have no legitimacy anywhere, not in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, or whatever you call that place. And, once you have lost that you have no legitimacy anywhere in what was once called Palestine.
And, when that happens, we may as well sneak away, like thieves in the night.
The author is special consultant on delegitimization issues to the Strategic Dialogue center at Netanya Academic College.
He is the author of Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.