At its core, the assault on Israel’s legitimacy is a denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in Israel, the nation-state and historical homeland of the Jewish people.
The Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC) is an Israel-based organization devoted to promoting the principle of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and strengthening ties between Israel and the Diaspora. As part of that mission, we work closely with many Jewish communities of Europe, the Knesset and government of Israel, and European parliamentarians, to combat all forms of anti-Semitism and delegitimization of the State of Israel.
The catalyst for the delegitimization movement, or more accurately the assault on the moral legitimacy of Israel, was the 2001 UN Conference against Racism, in Durban, South Africa. Held under the auspices of the United Nations and led by a horde of NGOs, the movement seeks to portray Israel as a pariah state, equating it with Apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany, and calls for the Jewish state to be completely isolated from the international community, and ultimately from the family of nations altogether.
The public face spearheading this assault today is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign, with increased calls for boycotts against Israel across many parts of Europe and campuses in the United States. This campaign is being waged by the dangerous union of the far Left and radical Islamist groups.
Although successes of the BDS campaign have been relatively limited in scope, the greater danger is that it keeps spinning the propellers, assaulting Israel’s legitimacy. Therefore, we must remain both vigilant and take actions to combat this.
In the meantime, we must also be mindful that those leading the assault on Israel’s legitimacy are becoming increasingly clever, nuanced and manipulative in their tactics.
In many parts of Europe, and indeed around the world, it is no longer socially acceptable to be openly anti-Semitic or flatly reject Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Instead, today’s anti-Semitism is directed not only against Jews as individuals, but also takes the form of vilification of and assault on Israel’s legitimacy, as the Jew among the nations, with false claims and malicious distortions of truth disguised as acceptable criticism of Zionism and Israel.
This is seen in the rejection of Jewish self-determination in Israel, comparing Israeli policies to apartheid and Nazism, promoting the “One State Solution,” while also singling out Israel for special opprobrium and holding the Jewish state to unjust and double standards.
The added concern is that portraying Israel as such an immoral entity, a criminal state or a violent force in the Middle East, helps create a situation in which violence directed against Israel or Jews is often considered as retaliatory action or a legitimate expression of “resistance,” also a euphemism for terror.
Let there be no ifs, buts or maybes – the assault on Israel’s legitimacy as the nation-state of the Jewish people is the modern-day manifestation of anti-Semitism.
The question now turns to what ought to be done to combat this pernicious assault on the Jewish state, particularly in Europe, where it is so vehement.
Here are some suggested action items: 1. Delegitimize the delegitimizers: we must single out, expose and shame those who deny or attack Israel’s legitimacy and call for boycotts, including establishing a monitoring unit to track such individuals and organizations to expose them publicly.
2. Europe must have a comprehensive definition of anti-Semitism taking into consideration that delegitimization of Israel is a new form of modern anti-Semitism.
In this regard, it was most unfortunate to see last year the decision of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), the central European body charged with combating anti-Semitism, remove its working definition of anti-Semitism, especially when the FRA definition also included calls for the delegitimization of Israel as a possible form of anti-Semitism.
Reinstating this FRA definition will also create a framework in which legal action can be taken against those seeking to delegitimize Israel.
3. Lobbying European countries who are already friendly to Israel to follow stringent French law, which makes BDS illegal, deeming it both criminal and anti-Semitic. France is at the forefront of anti- BDS law in Europe and there have been a number of successful legal prosecutions against BDS.
It is important to however recognize that resort to legal tools alone cannot help defeat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, but it is nonetheless an important tool in the overall arsenal.
4. Having pro-Israel parliamentarians in Europe be more active on those issues of delegitimization and BDS, including by promoting resolutions in this regard seeking to thwart such attempts, strengthening relations with Israel and discrediting those parliamentary colleagues delegitimizing Israel.
5. Stopping EU funding of organizations which openly delegitimize Israel.
6. It is critical for pro-Israel and Jewish organizations to build bridges and create alliances with other minorities, NGOs, religious groups and civil society, to help fight common causes, present our case and create more allies to help speak on our behalf.
7. Mobilizing the business community in Europe and Israel to be more involved in combating delegitimization efforts, including by strengthening bilateral business relations.
8. Reframing the narrative: most Europeans view Israel primarily through the prism of the conflict with the Palestinians, while many others are simply resistant to hard facts. Supporters of Israel should do more to broaden this conversation by focusing on Israel’s positive achievements (hi-tech, innovation, etc.) and potential gains for Europe by strengthening the relationship with Israel.
At the same time, more can be done to reinforce and strengthen “people to people” links between Israelis and Europeans, especially on a grass-roots level, with groups like academics, trade unions, students, scientists, faith groups and artists.
This can be done through mutual visits and joint projects, allowing Europeans to see the real face of Israeli people and creating an emotional value-attachment to Israel and a new front-line in the defense against BDS.
9. Greater exploitation of social media, using this medium to present Israel’s position in a more creative way and to reach a wider audience, especially youth.
10. Create a digital platform of communication between Jewish communities in Europe, other pro-Israel and Jewish organizations around the world, and the Israeli government and relevant ministries to allow an exchange of ideas, information and best practice solutions.
The author is the director of research at The Israeli- Jewish Congress.