Imagine if there was a country you had no personal connection to that people accused of being an apartheid state. This state was constantly condemned all over the world, and in the UN, for war crimes and human rights violations. Imagine if this country was claimed to be founded on colonialist principles, and was accused of systematic racism.
In its defense, this state simply emphasized the fact that it is a leader in hi-tech and innovation, and that it invented things such as the cherry tomato, ICQ and the flash drive.
Whose side would you be on? This is Israel’s image as seen in today’s world.
When thinking about the Jewish state’s public diplomacy, one must think about what the unengaged, ordinary person sees, not what the educated activist sees. Today, Israel is violently attacked by its haters through vicious delegitimization campaigns; these are of course based on lies, but the ordinary, unengaged person does not necessarily know that. Israel’s response to this campaign is simply unconvincing.
Israel needs to refocus its message and debunk the lies thrown at it, such as these accusations of war crimes, apartheid and racism. It must cultivate a parallel ethical discourse, one that is no less passionate than the one promoted by the supporters of the Palestinians, based on the principles of freedom, historical justice and legal justice. This discourse is the only way to compete with the lies thrown at Israel because, although they are lies, they base themselves on the deepest levels of human conscience and cannot be rejected without proposing an alternative ethical foundation.
The moral case for Israel is a strong one; however, no one seems to be making it. As such, a moral person who doesn’t actively educate himself on the conflict is fed a narrative which leads him to oppose Israel virulently.
A new wind blows in the Foreign Ministry
Hotovely surprised a lot of people in her first speech after taking office. The reason why people were surprised was not the right reason, though.
People raised eyebrows when Hotovely quoted parts of the Jewish scripture, and its commentators, when talking about Israel’s right to the Land of Israel.
Yet the real surprise was a very pleasant change in Israel’s core diplomatic discourse. For the first time in years, there was a high-ranking official in the Foreign Ministry saying: “We are just. This land is ours.”
Hotovely said: “Many times it seems that in our international relations, more than emphasizing the rightness of our cause, we are asked to use arguments that play well diplomatically.
But at a time when the very existence of Israel is being called into question, it is important to be right. The international community deals with considerations of justice and morality. We need to return to the basic truth of our right to this land. This country is ours, all of it.”
After years of going around in circles and trying to find diplomatic ways to get the world to love Israel without actually claiming the rights which are rightfully ours, Hotovely asked that we start talking about these rights again.
The only way the world is going to accept Israel is if it believes Israel has a right to exist. As long as Israel is afraid to talk about its legal, historical and moral rights to its land, the world will keep on questioning its existence and will move closer to the Palestinians, who are not afraid to speak about their claim to the land.
Dan Margalit, a leading left-wing Israeli journalist who is very close to Hotovely on a personal level, said he often tells her: “You are right, we have rights to the land, but the Palestinians also do! Why not discuss this as well?” Hotovely answers: “I have never heard Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talk about Israel’s rights to the land. Why should I talk about theirs?” Instead of trying to be neutral, and shying away from controversial issues, Israel’s diplomatic corps need to be pro-Israel. It might sound self-evident, but it is not. Israeli officials are not UN officials, they are here to advocate for the Jewish state, to defend its rights and protect its interests. In order to do so, they must stand up for Israel’s rights, and only Israel’s rights.
If they don’t, Israel’s rights will never be a part of the public discourse and we will be left with our current, warped situation: Where the Palestinians fill this vacuum by constantly attacking Israel and talking about their rights, while Israel is afraid to stand up for its own rights to its land.
The importance of the legal rights discourse
At the end of the day, the question of Israel’s legitimacy comes down to the legal issue: Does Israel have a legal basis for its presence in Judea and Samaria? Israel can try to justify its stance with security concerns, but this will only bring the world to the conclusion that Israel had good reasons to temporarily break the law. The world will still see Israel as a state that is breaking the law, and in the long term it will not be able to accept this. After a few years, the world will say: “If you keep breaking the law, then despite whatever reason you might claim to have, you are still a criminal.”
The truth is that Israel has an outstanding legal case to make about its right to the entire Land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria. After all, the last legally binding document relating to this area of the world is the British Mandate, which clearly states this area is meant for a Jewish state.
No other binding document was ever drafted: The Partition Plan was unbinding, and rejected by the Palestinians. The Armistice Line of 1949 was never recognized by the world. Judea and Samaria, in legal terms, lay there waiting for the British Mandate to be applied and for this area to be part of the Jewish state, the State of Israel. In purely legal terms, in 1967 Israel did not occupy a foreign land, but rather liberated Judea and Samaria from Jordanian occupation.
Those who claim there is an occupation in Judea and Samaria, including global bodies such as the International Red Cross, look at the world in a flawed way: If a shirt belonged to Johnny and George took it by violent force, then when Johnny took it back from George, would this be called stealing? Would Johnny be called a criminal? So too Israel just took back what was originally meant to belong to it, according to the last binding legal document relating to this region.
A new hope
Hotovely started her term in the Foreign Ministry on the right foot, by making a precise diagnosis of the problem with Israel’s diplomacy: Its tendency to prefer to duck the tough ethical questions rather than to stand up for Israel’s rights and the values it represents.
The next step in the right direction would be to reaffirm Israel’s legal rights, which are strongly entrenched in international law. The writer, an attorney and former legislative adviser to the Knesset’s coalition chairman, previously served in a legal capacity at the Foreign Ministry. He is a graduate of McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s master’s program in public policy.