Israel’s Justice Minister and chief Palestinian negotiator, Tzipi Livni, just
won what I am going to call the “Legitimizing the Delegitimizers Award” with a
foolish, self-destructive speech in Eilat on Monday.
Israel’s delegitimizers by echoing their unreasonable prejudices against the
Jewish state to try encouraging Israeli peacemaking. Using inaccurate, harmful
words like “colonialist” and “apartheid,” she echoed the rhetorical sloppiness
of Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak who have also used our enemies’ language, warning
Israel about becoming an “apartheid state” – when in Israel there never has been
the benighted South African regime’s institutionalized, biological,
Appalled by seeing our leaders internalizing our
adversaries’ language, I will grant this “Legitimizing the Delegitimizers Award”
annually in these pages to condemn acts of outrageous rhetorical negligence – by
smart leaders who should know better.
Because this award believes that
words matter – here are Livni’s musings: “Europe is boycotting goods,” she said.
“True, it starts with settlement [goods], but their problem is with Israel,
which is seen as a colonialist country. Therefore, it won’t stop at the
settlements, but [will spread] to all of Israel,” she warned. Then, praising
young Israelis for protesting her own government’s decision to export natural
gas, she insisted: “The time has come for the same youth to ask, to what kind of
state do they want to leave the gas reserves? To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or
to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state?” Peace is only achievable
if Israelis negotiate for the right reasons.
Israel should not compromise
in an unrealistic attempt to woo Europeans, many of whose prejudices transcend
what Israel does or does not do. Israel should compromise as part of a
reality-based attempt at a just, necessary peace that preserves state security,
maximizes individual satisfaction regionally, and respects Israeli and
Palestinian national dignity.
“Europe” – which has a hard enough time
cooperating about anything these days – is not “boycotting goods.” The European
Commission website calls Israel “an important trading partner for the EU in the
Mediterranean area, and the EU is the first trading partner for Israel with
total trade amounting to approximately 29.4 billion euros in 2011” – some
Calling Israel “colonialist” is historically inaccurate and
morally offensive. “Colonialism” means imposing foreigners on lands to which
they do not belong. Calling Israel’s West Bank presence “colonial,” like using
the words “settlements” to describe restored Jewish communities in Gush Etzion
and elsewhere, ignores Jews’ historic, ideological, and legal ties to “Eretz
Yisrael,” the land of Israel.
If the Jews have no valid national claim to
Hebron, Jews have no valid claim anywhere.
Since the British Mandate,
Jews have had the right to settle anywhere between the Jordan River and the
Mediterranean, despite the attempt to make the hastily improvised 1949 armistice
“green line” sacred.
Of course, national greatness sometimes comes from
refusing to assert all your claims, no matter how valid. 2013 is not 1913 or 13
BCE. Peace will emerge when most Israelis and Palestinians recognize that
borders shifted, populations moved, so no one has exclusive claims, making
Jews should no longer live in places like Hebron,
where Palestinians outnumber Jews by more than 300 to 1. But those of us who
acknowledge Jewish rights to Hebron and other parts of Jordan’s West Bank, yet
would sacrifice them for peace, show far more commitment to peace – along with
more historical authenticity and self-respect – than those who view Israelis
there as colonialist brigands who should flee in shame.
Apartheid is an
inflammatory word that should be banned from Middle East discourse. Apartheid
imposed a biologically-based racist system of distinction between whites, blacks
The Palestinian-Israeli clash is national, not racial.
Apartness is not apartheid, especially because more initiatives for true
separation and purging of populations come from Palestinians, whereas most
assume that Israeli Arabs will remain Israeli citizens even if Palestine becomes
In the 1970s, egged on by Soviet manipulators seeking to woo
the Third World and “South Africanize” Israel, Palestinian and Arab
propagandists injected words like “colonialism,” “imperialism,” “racism” and
“apartheid” into the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Manipulators like Columbia
University Professor Edward Said and the perpetual terrorist Yasser Arafat
understood that if the conflict remained a local Arab-Jewish clash, the world
would sympathize with Israel; but if the conflict could be globalized and linked
to the broader – noble – fight against European crimes like racism, the
Palestinians might win.
How ironic that the Jews, having been kicked out
of Europe in the 1940s, were now being Europeanized in the 1970s – and that in
2013, some Europeans exorcise their collective guilt by self-righteously
accusing Israel of European- style crimes.
How pathetic that some Israeli
leaders – egged on by a worldwide propaganda campaign and inured to the truth by
’s constant use of words like “apartheid” echo and implicitly validate
this rhetorical assault on Israel’s legitimacy.
If Tzipi Livni and others
want to nurture the Israeli peace consensus, weak arguments about making nice
with Europe will fail. We need peace for our sake.
Those on the Left must
be challenged to fight the delegitimizing lies about Israel to detoxify the
environment and build an atmosphere conducive to peace.
Those on the
Right must be challenged to acknowledge the realities of Palestinian demography
and preserve Israeli democracy by finding new arrangements.
who build consensus by crossing political wires will win; scared politicians who
want to be liked in Europe or elsewhere will lose.
The “Legitimizing the
Delegitimizers Award” comes with my free offer of bread crumbs, symbolizing the
weak, cowardly, European Jews who used to beg for scraps in currying their
oppressors’ favor. I look forward to a year when there will be no politician
careless enough to win this booby prize.The author is professor of
history at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Engaging Israel Research
Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author, most recently, of
America’s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, just published by Oxford University
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