(photo credit: Courtesy)
The ongoing discussion among Jewish leaders worldwide about the line between
“legitimate criticism of Israel” and the assault against its legitimacy must
also consider when self-criticism transforms into self-delegitimization
The intensifying, multipronged assault against Israel’s historical and
legal legitimacy is cause for concern. Economic, academic and cultural boycotts
and sanctions have been intensifying in Europe and on US campuses, while arrest
warrants have been issued against Israeli government and military leaders in
European courts at the request of Palestinian Authority leaders and networks of
Islamic and Western groups.
The response to the current assault that
charges Israel with being an apartheid, Nazi state raises an uncomfortable
question. Has official Israel on occasion submitted to “war weariness” by
adopting the language and narrative of some of its toughest adversaries? As an
example, some senior officials have said on several occasions over the past two
years – once in the presence of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad – that if Israel
does not create a Palestinian state immediately, it will become either a
binational or apartheid state.
Aside from the profound inaccuracy of the
comparison to formerly apartheid South Africa, this self-criminalization
energizes opponents and encourages them to avoid compromising while it
frustrates friends and allies who are leading the fight against the assault and
in defense of its rights.
It may not come as a surprise that several
months ago, a Fayyad adviser told Al-Hayat al- Jadida that “Israel represents a
policy of state terror which the Zionist apartheid state is carrying out against
In political warfare, words are lethal weapons. It
would behoove Israeli and Jewish leaders to avoid being the inadvertent “weapons
suppliers” of the country’s adversaries.
Adopting the language of the
Palestinians is only part of the problem. The challenge also extends to
passively accepting their narrative.
Since 1993 and the Oslo exchange of
letters between the PLO and the Rabin government, a desperate determination to
achieve an elusive peace agreement has led Israel to make far-reaching and
THE PALESTINIANS for their part have shied away from
making concessions and instead have continued to insist on their rights and
historical justice. This has created an asymmetry whereby Israel emphasizes
peace while the Palestinians underscore rights.
constant readiness to part with territories for peace and the adoption of a
concession-based diplomacy mirrors the perception of some in the West,
particularly in Europe, that the Jewish state is an international outlaw that is
merely giving back lands over which it has no claim. This misperception of
rightful ownership has extended to Jerusalem.
Israel has positioned itself as the only member of the international state
system whose very legitimacy is perceived as being inextricably connected to its
readiness to make additional territorial concessions to the PA. This “I give,
therefore I am” kind of identity has robbed it of inherent legitimacy in many
international circles. Furthermore, its concession-based diplomacy denies its
rights-based narrative and ends up empowering Palestinian “rights-based”
IT WOULD be well served by reviving the traditional rights-based
diplomacy that founders such as David Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban spoke of with
Eban told the UN on various occasions of “a devotion
to the holy city that has been a constant theme of our people for 3,00 years.”
Yitzhak Rabin too reminded the Knesset in October 1995 – one month before his
assassination – that he would insist on a united Jerusalem under Israeli
sovereignty in any future peace agreement.
Today, despite mistaken
assertions by many – including not a few presidents and prime ministers in the
free world – that Israel’s right to sovereignty began following the Holocaust
with the 1947 UN partition plan, it bears repeating that the Jewish national
project began more than 3,000 years ago, when King David first established
Jerusalem as his capital.
The modern expression of this 3,000-year
national project was affirmed twice last century.
The League of Nations
in 1922 noted, in the Mandate for Palestine, “the historical connection of the
Jewish people with Palestine, and to the grounds for reconstituting their
national home in that country.” This international recognition of the Jewish
people’s preexisting national rights to sovereignty was subsequently preserved
by article 80 of the United Nations Charter.
In 1948, the establishment
of the State of Israel marked the third time the Jewish people established its
independent commonwealth in the land of Israel.
It is this modern
expression of Jewish selfdetermination that is under acute political assault
primarily by Palestinian groups working in close coordination with Islamists and
radical Western groups.
The only way the Jewish world can effectively
combat the growing political assault is by standing shoulder to shoulder and
tightly embracing the Jewish people’s rights-based language and narrative. Only
then will they be able to stand on firm ground, anchored in historical truth and
international law to defeat the attempts by unrelenting adversaries to undermine
the legitimate right of the Jewish people to self- determination.The
writer is secretary-general-designate of the World Jewish Congress.