Delegitimization of Israel in the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Demonization creates an ideological justification for implementing concrete moves aimed at negating the state’s legitimacy, or eliminating the state itself.

palestinians protesting in jeru 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
palestinians protesting in jeru 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When I was in the sixth grade my classmates and I were assigned an essay. The topic focused on the question of what we would do if we had Arabela’s magic wish-ring from a popular Czech fairy-tale.
At the time I made a wish for peace in the Middle East, especially between Israel and the Palestinians. For quiet and harmony in the region, I wished to get rid of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who always supported and funded terrorism against Israeli civilians; and Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, who during the Gulf War launched 39 Scud missiles at Israel’s civilian population. I saw them as the greatest obstacles to peace, prosperity and stability in the region.
However, as I have grown up, my knowledge of and interest in Middle Eastern issues have increased. During this still-ongoing process, I realized I had been somewhat naive in my elementary school essay – but what one can expect from an 11-year-old? Unfortunately, I was wrong, not just because both dictators are already dead and peace is not in sight, but also because I did not know much about the other obstacles to peace. There is the socalled “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. There are the various Iranian strategies to support Palestinian terrorist organizations (particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad), as well the Lebanese Hezbollah in their efforts to seek the destruction of Israel. I consider Palestinian hatred towards the Jewish state, along with global attempts to delegitimize it and deny its fundamental right to exist, major barriers to a final status settlement.
The State of Israel remains geographically surrounded by hostile authoritarian regimes and failing entities controlled by violent non-state actors.
To date, it has survived eight armed conflicts and two Palestinian intifadas.
Since its birth, Israel has never known a moment in which it was not under immediate threat from terrorist attack.
Summa summarum, Israel has faced the threefold challenge of conventional warfare, terrorism and current attempts at delegitimization in the international arena. According to Amos Yadlin, former director of Military Intelligence, “The strategic threat to our [Israel’s] legitimacy in the world and the attempt to turn us into a pariah state,” are nowadays more dangerous than war.
Delegitimization of the Jewish state is a virulent global phenomenon that has many manifestations. Its purpose is to isolate Israel and ultimately turn it into a pariah country. It does this by denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. It portrays the country as persistently violating international law and human rights. It labels it systematically and intentionally cruel and sadistic towards Palestinians. It justifies terrorism against Israel, negating it the right to defend itself. It depicts the Jewish state as an illegitimate colonial entity born in sin, which practices Nazism, racism and apartheid. Delegitimization presents Israel as the primary factor responsible for all troubles in the Middle East, and it denies any historical connection between the Jewish people and Israel.
This demonization creates an ideological justification for implementing concrete moves aimed at negating the state’s legitimacy, or eliminating the state itself.
The framework for this delegitimization was established at the first Durban Conference in 2001. Forum NGOs adopted inter alia “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state... the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (academic, diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.”
In accordance with the Durban agenda, the contemporary campaigns to delegitimize Israel include two main components. One is lawfare, or exploitation of courts in democratic states in order to harass Israeli soldiers and officials with civil lawsuits and criminal investigations for “crimes against humanity,” “war crimes” and other alleged violations of international law. The other is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. As Gerald Steinberg, professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, states: “The Durban Conference provided the strategy for the ensuing NGO-led political war against Israel, using the weapons derived from the rhetoric of human rights and international law, and conducted via the UN, the media, churches and university campuses.”
As such, the systematic delegitimization and demonization of Israel has become the most effective, sophisticated and dangerous form of anti-Semitism in recent times.
The cases of delegitimization of Israel occur almost everywhere in the world, and Slovakia and the Czech Republic are no exception. The following text describes just several examples of this phenomenon in both countries.
In my country of birth, Slovakia, the main actors of delegitimization of Israel are far-right political parties, associations and websites.
During the Israeli counterterrorism operation, Defensive Shield, in Judea and Samaria in April 2002 (launched in reaction to numerous Palestinian suicide attacks against Israeli civilians), both parliamentary nationalist parties, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS), used malignant anti-Israel rhetoric. For example, the SNS joined the chorus of powerful NGOs and Palestinian groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Al-Haq, accusing the IDF of “a massacre” in the Jenin refugee camp. The SNS demanded “a harsh punishment of the perpetrators of the Israeli massacres in Jenin, when hundreds were killed, including civilians.”
A subsequent UN investigation rejected claims that hundreds or thousands of Palestinian civilians were killed there, and determined that there were 52 casualties – only five of which were civilians, with the rest being armed belligerents or members of terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. Nevertheless, the myth of the Jenin massacre is still being exploited by anti-Israel entities.
As a part of Operation Defensive Shield, the IDF tried to capture wanted Palestinian terrorists holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with their automatic weapons and explosives. The terrorists chose to barricade themselves inside the church and used the priests and monks as human shields against armed attack – an act that clearly constituted a war crime according to international law.
During the siege of the church, the media spread the absolutely false news that IDF tanks had opened fire on the place of worship! After that, chauvinistic and alcoholic PSNS chairman Ján Slota called upon the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia to condemn the “barbaric Israeli attacks on the holy sites of the Church of Nativity.”
A defamatory anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statement, very similar to Slota’s, was also uttered by SNS chairwoman Anna Malíková, who added that “the party members cannot be silent when the barbarians, whom the Jews clearly became after this step, are destroying and desecrating the birthplace of Jesus Christ.” (Today, the SNS is considered a non-relevant political party that has a limited political influence.) Other cases of delegitimization of Israel involve mainly neo-Nazi and extreme right-wing groups.
One of them is the Slovak Brotherhood. Its ideology includes the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which hold that the Jewish people secretly control the Slovak republic, and the claim that the Zionist movement directs world history and seeks to achieve world domination.
Unfortunately, they are not alone. According to a study by sociologist Michael Vašeka, 26 percent of Slovaks believe “the Jews are now too influential in our country.”
The Slovak Brotherhood website contains plenty of anti-Semitic articles that are focused on the traditional negative stereotypes of Jews, describing Israel as a racist, totalitarian, apartheid, terrorist, immoral state, denying the right of Israel to exist, calling on the world to dismantle the Jewish state, denying or downplaying the Holocaust, and blaming the Jews and Israel for standing behind negative historical phenomena – such as a man-made famine in Ukraine (1932-1933), the September 11 attacks and the swine flu virus.
One disgusting article, titled “Ukrainian children: Other victims of the Satanist State of Israel,” accuses “the Jewish Bolshevik mafia of the portioning of children for trade in human organs for the chosen people in IsraHell.” The Web page includes many openly anti- Semitic cartoons of hook-nosed Jews pictured with money or planet Earth in their hands. Israeli politicians such as prime minister Ariel Sharon are depicted as Nazi war criminals.
Of course, this is not the only anti-Israel website; defamation and demonization of Israel are present in almost every online discussion on mainstream news pages.
Extreme right-wing entities have also tried to rehabilitate the image of the wartime Nazi-collaborationist Slovak state (1939-1945), which helped to annihilate more than 70,000 of its own Jews. It is necessary to emphasize that similar efforts to glorify the Slovak clerical-fascist state have seen success among some high-ranking members of the Slovak Catholic Church (e.g. Archbishop Ján Sokol), some second-class historians and various nationalist-oriented people as well.
They deny or downplay the regime’s active role in the murder of the vast majority of Slovak Jews, and admire the president of the satellite pro-Nazi state, Jozef Tiso – a Catholic priest and an ally of Adolf Hitler – calling him a hero. Downplaying Tiso’s role in sending Jews to concentration and death camps was also typical of the history courses at my high school, in Tiso’s birthplace.
Teachers usually argued that Tiso did not know anything about what was going on. Fortunately, there was a geography teacher who had better information – and he has become a very good friend of mine.
Another example of delegitimization of Israel occurred on March 14, 2010, when hundreds of neo-Nazis gathered in Bratislava to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the establishment of Slovak’s Nazi-led puppet government. During the event, an older woman shouted that “Adolf Eichmann had Jewish origins” and “The Holocaust is a Jewish construct and Israel exists just because of it.”
Psychologist František Šebej, currently a member of the Slovak parliament, called this anti-Semitic hate speech “an incomprehensible, ungraspable and menacing” phenomenon, and added that “if these people had opportunity to repeat the Holocaust, they would do so equably.”
How do you think the “discussion” around Šebej’s comment has sounded? Yes, rude and anti-Semitic.
Some examples are: “Šebej is a Zionist with blood on his hands.” “Every time I see you, Mr. Šebej, on Wolker Street I want to slap you” and “I feel sick when I realize that a Jew sits in the Slovak parliament.”
What about the situation in the Czech Republic? Among post-Communist countries, the Czech Republic has been deemed one of Israel’s closest allies.
Indeed, the Czech government has supported the Jewish state even during events – such as 2006’s Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead in winter 2008- 2009 – that invoked a strong and sometimes hypocritical condemnation by many EU states.
During his most recent visit to Prague in 2012, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel has “no better friends in Europe than the Czech Republic.” Bibi also praised the Czech vote against the Palestinian Authority’s statehood bid at the UN; the Czech Republic was the only state in Europe to vote against the resolution.
However, calls to dismantle the Jewish state come from Czech entities on the far Left and the far Right.
Attitudes among Czech right-wing extremists towards Jews and Israel are almost the same as that of the Slovaks.
The differences are only in the names of parties and organizations.
Regarding the far Left, some anti-Israeli statements have been characteristic of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM). In 2006, during the summer war between Israel and Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, the KSCM called for a boycott of “the aggressive Israel.” The Communist Party has often denied Israel’s right to self-defense, by describing every IDF operation as “aggression against innocent and impoverished Palestinian civilians,” while ignoring rocket and other terrorist attacks on Israel from neighboring areas.
One of the most active movements in the delegitimization of Israel in the Czech Republic is the Czech branch of the International Solidarity Movement.
ISM is a far-left pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist group which sends foreigners to the territories to organize “non-violent” resistance, engage in life-threatening clashes with IDF soldiers and participate in violent demonstrations against Israel. During the second intifada, ISM volunteers specialized in the IDF’s hindering counter-terrorist activity and thus indirectly supporting terrorism.
For example, the ISM encouraged activists to serve as human shields for terrorists in the Church of Nativity incident, as well as in Arafat’s compound in Ramallah in 2002. ISM activists also met with two suicide bombers, originally from the UK, prior to the 2003 terrorist attack on Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv. In 2008, ISM volunteer Richard David Hupper was convicted by a US federal jury for material help to Hamas, “giving about $20,000 to Hamas while working in Israel with the International Solidarity Movement.” Other ISM members were involved in flotillas to the Gaza Strip led by the pro-Hamas and global jihadist-linked Turkish “charity” IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation.
The Czech branch of the ISM delegitimizes Israel by promoting the BDS movement against it, publicizing articles about Israel’s “misdeeds” and “crimes” on its website, and arranging lectures and tours to the territories.
Its aim is to rouse sympathy for the Palestinians and to dramatize the “brutality” and “illegality” of Israel’s origins, “occupation,” “apartheid,” “racism” and counterterrorism policies.
The ISM denies Israel’s right to self-defense, even in the face of an acute military threat, an effective tool in the exposure of Israel to the real danger of destruction.
According to the ISM, every casualty is necessarily the result of Israel deliberately and intentionally trying to kill Palestinians. It argues that the purposes of this policy are ethnic cleansing, genocide and the holocaust of Palestinians. It has wrongly insisted that the real purpose of Operation Cast Lead was not to protect Israeli civilians from Hamas missiles and rockets, but a cover for massacring innocent Palestinian civilians.
Essentially, it employs a new and sophisticated form of the classical anti-Semitic image of the blood libel.
THE ISM also compares the Gaza Strip to a Nazi concentration camp – a perfect example of demonization of Israel. This comparison is utterly disrespectful and shows complete ignorance. There is no similarity between people who were killed and starved in concentration camps and the legal military blockade of the Gaza Strip to keep weapons out of the hands of Hamas and other “charitable organizations” in Gaza. But the objective of this strategy is clear: As long as the Gaza Strip is depicted as a concentration camp, attacking the warders is heroic, dismantling the system that produced that prison is justified, and Hamas rockets and mortars become self-defense.
Another organization involved in the campaign to delegitimize Israel is the Czech group Free Palestine.
It uses all the above-mentioned strategies and tactics.
Its Facebook page is full of anti-Israel bias and calls for stopping “genocide in Palestine” and for boycotting Israel. For example, it has urged its members “to write posts on Alicia Keys’s Facebook wall and try to persuade her that it is inhuman to come to Israel and give concerts, while it [Israel] is terrorizing Palestinians who cannot come to her concert. Tell her also that you like her music, but she will stand on the wrong side of history if she sings for the racist country which makes an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”
Oh, and Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are “war criminals.”
Israel is the only democratic country whose right to exist is questioned, but until now, the effects of the delegitimization campaigns have appeared limited. In recent years, Israel was accepted in the OECD, and its credit rating went up as many other Western economies were downgraded. Tourism in 2012 reached its highest level in the country’s history; technology giants opened up research centers. The number of states that have diplomatic relations with Israel indicates it is not in isolation.
Nevertheless, it would be untimely and negligent to ignore or write off the delegitimization and demonization campaigns. As Ron Prosor, Israel’s permanent representative to the UN, said: “The delegitimization is like Chinese water torture – drop, drop, drop – which at the end of the day, has a serious impact.” The writer is a PhD student at Masaryk University in Brno. He holds MAs in political science and security and strategic studies from the same university. He currently interns at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.