Delegitimizing Delegitimization

Falling into the trap of lamenting "they hate Israel" is easy but futile. A more effective argument is urgently needed to combat delegitimizers.

blair netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner, GPO)
blair netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner, GPO)
Is Canada more of a state than Israel? No. Is Belgium more legitimate than Israel? Of course not.  Does Argentina deserve sovereignty more than Israel? Why would it? Is Japan’s existence ever questioned or doubted? Naturally it isn’t. Is any country in the world forced on a daily basis, year in and year out, to defend and justify its “narrative”? Certainly not.
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Why, then, is Israel being delegitimized? And is there anything it can do to deflect and negate this hideous phenomenon?
But, are we really confronting this travesty or just endlessly whining about it and having lively conference calls in which the converted preach to the converted?
Furthermore, are we conveniently resorting to worn-out excuses along the lines of “the world is against us no matter what because they are fundamentally, inherently and irreversibly anti-Semites whether they admit it or not?” This is hardly a policy prescription if indeed we are. In fact, it precludes policy and induces inaction and paralysis on the grounds of “what can we do, they all hate us anyway”. They don’t all hate us. Just add up 1.3 billion Chinese, 1.2 billion Indians, 310 million Americans, 120 million Mexicans, 120 million Japanese and already most of the world doesn’t “hate us anyway.”
This is an especially dangerous notion because delegitimization is not your garden variety anti-Israel campaign that can be dealt with using decades-old Hasbara slogans and occasional newspaper ads. It is a coordinated, multi-faceted, persistent and patient campaign that creeps into mainstream thought disguised as criticism of Israel policy, and that threatens to undermine Israel’s standing in the world. No less.
Think of it this way: delegitimizing Israel is not about advancing the two-state solution, it’s about preventing it and substituting it with the one bi-national model. It is therefore significantly more anti-Israel than it is pro-Palestinian. And therein lies a monumental challenge.
To confront the problem we first have to understand it. Delegitimization has to be analyzed and dissected into its various applications. One application is blatant anti-Semitism from which a rude and crude opposition to Jewish right of self-determination is derived. Another approach is the characterization of Israel as an ethno-religious state that is by design and nature intolerant to others. This would be a valid – if objectionable – argument had the world really shifted away from the nation-state system leaving only Israel stranded in some mid- 19th century romantic time-warp. But it hasn’t.
Another technique sees Israel as the last colonial power, occupying a people whose land it conquered, condemning them to miserable statelessness. Not only does this argument stem from a disturbing European post-colonial guilt hangover, it misses the tenets of modern Middle-Eastern history. It is a fair and legitimate argument on its anti-occupation merits, except that if deligitimization is the answer then most western civilization (and the Orient too while we’re at it) should equally be delegitimized.
Lastly there is the argument that Israel is essentially an extension of the US which funds and supports Israel’s excesses and so every problem anyone has with the US is projected onto Israel by default. 
The other day Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel must delegitimize its detractors and delegitimize what we commonly refer to as “Israel’s delegitimization”. Netanyahu undoubtedly draws on (what I think is a brilliant) February 2010 paper from the ‘Reut’ institute, arguing compellingly that “In the past few years, Israel has been subjected to increasingly harsh criticism around the world, resulting in an erosion of its international image, and exacting a tangible strategic price.”
The paper detects two parallel processes: “The Resistance Network advances the 'implosion strategy' that aims to precipitate Israel's collapse based on three principles: 'Overstretching' Israel by undermining attempts to end its control over the Palestinian population; delegitimizing Israel; and conducting asymmetric warfare in the battlefield and against Israel's civilian population to counter IDF military superiority; The Delegitimization Network that aims to supersede the Zionist model with a state that is based on the ‘one person, one vote' principle by turning Israel into a pariah state and by challenging the moral legitimacy of its authorities and existence.”
The paper concludes that “Israel faces a systemic, systematic, and increasingly effective assault on its political and economic model. Its inadequate response reflects a crisis in its foreign policy and security doctrine, as well as its conceptual inferiority.”
Netanyahu’s diagnosis of the problem is accurate and astute. Israel is indeed facing increased isolation and vile criticism to the point of borderline ostracization. The problem is, as is always the case with Netanyahu, the prognosis. His analysis is often brilliant and contextual historically and politically. His conclusions are more bumper-stickers than a coherent policy. They are not practical or realistic. It is as if he, his policies, his government, the composition of his coalition, Israel’s erratic foreign policy and the weird and controversial coalition-politics driven laws it enacts every other week are the appropriate and suitable tools to deal with a hostile trend. Netanyahu sees no connection whatsoever between his policies – or lack thereof – and the widening and deepening trend of delegitimizing Israel. He claims that “delegitimization” has nothing to do with the peace process. This would be a salient point had there been an Israeli peace initiative, a plan, a set of ideas. Israel has none of the above. Delegitimization does not result from Israeli policies, but the absence of a peace policy surely foments anti-Israeli rhetoric.
In an August 2010 speech at the Inter-disciplinary Center in Herzliya, former British Prime Minister and Quartet Middle East representative Tony Blair spoke of the “insidious delegitimization of Israel”. He proposed five steps to counter this process:
First: “The aim is not to make people agree with Israel’s point of view but to insist that they listen to it and persuade them at least to a point of understanding.”
Second:  “Israel has to be staunch and unremitting actor for peace.“ The restart of negotiations next month is a positive step and “shows there is a simple and sincere yearning on the part of the people of Israel to live an enduring and honorable peace with their neighbors.”
Third: Negotiations must include discussions of final stages. “Proposals on this issue will be a litmus test to seriousness.”
Fourth: While taking into account legitimate security concerns, Israel must do what it can to improve quickly the daily life of the Palestinians. “No top down negotiations will work without it.”
Fifth: “It is our collective duty, yours and mine to argue vigorously against the de-legitimization of Israel. It is also our collective duty to arm ourselves with an argument and narrative we can defend and with which we can answer the case made against Israel with pride and confidence.”
This constitutes a clear policy that Netanyahu would be wise to take heed of.
The writer is an Israeli diplomat, who most recently served as Consul general of Israel in the United States. He is currently a foreign affairs analyst for Fox Television.