Borderline Views: Israel’s delegitimization from within

It's easy to seek ‘enemies’ among Left or racists of the Right. But real damage comes from groups falsely setting claiming to be defenders of Jewish state.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman 311 (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman 311 (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
The delegitimization of Israel reached a new peak last week with continued attacks on its democracy. But this time the damage was not done by private groups or foreign governments and anti-Israel lobbies. This time the worsening of its reputation as a state which values democracy and freedom of speech was caused directly by members of the Knesset.
No, not by Arab MKs critical of the occupation, but by extreme right-wing MKs, self-proclaimed super-patriots who falsely portray themselves as its defenders.
Their most recent decision to set up a committee to investigate NGOs which have different political opinions than their own which promote human rights, Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and freedom of speech, has become the single most serious threat facing the country as a true member of the family of democratic nations.
I spend a great deal of my time lecturing on campuses, in synagogues, and to Jewish communities around the world, trying to present a more balanced picture of Israel, the peace process and the social and political context. I am constantly met with a barrage of critics. The pro-boycotters are critical because of its continued occupation policies and its refusal to enter a serious peace process and allow the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The Right and some Jewish groups are critical of the government for promoting Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and for supporting – at least in principle – a two-state solution.
Each views the government – depending on the policies it pursues – as failing in its role of protecting residents of the country – Jews and Arabs alike – and in defending what they see as its long-term interests.
IN SOME cases, such as the radical pro-boycotters or the radical supporters of settlement expansion, their criticism has become transformed into a delegitimization of the very existence of Israel. For one group, the Jewish identity of the state is too nationalist, and it should be transformed into a binational state, while for the others it is not Jewish enough and is no longer deserving of support, as evidenced by their refusal to say the prayer for the well-being of the state in their synagogues.
One of the groups would like to present itself as more patriotic than the other, but this is a fallacy.
They are both equally part of the growing trend to delegitimize the country.
But for every individual who is critical of Israel for its position vis-a-vis the conflict with the Palestinians, there are three to four who are increasingly critical of the way in which our democratic values are being trampled.
In particular, these critics – the majority of whom have traditionally been strong supporters – single out such organizations as NGO Monitor and Im Tirtzu for their constant attacks on NGOs of the Left or academics, students or intellectuals who hold views which they oppose. The members of an audience explain – almost apologetically – how, as strong supporters, they are finding it increasingly difficult to speak up for the country when they see the basic values of democracy, freedom of speech and diversity of opinion being trampled upon.
It is all too easy to seek “enemies” among the radical Left, fundamentalist Islam or the racists of the far Right. But the real damage is coming from those groups who falsely set themselves up as defenders of the Jewish state.
They no longer have the right to cast a stone in the direction of the Israel haters, because they are responsible for eroding the very values around which the state was created and has existed for the past 60 years.
It is all too easy to home in on Durban as the root of all evil when it has become a convenient excuse for a growing reign of intolerance. I have used the term “McCarthyism” to describe this growing intolerance.
Many have argued that this is inappropriate, and that Israel cannot be compared to the intolerance of the early 1950s in the US – when academics, entertainers and other public figures were singled out for not being ‘patriotic’ enough at the height of the Cold War animosities.
If there are readers who can suggest a better word, I will be happy to adopt it. But until such a term is found, McCarthyism is taking hold in public discourse, and it is not being combatted – not on the street and not in the Knesset.
The attempt to legislate against NGOs and free speech, and the desire to control the curriculum of schools and universities through some centrally imposed ideology is McCarthyism in an extreme form.
The unchallenged adoption of these views is destroying Israel as a democracy, and is justifying its growing delegitimization. If the international community starts to exclude Israel from cooperation and membership projects in trade, science and culture, these same groups will not be able to blame anti-Semitism or Israel haters. They will have to take full responsibility for the damage they have caused.
The writer is a professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.