Britain must take responsibility

The country should recognize the role some key elements in its society play in the delegitimization campaign against Israel.

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Parts of this article are excerpted from a speech MK Nachman Shai (Kadima) gave to the Ambassadors’ Round Table in London last week, which focused on how the British media covers events in the region and the delegitimization of Israel.
We in Israel are well aware of the new battle over Israel’s legitimacy, and follow it closely. It is a battle which has inherited the violent physical encounters from the battlefield or even the Israeli Home Front, that has frequently been struck by terrorism.
Undoubtedly, the fact that Israel has succeeded in suppressing terrorism to a large extent while continuing to maintain a relatively stable civilian life is a great achievement that will be studied in other western liberal democracies – such as Britain – which have also fallen victim to terrorist attacks.
Characteristically, Terrorism and threats do not disappear; they just take on new faces. The military front has thus been replaced by public diplomacy, economics and the legal field.
The battle on these fronts is not waged in the alleys of the casbah in Nablus or on the Gaza border, but rather in the corridors of the UN and Geneva, in the market places of Egypt and Portugal, in the ports of northern Europe, in the International Court of Justice in the Hague and, of course, in the media.
I would like to make it clear that the change in means has in no way changed the ends. The goal remains the same – to cause severe damage to Israel, damage that will squeeze its borders, bruise its national fortitude, undermine its economy and above all put its very right to exist in doubt.
Delegitimization rests on a technological infrastructure which large parts of the world’s population are able to use. This infrastructure has created a global social network.
The most prominent manifestation of these networks is the NGOs, which have created a meta-national system and which and manage to create change where states or international organizations have failed to do so. These are the new players, whose strength Israel has had a taste of over the last decade. It began with the biased Durban Conference in 2000 and continued with prominent milestones such as the Goldstone Report and the Turkish Flotilla in 2010.
A CLOSE look reveals that Britain has been one of the focal points of the delegitimization. It was there that the strange but powerful alliance between the radical Left in Europe and Islamic extremism was formed.
It is there that British academia led the attempt at academic boycott of Israeli scholars, which was later called off. In Britain, the trade unions joined together to impose boycotts on Israeli products.
And in Britain, neither the previous nor the current government has garnered the strength to prevent the abuse of universal law. Israeli leaders avoid London for fear of being arrested. Just this week, as British Foreign Secretary William Hague visits the region, Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor canceled his trip to London for fear of arrest for his involvement in the interception of the Gaza flotilla in May. With this, the hope that the new, Conservative government in Britain which promised to amend the law, would actually do so, vanished. Talks on this issue continue, but in the meantime, the UK is not a safe destination for Israeli leaders.
Late last month, hundreds of thousands of classified documents were published by Wikileaks, some of which indicated that the US and the UK, in the war on terror, have also unintentionally killed civilians and committed acts that some would call war crimes. But Israel is judged by different standards in the international community.
I AM constantly looking for the source of Britain’s hostility toward Israel. I would like to stress that studies in Britain show that the British public is not hostile, because it understands the threat Israel faces, does not blame Israel for the continuation of the Jewish- Palestinian conflict, and does not and will not participate in the boycotts.
Thus, the only conclusion is that the problem lies in the leadership.
It is the political, academic and trade union leaders that are rallying against Israel. In any event, the fact is that Britain is a leading player in the delegitimization campaign against Israel, and this is where the media come in.
Even today, when multi-channel and multi-source new media pose a threat to the eminence of the “old media,” the strength of the latter remains formidable: in London, the BBC, SKY, Reuters, the Guardian, the Financial Times and The Economist are still active.
Their circulation may not be so high, but they are still influential.
And they are doing Israel an injustice. Under the guise of “evenhandedness,” the British media strengthen the “weak” and weaken the “strong,” encourages “David” and condemns “Goliath.”
The media is not hostile to us per se, but by taking these positions, it aligns itself on the side of our enemies.
I don’t claim we are perfect. Far from it. I do not fully agree that the IDF is the world’s most moral army. It does maintain a high moral standard, though and that, too, is not easy. Wasn’t it Britain that responded to rocket attacks on its territory with the blanketbombing of civilian targets in Germany? Wasn’t it Britain that recently acted with determination in Iraq, even at the expense of civilian casualties? And continues to do so in Afghanistan.
I’m not criticizing these actions. I understand. At the same time, one cannot accept double standards, and the liberal democratic world cannot demand of us what it does not demand of itself.
Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism.
ISRAEL WELCOMES criticism and is mindful of it. Criticism is important and even strengthens us. Its light indeed roots out evil.
Israel frequently criticizes itself. But I totally oppose any attempt to cast doubt on Israel’s right to exist. Just as I oppose the voices at home that denounce any criticism as delegitimization.
I would like to invite the media into a world they pass over, either because it is not newsworthy or because its facts get in the way of the story. This is the Israel of Nobel Prizes, of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship. The Israel of progressive agriculture and hi-tech. The Israel of music, dance, literature. The story of Israel as a state of values, which places democracy at centerstage is not generally known. This is the simple truth that will defeat delegitimization in the long run, because it exposes everything that Israel’s enemies are trying to destroy – our stability, continuity and morality.
We are faced with a great challenge – to listen, to closely examine the criticism, to choose the relevant and just criticism and reject the rest. But this does not absolve the media in general and the British media in particular from responsibility. I expect it to delve deeper, to elaborate and base criticism on hard facts. Just like the state, the media too has a responsibility.
The writer is a Kadima MK and a former IDF spokesman.