By ERAN SHAYSHON
In recent years, Israel has been subject to a systematic assault on the very legitimacy of its existence. The confusion in Israel regarding the increasing attempts to put senior Israeli officers on trial following the Goldstone report demonstrate the lack of a clear Israeli strategy to deal with the political-diplomatic challenges.
For more than 60 years, Israel's national security concept was built and updated around its military and security challenges. The issue of the Jewish State's political legitimacy was considered to be permanently off the table following UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (The Partition Plan) in November 1947. The role of Israel's status in the international arena has been underappreciated here, and is considered a "technical" issue of hasbara (public diplomacy).
However, the recent assaults on the state's legitimacy threaten to push Israel towards the status of a pariah state and therefore pose a real threat. These assaults are being promoted by a coalition of pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic groups that have made the fundamental delegitimization of Israel their main rallying cry. The increasing threat they pose emanates from their ability to unite with "softer" critics of Israeli policies to create a "wall of delegitimacy" against Israel. The motivation of the hard-core ideological generators of anti-Zionism is permanent and transcendent of context - they will always strive to coalesce around any outstanding issue against us.
But the negative position of the "soft" critics is a result of Israel's international image which make criticizing it a fashionable trend. They seemingly focus on condemning the Israeli occupation and its policy towards Arab citizens.
Ultimately, the comparison the anti-Zionists promote between Israel and Apartheid South Africa encourages economic and academic boycotts of Israel and blurs the difference between a legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and basic delegitimatization of its existence.
BREAKING THIS unholy alliance between the hard-core anti-Zionists and "softer" critics can be achieved through several measures: recapturing international trust, identifying and neutralizing hubs of de-legitimacy, and improving Israel's image through branding.
Putting aside the well-placed criticism against the UN Human Right Council (UNHRC), the Goldstone report also reflects genuine distrust by key international players in Israel's will or capacity to exhaust justice and enforce human rights.
The result is that Israel is being treated like a third-world country whose affairs are liable to be criticized, interfered with and challenged by international actors. Therefore, recapturing international trust is of vital importance to abate at least some of the motivation to interfere with internal Israeli sovereign issues. Seemingly, following the Goldstone report, Israel can avoid the call for sanctions by conducting its own sincere investigations.
Moreover, in order to challenge international distrust, Israel must dramatically increase the use of diplomacy with influential individuals and entities around the globe. The decreasing number of Israeli diplomats, and the closing down of diplomatic missions, suggest that this point is far from trivial.
Israeli diplomacy must also adopt a relevant modus operadi towards major "hubs" of delegitimacy. It takes for few places like London, Madrid, Toronto, Brussels and Berkeley to carry most of the weight to delegitimize Israel, with pro-Palestinian groups there promoting their agenda by using the convergence of international media, legal systems, academic institution and NGOs.
The unique social, economic and political make-up of each such "hub" requires the creation of a tailor-made approach. London, for example, has become an engine of delegitimacy due in part to its position as a media, cultural and academic center, its impact on other English-speaking nations, its colonial history and its influential Muslim community. The Israeli diplomatic effort in London, which focuses almost exclusively on engaging the British government, must also work on the judicial, social, cultural and municipal levels, which are currently abandoned to the forces of delegitimacy.
FINALLY, THE project of branding Israel is of strategic importance. The Jewish State is generally associated with war and violence and has little relevance for most people in leading countries. The attempt to focus on hasbara in terms of defending our actions to the world is wrong, as it reinforces the image of Israel as a conflict-ridden place and has at best only short-lived benefits in terms of international legitimacy. By projecting an image of a modern and vibrant country with relevance beyond the conflict, people could learn to identify with Israel on a more human level. The project of branding Israel, currently conducted by the Foreign Ministry, should be endorsed as a national goal and backed with the appropriate budget.
By utilizing a multi-pronged approach, Israel can begin to adapt its national security concept to the very real threats it faces in the international arena.
The writer is an analyst team leader at the Reut Institute for Policy Planning
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