Exploring the threat of delegitimization
The campaign to delegitimize Israel is growing steadily and becoming ever more hostile. Not only does this movement seek to strip away Israel''s lawful existence but to prevent Jewish self-determination altogether. A key point is that the delegitmization movement is mostly non-violent, so outside observers have the false impression that it is no real threat. Delegitimization is such a hot topic that it became one of the major agenda points at the 2011 Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in Denver last Week. Several panels devoted their energies to analyzing the anti-Israel movement and coming up with ways to counter it. The "Assault on Israel''s Legitmiacy" panel was particularly powerful in this regard.Gidi Grinstein, founder and president of the Reut Institute, served as moderator of the panel, whose three panelists included the Honorable Irwin Cotler, Member of Canada’s Parliament; the Right Honorable Dr. Denis MacShane, Member of the United Kingdom’s Parliament; and Einat Wilf, Member of Knesset (MK).
A second panel titled “How Big a Tent Do We Need?” convened as a “town hall” meeting and aimed to explore the various views toward Israel within the Jewish community. Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, served as moderator; the three panelists were Barry Shrage, president of CJP, Greater Boston’s Jewish Federation; Jonathan Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary magazine; and Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, co-founder of the educational organization Encounter.
By exploring conflicting viewpoints in the Jewish community, the panel sought to determine what views should and should not be embraced, and indeed whether all views should be welcome at all.
In the session on the “Assault on Israel’s Legitimacy,” meanwhile, panelists presented individual takes on the delegitimization movement, along with solutions they believed might be useful to students, writers, and other activists responding to the outlandish claims frequently made against the Jewish state.
During Einat Wilf’s presentation, the MKcalled delegitimization “a strategic threat to Israel,” and like the other panelists, described the delegitimizers as determined to foment the destruction of Israel through public deception. MP Cotler took things a step further, saying, “The real issue is not so much delegitimization but the masking of it under the law.” Cotler explained that the delegitimizers are using forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council to slander Israel, and that such efforts are “delegitimizing the whole struggle for human rights itself.”
In the “How Big a Tent Do We Need” town hall panel, speakers said that the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement should not be embraced by the Jewish community because its core goal is to delegitimize Israel. In a statement echoing Wilf’s comment that “delegitimization is a strategic threat to Israel,” CJP’s Shrage said, “BDS has no place in our community because, underneath the BDS movement, they’re really against Israel, period.”
Indeed, the two panels’ shared focus was finding solutions for dealing with the delegitimization movement as a whole. Both panels also dealt with the issue of whether or not to allow certain views inside “the tent.” MacShane, a panelist in the Assault on Israel’s Legitimacypanel, cogently argued that, “Delegitimization must be treated as an ideology.”
Another conference theme was the concern over whether combating delegitimization efforts might embolden anti-Israel activists. As Commentary’s Tobin said, “We must fund and empower Israel education and consider what it is as a community that we stand for.” This statement was almost identical to Cotler’s suggestion to “retake the narrative” and air the truth about Israel in multiple contexts.
One panelist who differed from the majority on the issue of embracing anti-Israel movements such as BDS was Rabbi Weintraub. “We don’t extinguish viewpoints by vanishing them; we embolden them,” the rabbi said. Strongly disagreeing, Tobin responded that, “Inclusivity is very important to cultivate civil discussions and respectful discourse,” but “red lines are necessary.”
Tobin went on to state that, “What is scary is when we decide in the name of inclusivity that groups that stand for things that work against what we as a community should be supporting, get brought in and become part of this consensus and then become equal to those who support Israel.”
Inclusivity aside, delegitimization is a major issue facing the state of Israel and the Jewish people globally. By slandering Israel time and time again, anti-Israel activists are looking to destroy the Jewish state and end Jewish self-determination. Now that delegitimization has been recognized as a threat, activists’ next step is to implement the solutions developed at the GA. One of the best came from Wilf, whose vision involves developing an “I-IDF” (Israeli Intellectual Defense Forces) “responsible and committed to the intellectual defense of Israel.”
That being said, members of the Jewish community must now educate themselves about what Israel stands for. Thankfully, pro-Israel groups, such as the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and American Zionist Movement (AZM) have made this easier for students and young professionals to do with programming options, such as ZOA’s Student Leadership Mission to Israel or AZM’s Do The Write Thing program for young professionals.
If we are to truly oppose the delegitimization of Israel, then it is our duty as Zionists and purveyors of justice to learn more about the facts. No longer should Israel’s detractors have free rein to make false claims, take advantage of the law, and use just causes like human rights to attack the Jewish State of Israel—because the facts to dispel those myths are firmly on our side.