If we say ‘delegitimization’ enough times the public will believe there is no connection between what the gentiles say and what the Jews do.
Akiva Eldar, 29 November 2010
“Attempts by our enemies and their misguided fellow travelers to delegitimize the Jewish state must be countered,” warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu three weeks ago, in response to cries of protest by peace activists at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations in New Orleans.
“If the delegitimization continues it will be an obstacle to peace,” declared Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon recently. He added: “We are facing sophisticated enemies who are working in various ways to besmirch Israel’s reputation.”
Words like missiles. It’s an emergency. Hush, we’re shooting.
A look at the “guidebook” the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs is offering Israelis at the exit gates from the country reinforces the suspicion that the inflation in the expression “delegitimization” (formerly called “anti-Semitism” ) is not a random lexical construction.
“How many times have you had occasion to encounter information presented about Israel that was far from being real?” the tourist/good-will ambassador is asked before he is requested to “take part in changing the image of the State of Israel.” The booklet “Explaining Israel” reminds him of such things as the dates of the wars (including Operation Peace for Galilee ) and the victories (including the win by Maccabi Tel Aviv of the European Cup ), the humanitarian delegations and the invention of the disc-on-key.
There is not a single word about the Madrid conference, which paved the way to the direct peace negotiations and diplomatic relations with many important countries, such as China. There is no sign of the fact that the Oslo Accords opened doors to Israel in the Arab countries. Nor is there any trace of the peace with Jordan – a bonus for the Oslo agreement. Nothing about the Arab peace initiative, which is still waiting for an Israeli answer. The Public Diplomacy Ministry is also not mentioning that the European Union decided to upgrade relations with Israel – and then froze the process in the wake of the crisis of the Gaza-bound Turkish flotilla.
Israel is basking in the light of the delegitimization. It will not allow the inexhaustible tin of olive oil to be defiled by any hint of legitimization. It is much easier to give the world the finger when the whole of it is against you. If we say “delegitimization” enough times the public will believe there is no connection between what the gentiles say and what the Jews do.
If we are doomed not to be legitimate in a world that is totally against us – it is possible to throw people out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, to take over Silwan and to build settlements and outposts in the territories. If in Europe they are boycotting Israeli vegetables because of hatred of Israel – it is possible today to pass the law in the Knesset concerning acceptance committees in communities, and to shake the very foundation stones of democracy: the rights to equality, freedom and property. They give, they’ll get. If they give delegitimization, they’ll get the citizenship law.
Just as even paranoids can have enemies, Israel does have people who hate it and have not come to terms with its existence. However, the unbearable lightness of delegitimization is turning it into a double-edged sword. When the defense minister draws a straight line between delegitimization and Hamas and Hezbollah, there are those who will understand that an Israeli who reveals the establishment of an outpost or expresses criticism of excessive use of force in Operation Cast Lead is collaborating with the worst of our enemies.
From there the way is short to draconic legislation to restrict the freedom of expression of academics and human rights organizations, and to threats concerning the livelihood of performers. This is, after all, a time of emergency for Israel.
A senior Israeli diplomat in Europe has complained to me that leftist columnists and commentators are subverting the embassy’s public diplomacy efforts. From there the way is short to television presenter Yaakov Ahimeir’s disturbing call to his fellow journalists to defend Israel from “all kinds of slanderers who are trying to undermine our legitimacy.” The laureate of the life achievement award from the Journalists Association in Tel Aviv has proposed making the fight against delegitimization one of the missions of “patriotic journalism.”
Indeed, it is necessary not to dismiss the increasing delegitimization of Israel in foreign countries. But instead of whining and blaming the messengers, the captains of the ship of state would do well to change its direction. In the words of Akavia ben Mahalalel: “Your deeds will bring you closer and your deeds will distance you.”