The panel discussion title was “De-Legitimization: Who is at Fault? Us or Them?” except that the difficulty of pronouncing “delegitimization” made the prominent guests finally give up and call it deligitimiblahblah. Yes, it made me want to take Abe Foxman and Miri Eisen Diaper Genie shopping at Babies R Us.
The panel included Foxman from the ADL, Irwin Cotler, the great human rights lawyer and former Canadian Justice Minister, Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Lord Peter Goldsmith, Former Attorney General of England, Wales and Northern Ireland and Miri Eisin, Former International Media Advisor to the Prime Minister and a key Israeli spokesperson.
Get it? This was a high-powered, big-swinging panel…which of course could only give an overview of what is happening with the deligitimiblahblah of Israel and not really give a look at this war from ground level.
Still, it was interesting to hear the discussion. Foxman had one point to make: ignore the deligitimiblahblah because when we address it, we legitimize it and the claimants’ claims. He felt that this is simply a different face to the old and well-established Arab rejectionism of Israel.
Irwin Cotler was fantastic. He spoke at a rate of about 200 words a minute and in about 6 minutes managed to present an overview of a number of key areas where Israel is under severe attack. A key point that he made is that he perceives great danger in the “laundering of deligitimization under the rubric of human rights” and he went on to suggest that this placed Israel in a challenging position because it essentially becomes the bete noir (my term, not his) of the international community and particularly those who care about human rights (and who doesn’t?).
He pointed to six areas where Israel was being deligitimized but I recorded just five (sue me):
– the globalization of rights and laws particularly through NGO’s and activities such as Durban I and in addition, the globalization of indictments against those who are perceived to have violated those laws.
– The reconfiguration, or repackaging if you will, of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the Palestinian-Israel conflict.
– A human rights revolution in our time that has become a form of secular religion for many. In this metaphor, Israel is the anti-christ.
– Palestinianization of of the human rights discussion in that it has become a key focus of the entire human rights debate.
– The fact “elites” such as academics were now participating and taking active roles in the attacks on Israel, giving them additional heft.
How is the laundering of the deligitimization taking place?
1. Under the protective cover of the UN. At any given time there are forums within that august body that are investigating or reporting on Israel in some negative fashion and then the institution’s reputation ensures that this information is disseminated.
2. Lawfare, wherein universal jurisdiction that was actually something Israel launched in the modern era with the Eichmann trial is now held over Israel’s head and Israel and its leadership is being singled out.
3. The attacks on Israel’s human rights record within the UNHRC.
4. The use of the Apartheid and Nazism comparisons in attacks on Israel.
Hoenlein gave a passionate speech decrying the unfairness of the deligitimization and pointing out that in some ways the attacks resembled a modern blood libel, pointing out that this began to evolve in Durban 2001 and that BDS, for example, was a consequence of this movement’s desire to deligitimize Israel.
Miri Eisen was concerned about the word deligitimization and eventually invented the new word deligitimiblahblah. Her concern appeared to be the impact on Israelis and Israel’s supporters.
Lord Goldsmith made a couple of interesting remarks. The first hinted that he was part of a team that recently argued in the UK to have their universal jurisdiction laws changed so that Israeli leaders could travel there without fear of being arrested. He also expressed deep concern that should the Palestinians succeed in the General Assembly in September and actually have their state declared, Israel would then find itself fighting a significant number of serious lawsuits and would also be a state illegally occupying another state and the settlements would be unequivocally illegal.
The panel could not offer any serious solutions to the problem of Israel’s deligitimiblahblah. Permit me to suggest why: they were looking at the big picture and the battles they fight tend to be in the governmental, legal, political and similar sectors. However, this war is happening all too often on the ground as well and far outside mainstream institutions. It is happening all over the Internet, on blogs, discussion boards, comment boards, in media articles and, of course, on university campuses both within and without the classroom.
I can say that the experience of those of us who tend to write about Israel from a political perspective here on Jewlicious has taught us that this is a deep and virtually endless war. It’s like fighting the ocean because the waves keep coming and we are too few to fight back all of them. I can also attest to the sophistication of the other side. They possess not only knowledge of the conflict, its history and various analyses of this history, but over the years we have seen excellent presentations of this material including effective counter-arguments to some of our strongest points – claims that required enormous time and effort to counter. In this regard, we’ve learned that one can never stand still because their counter-arguments continue to evolve and therefore so must ours.
A couple of the panelists wished that Israel and its supporters could turn defense into offense. Obviously, the deligitimiblahblah has put all of us on the defensive and as a result, the discussion is often dictated by the other side. I think the panelists are a little naive about the complexity of taking the offensive. The problems with this approach include the underdog status of the Palestinians, the human rights language and rules that are used against Israel as Cotler pointed out, and the pervasiveness of a more progressive outlook on the world and relations among people that tends to stand opposite many Israeli positions both in the public and the political sphere. The questions regarding the legality of the settlements and the highly negative depiction of settlers in the media as religious fanatics who do not shy away from attacking Palestinians or their fields also present serious challenges.
I personally believe there is a great opportunity, right now in these very days, however, to launch the “offensive.” This is because of the so-called Arab Spring.
First and foremost, the Arab Spring has brought to light just how nasty and murderous the regimes in the Arab countries are and have been. Not only are they tyrannical, but these are countries that are bigger in size and population, and more resource-rich than Israel. However, Israel has outdistanced them in the realm of economy, per capita income, health and longevity, agriculture, technology, culture, etc. These countries were all born in the early to mid Twentieth Century just like Israel, so what excuse have they for not achieving results comparable to Israel’s?
Along the same lines, the Arab Spring starkly exposes the differences between these tyrranies and Israel with its vibrant democracy, strong independent judiciary and moral army. Again, in contrast with the Arab states, this highlights Israel’s positives leaving little room for argument. Even if the debater seeks to point out, say, discrimination within Israel, no matter how bad they may or may not describe it, there is simply no comparison to having more than a thousand Syrians murdered by their own government as it seeks to preserve power.
The bitter truth of this argument is that it also undermines the many efforts by the UN, NGOs and other bodies that attack Israel. Libya, for example, is the former chair of the UNHRC’s predecessor body, and Syria’s very recent bid to be elected into that forum only failed after they murdered a couple of hundred of their citizens. The developments in these two countries, while new, do not reflect a new reality, this has been the nature of “human rights” in those and many other member states of the UNHRC. We now have an opportunity to point out the deficiencies of this body and by extension most other UN bodies that focus on Israel in their critiques. Exposing these flaws and bias also undermines those who have relied upon these organizations or bodies to find ways to attack Israel.
Additionally, it is not hard to show some deep Palestinian involvement in deligitimiblahblah activities by pointing out some readily available information that shows PA involvement in many of these delegitimization efforts. Although the panel kept saying that the global deligitimiblahblah movement is not centralized, I think it’s possible to show that it is. Just read our coverage of what happened in Toronto last year to see how we uncovered all kinds of links to the PA through what appeared to be grassroots activities challenging Israel.