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Op-Ed: Who's Afraid of 'Delegitimization'?

Israel must not allow threats of "delegitimization" to succeed where bombs and bullets have failed.
Published: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 10:46 AM


"Delegitimization on steroids." That is what US Secretary of State John Kerry is said to have threatened Netanyahu with, should the Israeli Prime Minister not pursue talks with the Palestinian Authority to a conclusion that satisfies that amorphous yet omnipotent entity: the international community.

If Jeffrey Goldberg's "anonymous source" is to be believed, and it probably is, "delegitimization" is the only thing Bibi fears as much as the prospect of the Iranian regime acquiring nuclear weapons.

It is a bizarre threat, and an even stranger comparison. The campaign to "delegitimize" Israel is of course an issue - but one which should dictate government policy?

What is even stranger is the fact that so many people I have spoken to agree entirely with the idea that "delegitimization" is some sort of existential threat to the State of Israel. From left to right, I have seen staunch supporters of Israel go weak at the knees at the first utterance of condemnation at the building of homes for Jews in Jerusalem.

The idea that those voices of condemnation could grow, and apply pressure (gasp) on us to do as they wish, is deemed as catastrophic as a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a regime which seeks our annihilation.

It is a mentality that reeks of insecurity, and one which permeates much of our community.

I remember when, around three years ago, a particular self-appointed "leader" of the British Jewish community made the following, staggeringly arrogant assertion:

"The government of Israel… have to recognize that their actions directly impact on me as a Jew living in London. When they do good things it is good for me, when they do bad things, it’s bad for me. And the impact on me is as significant as it is on Jews living in Israel… I want them to recognize that." [Emphasis mine.]

The ramifications of what he said cannot be overstated, and that comment has stayed with me ever since. In his mind, if Israeli citizens were to find themselves, say, at the receiving end of deadly terrorism and rocket attacks which threatened their lives, and the government took the decision to enact legislation or undertake a military operation in response - it should equally consider how this rich tycoon might be "impacted upon" by such policies.

At the time, many British (and other) Jews were furious at such a self-absorbed and delusional worldview. But it is symptomatic of a wider problem - one which also effects regular Jews and supporters of Israel, and which threatens to paralyze our very ability to confront the threats posed to our homeland, the State of Israel.

Make no mistake: attempts to "delegitimize" Israel are unjust, and must be fought by every fair-minded individual, Jewish or not. Why should those who champion every branch of the pan-Arab nationalist march in the Middle East, begrudge the rights of another of the Middle East's indigenous peoples, the Jews, their own right to an independent state?

Why should we stand silent in the face of lies, blood libels and incitement to violence? Of course, we have a duty to respond, and to stand up for the truth, with bravery and with confidence in the justness of our cause.

And "delegitimization" is indeed a very real problem, because the power of discourse should not be underestimated in an era of liberal democracy and mass media.

It is something that I know and have experienced myself, having spent a great deal of my time prior to Aliyah fighting that very phenomenon, in what has been termed the "hub of hubs" of the campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel.

But, that said, it is critical that we retain our perspective.

"Delegitimization" is a problem, but it is not a nuclear warhead. It will not kill us. It can't.

Let it be said, loud and clear: the Jewish national movement has survived nearly 2,000 years of exile and massacres, including more than one hundred years of vicious attacks by the forces of pan-Arabism and Islamism, which attempted to wipe us out and strangle our fledgling state at birth, and which still actively pursue our destruction. Similarly, Zionism and the State of Israel will withstand the gnashing of teeth and spitting of venom from lowlives spanning the far-left and the far-right, and the misplaced ideas of the chattering classes.

The power of discourse is real - but that is precisely why, if we relate to the narrative of our enemies as an existential threat, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Whatever one's views on the Arab-Israel conflict, the idea that the State of Israel could be cajoled into destroying dozens of communities, and ethnically-cleansing hundreds of thousands of its own people from their own homeland, purely out of fear of the condemnations - and possibly even diplomatic and political pressure - of other states is sheer suicide.

Ultimately, it marks the surrender of Israeli sovereignty. If all the "international community" needs to do to control our actions is to form strident opinions and threaten to "not recognize us", and possibly apply political and economic pressure on us if we do not comply with their will, what hope do we have?

It is sheer madness for a sovereign state to surrender its decision-making power to the whims of others. All states act purely out of their own self interest, and the hope that we can somehow align all of our own interests with those of others at the same time, particularly in such a volatile region and context, is delusional.

We have regressed to the world of the exile, where our very existence and "legitimacy" relies upon the largess of other nations. And that is precisely where this insecurity stems from.

It is time to stand proudly and cast off the insecurities of two millenia of exile. We will confront the cowardly attempts to deny our rights to our ancient homeland - but we must not allow the mere lashing of tongues to succeed where bullets, bombs and pogroms have failed.

And our Prime Minister, the leader of the reestablished independent Jewish State, should lead the way.