klein.jpgIn a recent report published in the Forward, Nathan Guttman reports that ‘delegitimization’ is being used at the buzz-word against critics of Israel, particularly those involved in the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement such as Naomi Klein. It is a term that has been picked up in the US and the subject of extensive study and promotion by the well-resourced and apparently influential Reut Institute in Israel, which also goes for ‘Brand Israel’ (see Tikkun Olam for Reut’s bizarre world).

The report gives some insight to insider thinking in Israel about Israel’s critics, including people like myself who have a strong identity with Israel as a cultural home and community, but have no respect for its political-military strategy.
A key strategy, according to one of the Institute’s researchers:
“To fight this trend, as well as to weaken the delegitimizers, it is essential for supporters of an equitable solution for both sides to drive a wedge between critics of Israeli policy on the one hand, and delegitimizers of its existence on the other.”
Thus a cointelpro operation is desired to counter the critics.
To quote the report again,
The erosion in Israel’s status internationally is driven by the coalescence of two parallel process:
* The Resistance Network advancing the ‘implosion strategy’ that aims to precipitate Israel’s internal collapse through a policy of ‘overstretch’: To achieve this, the Resistance Network increases the burden of the ‘Occupation,’ delegitimizes Israel, and develops an asymmetric use-of-force doctrine in the military arena and towards Israel’s home front. These groups take their inspiration from the collapse of the former Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa.
* The Delegitimization Network aiming to turn Israel into a pariah state by undermining its moral legitimacy and ultimately aspiring towards eliminating the ‘Zionist entity.’
* …The Resistance Network relies on military means to sabotage every move directed at affecting separation between Israel and the Palestinians or securing a two-state solution.
* The Delegitimization Network tarnishes Israel’s reputation, ties Israel’s hands in defending itself against military assaults, and advances the ‘one-state solution.’

( They basically suggest everyone who opposes current politics is ultimately a ‘one stater’, or ‘delegitimizer’).
The full report of the Reut Institute, replete with a mix of military and social science lanaguage is appended below as an attachment. It bears widespread ciculation and comment, particularly because it collapes critics into adherents of radical ideologies (the resisters) or the “delegitimizers”.
It seems oblivious to the fact that a lot of people have strong feelings with Israel because of their personal moral compass, and as Silverstein points out in his Tikkun Olam blog, even when that point is admitted, it is given little credence or substance.
The approach they take is pretty classic–the problem is defined as “technical”–so if you get the techniques right, you can win the battle. You don’t actually have to examine your key assumptions or practices (does this sound like Vietnam?)
Of course, another key issue is that the phrase “equitable solution” is incredibly loaded, since it offers very little to Palestinians, but does not really challenge the current status quo (or delays change for ever), but the lobby is used to delaying tactics, and the Israeli government does all in its power to NOT come to a two-state solution, as Obama is finding out.
In addition, the current strategy is also to use “two state” solution as a mantra but claiming that those who believe the relationship is unequal are “promot[ing] unrealistic and destructive solutions” (such as a swift end to the Occupation or settlements?) (Quote from Reut). Another classic tactic is to say why pick on Israel, when Burma/Iran are just far worse etc.
Thus “deligitimization” is thrown around at people who cannot be considered as intrinsically hostile to Israel–people such as Naomi Klein. In fact, Klein accuses the Reut Institute of encouraging a dirty tricks campaign at what the Institute calls “hubs of delegitimization” such as Toronto, based on an analysis of their reports which use all sorts of military type terminology. As a response, she has come out swinging against accusations that she is ‘anti-Israel’, as distinct from against the occupation.
The report also says that delegitimizers include” Post-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish and Israeli intellectuals that operate in a supportive intellectual and academic environment in Europe and in some universities in North America and lend delegitimization efforts a ‘stamp of authenticity.’ This is extraordinarily symplistic analysis.
To quote Tony Judt, cited by the Forward (the full text is here)
“To be frank, the ‘de-legitimization’ issue is a fraud…I know no one in the professional world of political commentary, however angry about Israel’s behaviour, who thinks that the country has no right to exist…. ‘De-legitimization’ is just another way to invoke antisemitism as a silencer, but sounds better because [it’s] less exploitative of emotional pain.”
Furthermore,
“If Zionism is to succeed as a representation of the original ideas of the Zionist founders, Israel has to become a normal state. That was the idea. Israel should not be special because it is Jewish. Jews are to have a state just like everyone else has a state. It should have no more rights than Slovenia and no fewer. Therefore, it also has to behave like a state. It has to declare its frontiers, recognise international law, sign international treaties and agreements. Furthermore, other countries have to behave towards it the way they would towards any other state that broke those laws. Otherwise it is treated as special and Zionism as a project has failed. People will say: ‘Why are we picking on Israel? What about Libya? Yemen? Burma? China? All of which are much worse.’ Fine. But we are missing two things: first, Israel describes itself as a democracy and so it should be compared with democracies not with dictatorships; second, if Burma came to the EU and said, ‘It would be a huge advantage for us if we could have privileged trading rights with you,’ Europe would say: ‘First you have to release political prisoners, hold elections, open up your borders.’ We have to say the same things to Israel. Otherwise we are acknowledging that a Jewish state is an unusual thing – a weird, different thing that is not to be treated like every other state. It is the European bad conscience that is part of the problem.
Of course, Judt is entering into a discussion of post-Zionism or neo-Zionism and the one state/two state issue about which he has been written and been pilloried in the London Review of Books some years back, but to call his discourse ‘deligitimizing’ is going to far. We need to distinguish, I believe, is between Israeli politics, and the preservation of Jewish safety, cultural rights etc. in whatever solution emerges in the future. This is difficult from efforts which aim to negate the ‘Jewish presence’ for want of a better term in historic Palestine.
Thus Judt is being too generous to some (but not all critics) of Israel. One only has to look at a selection of left or strong critics of Israel (for example Juan Cole, or the strange Gilad Atzmon) or some writers for the website Counterpunch, some Palestinian websites, and particularly Islamist websites, to see that there is often little tolerance for a solution which might include the continued existence of even a state of Israel because the concept of Israel, in their eyes, is too tied up with a history, as they see it, of racism, violence and exclusion, an integral part of colonialism, imperialism, the US global strategy etc, and ethnocentrism to boot. There is certainly an uncritical adoption of this viewpoint by many people not because, I suspect, they hold such virulent views, but because they are angry over the occupation and so on.
Indeed, and this is a healthy sign, in the Palestian camp, a recent study by Hussein Ibish for the American Task Force on Palestine, critiques many pro-Palestinian advocates that there is a “puzzling lack of interest in accommodating Jewish Israeli interests and perspectives”, including lack of detail about how an equal state is to be developed. If they are indeed serious about future equality as distinct from being covert racists and irredentists, then the devil is in the detail.
However, Reut’s hard-right response, gloved in underground political tactics, to put all opponents in the same camp, does not solve the problem and only adds fuel to the fire.
I suspect that the “official” leadership here is well aware of the Reut strategy for political warfare. But it’s not just about the spin.

20100310 Delegitimacy Eng.pdf