This is a guest post by Gabriel
According to a report issued by the Reut Institute:
“Israel is facing a dramatic assault on the very legitimacy of its existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”
The report itself, as these types of reports sometimes do, lumps together legitimate criticism of Israel with straight forward antisemitism as if Belgium banning selling Israel arms and publishing a modern-day blood libel in a newspaper are similar in any way. However, far and away, most of the issues in the report are serious. Israel is being delegitimized around the world and the Israeli government is doing very little about it. Not only that, but the threat seems to be spreading. What was not so long ago, an issue for extreme fringe groups, has started to make its way into the mainstream. What can they do? Reut recommends setting up a counter-network, in which Israel’s embassies in centres of delegitimization activity would serve as “front positions” in the war against the vilification of Israel. What the report does not say is that the best way to counter this effort to deligitimize Israel is to take away the ammunition from these groups. That is, actually attempt to move towards making peace. Yes, there will always be people who will demonize Israel no matter what. There will always be anti-Semites who try to hind the cover of Israel do spew their hatred. The problem however, is that more moderate people, people who are by no means anti-Semites, are now speaking out against Israel.
As Carlo Strenger excellently put it in his fabulous Haaretz piece
“I find it ever more difficult to convince quite moderate people in the West, journalists, academics and diplomats who are by no means enemies of Israel, never mind moderate Palestinians, that Israel basically wants peace.
My interlocutors keep asking: ‘But what reason does Israel have to continue building in the West Bank, if it really intends to leave?’ and ‘give me one reason why Israel keeps up the stranglehold on Gaza when it comes to building materials, food and other humanitarian aid?'”
I too have the same problem. Moderate, logical people all over the world cannot for a second believe that Israel is interested in peace. While Bibi’s obfuscations and deflections may appeal to many domestic voters, it has become obvious to international observers that this Israeli government is interested only in staying in power. While many of Israel’s supporters may see the occasional “we want peace” slogan that emanates from the government as a true indication of its intentions, internationally, the facts speak a lot louder. This government had to be dragged kicking and screaming just to partially halt illegal building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The answer to so many of Israel’s problems are the same. The Iranian threat, the delegitimization campaign, the demographic threat, Hezbollah, and others can all be solved or at the very least, greatly lessened, by a genuine Israeli movement towards real peace. This is not to say that Israel’s opposite numbers are a bunch of peace-lovers only held back by Israel’s intransigence, but the world is tiring of Israeli government after government who expands further and further into the West Bank. Government after government that can justify increasingly cruel and unjustifiable measures against Palestinians. No counter-network and no PR person can undo the damage Israel does to itself.
Yes, Sri Lanka with the Tamils and before that Russia with the Chechens (and Turkey with the Kurds, and so on…) ran even worse campaigns against minority populations and faced a fraction of the protests Israel has faced. Yes, Israel is singled out for special opprobrium. Yes, there is massive anti-Semitism intertwined with many of the anti-Israel campaigns. However, none of these objections validate what Israel does. Does the fact that Sri Lanka bombed a hospital make stealing Palestinian land any more palatable? Do the Russian atrocities in Chechnya justify Israel not allowing pasta into Gaza?
Anti-Semites will never be appeased and are not worth engaging on Israel. But to those people who simply care about basic human values, how do you answer “Why does Israel keep expanding its settlements into areas it knows it would have to evacuate in any peace deal?” How can any reasonable person see “Sudan has killed hundreds of thousands of people” or accusations of anti-Semitism against any critic of Israel as anything more than a feeble deflection. It is true that no matter what Israel does, some people will vilify it. Israel should not make movements towards peace to mollify them or anyone. It should do so because it is both the moral thing to do and a strategic necessity for Israel’s long-term survival. The deligimization movement will be returned to a fringe movement as result. Otherwise, the deligitimization of Israel is going to get stronger and stronger and the voices against this movement, the reasoned ones, will fall silent.