"pro-Israel" lobby's latest hobbyhorse is "delegitimization." Those who
criticize Israeli policies are accused of trying to "delegitimize" Israel,
which supposedly means denying Israel's right to exist. Even President Obama
has gotten into the act, stating in his May 19 speech that "for the
Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure."
to be referring to the Palestinians' plan to seek recognition of their state at
the United Nations this fall, although it's hard to imagine just how that would
the Palestinians are not seeking statehood in Israeli territory but in
territory that the whole world (including Israel) recognizes as having been
occupied by Israel only after the 1967 war. Rather than seeking Israel's
elimination, the Palestinians who intend to go to the United Nations are
seeking establishment of a state alongside Israel. (That state would encompass 22
percent of Mandate Palestine, with Israel possessing 78 percent.)
concept of "delegitimization" seems archaic. Israel achieved its "legitimacy"
when the United Nations recognized it 63 years ago. It has one of the strongest
economies in the world. Its military is the most powerful in the region. It has
a nuclear arsenal of some 200 bombs, with the ability to launch them from land,
sea, and air.
context, the whole idea of "delegitimizing" Israel sounds silly. Israel can't
So what is
the lobby talking about?
The answer is
simple: It is talking about the intensifying opposition to the occupation of
the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza which, by almost any standard, is illegitimate.
It is talking about opposition to the settlements, which are not only
illegitimate but illegal under international law. It is talking about calls for Israel
to grant Palestinians equal rights.
determination to change the subject from the existence of the occupation to the
existence of Israel makes sense strategically. Israel has no case when it comes
to the occupation, which the entire world (except Israel) agrees must end. But
Israel certainly has the upper hand in any argument over its right to exist and
to defend itself.
That is why
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu routinely invokes Israel's "right to
self-defense" every time he tries to explain away some Israeli attack on
Palestinians, no matter whether they are armed fighters or innocent civilians. If
the whole Israeli-Palestinian discussion is about Israel's right to defend
itself, Israel wins the argument. But if it is about the occupation -- which is,
in fact, what the conflict has been about since 1993 when the PLO recognized
Israel -- it loses.
that long ago that neither the Israeli government nor the lobby worried about
the "forces of delegitimization."
contrary, in 1993, following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's recognition of the Palestinians'
right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32
of the 43 sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India
and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan
signed a peace treaty and several of the Arab emirates began quiet dealings
boycott of Israel ended. Foreign investment soared. No one discussed
"delegitimization" while much of the world, including the Muslim world, was
knocking on Israel's door to establish or deepen ties.
continued so long as the Israeli government seemed to be genuinely engaged in
the peace process.
graphic demonstration of Israel's high international standing back then occurred
at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in 1995, which rivaled President
Kennedy's in terms of international representation.
virtually every nation on Earth came to pay homage to Rabin: President Clinton,
Prince Charles, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, every European president or
prime minister, top officials from most of Africa and Asia (including India and
China), Latin America, Turkey, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia.
Yasir Arafat himself went to Mrs. Rabin's Tel Aviv apartment to express his
mourned Rabin because under him, Israel had embraced the cause of peace with
the Palestinians. The homage to Rabin was a clear demonstration -- as was the
opening of trade and diplomatic relations with formerly hostile states -- that
Israel was not being isolated because it is a Jewish state and hence illegitimate,
but because of how it treated the Palestinians.
And that is
the case today. It's not the Palestinians who are delegitimizing Israel, but the
Israeli government which maintains the occupation. And the leading delegitimizer
is Binyamin Netanyahu, whose contemptuous rejection of peace is turning Israel
into an international pariah.
Netanyahu received an embarrassing number of standing ovations when he spoke
before the United States Congress. But that demonstrates nothing except the
power of the lobby. It is doubtful that Netanyahu would get even one standing
ovation in any other parliament in the world -- and that includes Israel's. The
only thing we learned (yet again) from Netanyahu's reception by Congress is
that money talks. What else is new?
ignore the talk about "delegitimization," even though Madison Avenue message-makers
certainly deserve credit for coming up with that clever distraction. Israel's
problem is the occupation, the Israeli government that defends it, and the
lobby that enforces support for it in Congress and the White House.
Israel's "best friends" are among its worst enemies.