No One Is Questioning Israel's Legitimacy

Uncritical usage of the term 'delegitimization,' which is characteristic of Israel's political discourse, the government's public relations efforts and the activity of overseas Jewish organizations, does damage to Israel.

Shlomo Avineri
Shlomo Avineri
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Shlomo Avineri
Shlomo Avineri

A very senior minister, who belongs to neither Likud nor Yisrael Beiteinu, voiced his concern to me some while back over the possibility that the General Assembly of the UN would decide to recognize a Palestinian state in the June 1967 borders. Such a decision, he said, would amount to delegitimizing Israel.

Such uncritical usage of the term "delegitimization" is characteristic of Israel's political discourse, the government's public relations efforts and the activity of overseas Jewish organizations, some of which have set up special task forces on "the war against delegitimization." Despite the best of intentions, all of this does damage to Israel.

There is no doubt that UN support for establishing a Palestinian state without negotiations would pose a difficult problem for Israel. But such a decision would not delegitimize the state of Israel. Indeed, one could even argue the opposite: Recognizing a Palestinian state within 1967 borders also means recognizing that Israel's borders are the 1967 lines. These borders include West Jerusalem, thus effectively recognizing it as part of Israel - something even the country's best friends have hitherto been unwilling to do.

The truth is there are no significant moves afoot anywhere on Earth to delegitimize Israel. There are small, marginal groups, primarily among extreme left wing academics, that are nourished in part by Arab propaganda and cast doubt on Israel's right to exist. But no country that maintains diplomatic relations with Israel has ever made any claim against its legitimate existence, and Israel's membership in the UN is the best possible proof of this.

Israel's government has turned delegitimization - an issue located on the vocal but ephemeral margins of international political discourse - into a problem that must be dealt with. It has thereby granted a marginal, unimportant position a status out of all proportion to its true dimensions.

Even Adm. Eliezer Marom, the commander of the navy - who is a bold warrior, but not exactly an expert in political theory or international law - warned that the latest planned flotilla to the Gaza Strip is meant to delegitimize Israel. This is far too reminiscent of the (failed ) tropes of Soviet propaganda, which presented every criticism of the Soviet Union as an assault on the Soviet state's very right to exist. Such claims are completely delusional: Criticism of the naval blockade on Gaza does not constitute delegitimization of Israel.

It's clear why right wing political figures have an interest in inflating every criticism of Israel and raising it to the level of delegitimization: Most criticism of Israel relates to its settlement policy, which is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, but is far from being accepted by the entire Israeli political spectrum.

Since it is hard to defend this policy overseas, partly because there is so much domestic criticism of it, nothing could be more convenient than mobilizing a consensus for the battle against delegitimization instead. But this effort is foolish, cynical and dangerous for Israel. For we thereby confer legitimacy on the very discourse that doubts the Jewish nation-state's right to exist.

The expected campaign at the United Nations must be waged honestly, and most Israelis would agree that a solution of two states for two peoples can only be reached through negotiations. There is no need to be dragged into the realm of demagoguery and lies, or to intimidate Israel's citizens.

There is criticism of Israel's control of Palestinian territory and its settlement policy. But that is what the argument is about, not Israel's legitimacy. No one is seriously questioning the latter.



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