Demonizers of Israel: De-legitimization Begins at Home

What if Israel's worst enemy is right here, part of the family, abusive and ill-willed, immune and shielded, destructive and pleased with the fact?

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

What if your worst enemy is the one you can do nothing about?

What if your worst enemy is right here at home, part of the family, abusive and ill-willed, immune and shielded, destructive and pleased with the fact?

What if you were Israel and you had myriad layers of defense, among the most sophisticated in the world, against aircraft, missiles, suicide bombers, cyber warfare – but there were still a hole in the fence nobody seems to be able to find a way to fix?

What if you were Israel and there were people in your midst whose words and actions posed genuine threats to your vital interests, your image in the eyes of allies, to your international standing, yet year by year, these people only gained more power, grew in visibility, were named to posts of greater and greater responsibility?

Why do I ask?

The Anti-Defamation League this week released its 2013 list of what it determined were the top 10 most influential and active anti-Israel groups in the United States.

According to ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman, “The groups are fixated on delegitimizing Israel and convincing the American public that Israel is an international villain that deserves to be ostracized and isolated.”

Ever since the list came out, I've been seeing the news here in Israel a little differently. Without debating his choices, let's say that Foxman is right in characterizing what does signal harm to Israel, that most significantly delegitimizes and demonizes it in words and actions.

I'm thinking maybe it's time Israel had a list of its own. Here's the beginning of mine. Just the beginning:

THE ACCUSATION: Israel is, at root, a dictatorship dominated by a far-right core minority opposed to any and all compromise with the Palestinians, and opposed to any and all democratic processes which could allow for such a peace process to go forward.

THE DEMONIZERS: The cabinet's Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which gave a green light Sunday to a bill which would make even the onset of any negotiations over the future of Jerusalem subject to the approval of 80 members of the 120-strong Knesset – to all observers, an impossible majority to achieve.

To those who asked, in sarcasm, why the bill did not require a unanimous vote, there was this reply by Naftali Bennett of the settler-anchored coalition partner party Habayit Hayehudi:"Even 120 Knesset members cannot transfer [parts of Jerusalem], because it belongs to the Jewish people throughout the generations."

THE ACCUSATION: From its very inception, Israel has been a racist state, practicing institutionalized segregation, favoring the ruling minority, and hewing to what is in essence a form of apartheid even within its pre-1967 borders.

THE DEMONIZERS: Deposed Nazareth mayor and current mayoral candidate Shimon Gapso:

["Upper Nazareth is a Jewish city and it’s important that it remain so. If that makes me a racist, then I’m a proud offshoot of a glorious dynasty of 'racists' including 'the racist Theodore Herzl,' 'the racist Ben-Gurion' and the 'racially pure kibbutzim without a single Arab member and an army which protects a certain racial strain.']

Likud MK Miri Regev, who endorsed Gapso at a weekend re-election rally [she hoped Gapso “would be elected big-time, despite the detractors.”] Last year, Regev called African migrants to Israel "a cancer in our body," later apologizing – but only to cancer sufferers.

THE ACCUSATION: Israel is a tattered, sham democracy, and the government is determined to excise what is left of it.

THE DEMONIZERS: Ruling coalition whip Yariv Levin (Likud) and MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi), for promoting a series of bills aimed at limiting the independence and influence of the judiciary, the one branch of government still viewed as adhering to the concept of separation of powers. "Naturally, the media is in a hurry to depict us as fascists who go against the rule of law," Shaked said this week. "I suggest we be judged based on our actions."

Good idea.

I recognize that these actions and provocations were not undertaken to harm Israel. For the politicians, their purpose was to make headlines, to spur hefty contributions by far-right donors abroad, and to gain key support of the extremists who have hijacked key institutions like the Likud Central Committee.

I recognize, also, that there has never been a Knesset like this one. There has never been an Israeli ruling coalition like this one. Never before has there been more legitimacy conferred on opponents of democracy, proponents of theocracy, apologists for racism, proponents of racism.

For that reason, perhaps, the list goes on and on – take, for example, the settlers unimpeded as they take chain saws to Palestinian-owned olive groves just as the harvest begins. Or the ways the government seems to confirm the accusation that peace talks are just a smokescreen to allow more and more and more settlement.

Perhaps for the same reason, the government has made huge investments in what it calls "Israel branding" – according to one study, in 2010 the Foreign Ministry budget for "marketing and hasbara" – Israel branding – went from NIS 10 million to NIS 100 million.

However it invests its money, though, the lesson being taught by the current government remains a different one: For good or ill, the only branding that matters will stem directly from what Israel does, what Israel is, and the direction its leaders - and voters - choose to take us – toward a better future, or a cliff.

A Likud party member hangs a poster on tree in support of MK Miri Regev.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

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