Toronto, London, Berkeley: new axis of evil, declares Reut Institute

My Muzzlewatch stump speech has long talked about the parallel Middle East battle happening on the level of language and imagery:

While Israelis and Palestinians struggle over land, water and basic human rights in the Middle
East, a proxy battle is being waged here in the United States. Instead of Qassam rockets and
F-16s, the weapons are words, images and the internet. Instead of orchards and city streets, the battlefield is academia, journalism, politics, arts and publishing. And instead of calling it what it is–a struggle between those who unconditionally support often disastrous US-Israeli policies, and those who do not– the debate is framed as being about national security, the war on terror, and the clash of civilizations.

This battle is actually global, though the stakes in the US are obvious- unconditional diplomatic and financial support for Israel while it pursues its dream of a Greater Israel. But either way, it is framed as a battle between those who care about Israel/Jews, democracy and Western values, and those who threaten them. This framing benefits right wing Israel advocacy groups by erasing any legitimate Palestinian claims, collapsing all forms of resistance, including nonviolent civil society, under the banner of ‘terrorism.” Further, it means that Israel’s human rights record, and the US support which makes it possible, is removed from consideration

Recently, the Israeli think tank, the Reut Institute, has come up with its own version of this analysis which it is presenting to Israeli diplomats. Their frame is that this is a grassroots battle over the legitimacy of Israel (whatever that means), thus delegitimizing virtually any resistance to human rights violations and systemic inequality.

Substitute “Enemy Command HQ” for “Hubs of Delegitimacy.” Instead of “enemy armor outflanking our infantry,” use “resistance networks outflanking the IDF to attack Israel’s very legitimacy.” Instead of bombing Israeli embassies – picketing Israeli stores and taking Israeli products off supermarket shelves.

Pair Iran’s nuclear program, an existential threat to Israel, with the simultaneous creation of an existential political threat, and you are talking in a new type of language, and a new type of warfare in which the IDF is not equipped to engage in, and perhaps shouldn’t be engaging in.

A new report by the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based national security and socioeconomic policy think tank, maps out the “new battlefield” in which Israel finds the legitimacy of its very existence attacked by a wide array of organizations and individuals in global centers like London, Toronto, Brussels, Madrid and Berkeley.

What are the recommended weapons to attack this decentralized “guerilla war”? Not equality. Not ending the occupation. Rather:

Reut’s report distinguishes between “soft critics” of Israel and “hard-core delegitimizers,” and posits that the hard-core group, made up of anti-Zionists, anti-Semites and radical Islamists, is always trying to coopt the “soft critic” group into a more radical position. Their goal is to blur the difference between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and Israel’s basic legitimacy. Reut’s team suggests an effort should be made by Israel’s defenders to drive a wedge between the soft and hard core critics of Israel in London. The soft critics are human rights groups like Oxfam that are critics of Israeli policy but not necessarily of its legitimacy.

According to Calev Ben-Dor, a member of the Reut mission to London, the perceived lack of options for those opposed to Israeli policy and wanting to “do something” to help Palestinians creates an “option vacuum” which often leads “soft critics” (those unhappy with specific Israeli policies) to adopt the positions of “hard delegitimizers” (who seek to undermine Israel’s existence). A successful fight against delegitimization will have to include suggestions for how to drive a wedge between these two groups, Ben-Dor says.

Other recommendations presented by Reut to counter the hubs of delegitimacy are to break the “all-or-nothing” dynamic of criticism of Israel, place more Israeli diplomats in the hubs, be wary of “strange bedfellows” such as right-wing and evangelical organizations, brand Israel away from its image as purely a place of conflict, support anti-boycott campaigns (buy Israeli products), establish a “price tag” for attacking Israel and punish boycotters, promote Israel Studies Departments at universities, increase visits to Israel, and even persuade the Histadrut labor federation to get more involved with foreign trade unions.

What does delegitimize actually mean in this context? Why on earth would wanting equality mean delegitimizing Israel, if in fact that’s what they are referring to? Grassroots activism is the reason the US is in a constant process of becoming its promise, a land where all people can pursue life, liberty and justice. And just as I would like to see the United States become the country of full rights as described in the constitution, I’d like to see Israel become the country of its founding documents which promised “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex”.

While of course there are genuine anti-semites who have insinuated themselves into the movement for Palestinian rights- and they should be stopped and expelled, which I have seen Palestinian advocates do with my own eyes on repeated occasions– most people simply seek basic equality and an end to occupation. That’s not deligitimizing Israel, it’s using global activism to raise the overall level of humanity for all of us-including Israelis.

In the meantime, I note with amusement, that Reut’s prescription includes yet more Brand Israel projects and “establish[ing] a “price tag” for attacking Israel.” I think they can check that one off the list. At the very least, maybe it will cause Israeli ambassador Michael Oren to stop attacking Israeli “soft critics” J Street and Hannah Rosenthal, and work instead to drive a wedge between them and everyone to their left.

-Cecilie Surasky