What Naomi Klein Really Wants

Following a public angry exchange with Naomi Klein, Reut team leader Eran Shayshon writes an op-ed in Haaretz in which he unravels the true dynamic generated by Klein which damages the quest for a two-state solution.

Eran Shayshon, 03/28/10, Haaretz

Several weeks ago, my colleagues and I at the Reut Institute published a comprehensive report on the growing efforts to delegitimize Israel. Discussing our report on Canadian radio, I mentioned the writer and political activist Naomi Klein - an internationally prominent speaker for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel - as one of a few notable individuals in Toronto who promote Israel's delegitimization. Klein soon published a vitriolic denial, which turned into an angry exchange published on a U.S.-based blog.

Klein's main argument was that I was attempting to equate "non-violent tactics like BDS with a military campaign to destroy Israel." Thus, Klein accused me of lying when I said she intended to delegitimize Israel and challenged me to search her writings for evidence to prove it, publicly proclaiming I would find nothing.

Well, I did find something. In my response to Klein, I argued that despite never explicitly rejecting Israel's right to exist, the fact that in her work, she singles Israel out, demonizes it, calls it a perpetrator of apartheid, and suggests it was born in sin, leaves little room for doubt regarding her intentions. Moreover, on at least one occasion a few months ago, Klein wondered publicly, "How about a one-state solution?"

The rest of the exchange, and Klein herself, are largely insignificant in light of the greater phenomena at work. However, by taking Naomi Klein as a metaphor, we can unravel the core of a broader dynamic - "Kleinism," if you will - which damages the quest for a two-state solution.

"Kleinism" represents a simplistic, artificial view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has led many who consider themselves human-rights activists to focus their criticism nearly exclusively on Israel. It brands Israel as the new apartheid state, so it can do no right and its adversaries no wrong. It frames Israel as uninterested in peace or in ending the occupation. It ignores any structural obstacles to peace unrelated to Israel, the most obvious being the sharp divisions among the Palestinians.

Thus, "Kleinists" seem to have concluded that one-sided criticism of Israel is the best way to promote peace, and that pressurizing the state with all available means, including BDS, is both legitimate and effective.

As a result, Israel's branding as a violent, aggressive and discriminatory state is increasingly gaining traction. Consequently, the entire political model of Israel as a Jewish state is framed as inherently immoral. Israel is compared with South Africa's apartheid regime with such persistence and intensity that many seem not to be concerned by the fundamental differences between the two cases, and call for a one-state solution based on the South African formula of "one man, one vote."

This dynamic is well exploited by the "network of resistance" - primarily Iran and its clients Hezbollah and Hamas, which have adopted a strategy that targets Israel's political and economic standing. In recent years, these groups seem to have inverted their position toward the Israeli occupation, coming to view it as a strategic asset, believing that continued Israeli control over the Palestinian population will create an "overstretch" between the Jewish identity of the state, its democratic values, its territory, and demographic trends, all of which will lead to Israel's implosion. Therefore, these groups have consistently sabotaged the political process via terrorism and thwarted Israeli attempts to unilaterally separate from the Palestinians.

Israel thus finds itself stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the country suffers from the permanent military threat posed by the network of resistance, which impedes the political process and threatens to frustrate the paradigm of the two-state solution. On the other hand, Israel is framed in the West as ill-willed and illegitimate, in keeping with purportedly "moral" and "liberal" values, which promote the one-state threat.

Whether intentionally or not, the upshot of these processes is that some human rights activists are aligning with fundamentalist Islamists against Israel. One particularly bizarre example of how these groups' values conflict - differences that melt away when it comes to Israel - is the annual gay rights march against "the Israeli Apartheid," which has taken place twice now in Toronto, while homosexuals are being hanged in Tehran and forced to flee Gaza for Tel Aviv.

It may be that many BDS supporters are genuinely looking to change Israel's policies from a human rights perspective, and do not seek to delegitimize Israel. Indeed, such criticism is important and legitimate, even when harsh and sometimes even when unfair. Yet, the idea of precipitating Israel's capitulation using the model that brought down South Africa's racist regime - which is the conceptual and strategic core of the BDS campaign - is simplistic and unfounded and is likely to cause more human misery, chaos and bloodshed.

We should not be misled by "Kleinist" terminology. Those who really care about justice, peace, human rights and international law should reject the superficial apartheid diagnosis and its accompanying disastrous prognosis. Instead, it is those in both Israel and Palestine who promote the principle of two states for two peoples who could eventually bring about a true and stable peace in accordance with international law. It is we who encourage national, civil and human rights. It is we, and not those who demonize one side, reinforce intransigence and weaken the two-state movement by promoting unrealistic and destructive solutions.

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