Hubs of Delegitimization

A new report by the Reut Institute, which includes recommendations for possible remedies, 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 and Madrid.

Amir Mizroch, Jerusalem Post, 12/24/09

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.

The report, which also makes recommendations for possible remedies, is to be presented next week to Israeli diplomatic officials, and will also be presented at the Herzliya Conference in January. The report's authors spent two weeks in London interviewing some 45 people, including members of Muslim groups and anti-Zionist Jewish organizations, and academics, journalists, pollsters, jurists, activists and politicians.

Beginning with Israel's traditional strategic concept, conceived by David Ben-Gurion, which posits that to win its wars, the IDF would have to take the fight to its enemies, the Reut report posits that increasingly, Israel cannot "win" its wars in the traditional sense as it is not up against conventional Arab armies, and there is no decisive victory over an enemy army to be had.

While there is still a physical existential threat posed by certain enemies (including unconventional terrorism), the new front focuses its attack on Israel's political legitimacy, painting Israel as a pariah state, exhausting Israeli society, burdening its economy, and mobilizing Israel's Arab minority as an anchor in the struggle against the Jewish state.

The key concept for this "Resistance Network" is overstretching Israel along the fault lines of demography, democracy (binational state vs a state of the Jewish people), Jewish identity and territory.

The report states that Israel's traditional enemies have increasingly been joined in battle by widespread networks of anti-Zionist groups, hostile human rights organizations and homegrown radical Islamists that use cultural, academic, legal and financial weapons against what they see as an illegitimate pariah state with its capital in occupied Jerusalem. They are trying to demonize Israel, to turn Israel into the Apartheid South Africa of the 21st century. These groups are concentrated in several large cities, what Reut calls "Hubs of Delegitimization."

Some places have a disproportionate impact in delegitimizing Israel. London, for example, is a center for international media, academic institutions, NGOs, human rights groups and a large Arab diaspora. It has always been fertile ground for radicals. There is widespread "colonialist/imperialist guilt" in London that for some translates "conveniently" into anti-Zionism, according to Reut's report.

London is also the scene for what Reut calls the "Red-Green Alliance" - an alliance of left-wing groups with the Muslim community in the UK. It merges the Left's view of anti-imperialism (Israel as the "little America") with a rejection of the concept of a Jewish state. This alliance has given birth to cooperation between solidarity NGOs, boycott movements, trade unions, influential academics and journalists, student leaders, left-wing politicians and Muslim organizations, all with one common cause: demonizing Israel.

It demonizes Israel by positing an "all-or-nothing" dynamic - boycotts are formulated as the only option of criticism of Israel. The attempt to paint pro-Palestinian activity as "trendy," while at the same time painting Zionism as imperialist, and Apartheid-like. Reut's assessment even goes as far to say that there are times when it is London, and not Ramallah, that sets the tone for Palestinian policy towards Israel.

"It's not the Palestinians who took over London - there are very few Palestinians within the Red-Green Alliance - it's leftist ideology from London that infiltrates Palestinian politics," the report states.

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.