Israel's impaired global vision

Constant cries of ‘delegitimisation’ show a lack of understanding of the ‘delegitimisers’

By Jonathan Freedland, April 1, 2010

The word of the hour is delegitimisation. Doesn't exactly trip off the tongue, but it has nevertheless become the vogue term of art for those defending Israel.

Critics no longer merely "disagree with" - or even "attack" - Israel; they now seek to undermine its very legitimacy as a state.

So hot has this topic become, the Jewish Leadership Council and Bicom are hosting a joint seminar on it this month. Their focus will be a report by Israel's Re'ut Institute that has already prompted a major think-in hosted by Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Its core argument is that Israel faces a strategic threat just as great as the Syrian missiles or Egyptian battalions of the past: namely, the growing international effort to cast Israel as a pariah state, unfit to sit among the family of nations. Re'ut singles out London as a "hub" of such delegitimising activity.

There are some hardcore enemies opposed to the very principle of a Jewish state, who do indeed seek to rob Israel of its rightful place in the world, who should be opposed vigorously.

Israel has long signalled it does not regard the rest of the world as legitimate

The trouble with conjuring up this larger, scarier threat of global delegitimisation is that it pretends Israel is a passive victim in this process. It forgets that legitimacy - and therefore delegitimisation - is a two-way street.

In the postwar era, a series of institutions have grown up that have come, however imperfectly, to embody the international order. Some of these have formal authority, like the United Nations, others have informal influence, like the BBC.

For a variety of reasons, Israel has repeatedly found itself at odds with those institutions, denouncing them as inherently unfair and biased against the country. Israel's most vocal defenders have slammed the UN for the Goldstone report and for a long history of General Assembly resolutions.They condemn the BBC as congenitally hostile, along with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and NGOs in general. And don't get them started on the European Union.

Some insist that Israel has been in the right every time and it is the rest of the world, in the form of these international institutions, that is consistently wrong. But we shouldn't be surprised if outsiders see it differently.

What they see is a country that repeatedly thumbs its nose at those bodies everyone else sees as not only legitimate but somehow central to the system of international legitimacy. Imagine a football team that constantly challenges the referee, insisting that no matter which official turns up at a game, he is uniquely biased against them. Wouldn't people eventually begin to regard that team as somehow outside the system accepted by everyone else?

It's not the whole story, but as Israel worries that it is being delegitimised in the eyes of the world, it's worth reflecting that Israel has long signalled that it does not regard the rest of the world as legitimate.

The exception has always been the United States. The UN and the EU could be written off as hopeless antisemites, but the US was different. Israel always had to listen to its key ally. But the one-fingered salute with which Israeli officialdom greeted Vice-President Joe Biden this month - using the very day of his visit to announce construction in east Jerusalem expressly opposed by the US administration - shows that truth no longer holds. Whatever the excuses - it was the decision of a low-level committee; Israel has been building in Jerusalem for decades, etc - the message was that Israel no longer abides even by the basic convention of treating allies with courtesy.

That message had been sent already by the illicit cloning of passports belonging to citizens of friendly states, including Britain, for use in the Dubai assassination mission.

So I wish those in the JLC/Bicom seminar room the best of luck but here's a simple thought to ponder: if you don't want to be delegitimised, then you can start by showing some respect for the legitimate norms and institutions of the international system. It might just help.

Jonathan Freedland is a Guardian columnist

Last updated: 4:25pm, October 14 2010


jose (not verified)

Thu, 05/06/2010 - 07:58

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You might as well ask for Arab states, which rejected the UN creation of Israel, start respecting the "legitimate norms and institutions of the international system".
Have you seen any UNGA, let alone UNSC, condemnation of the Arab and muslim states for their lousy human rights records? You might wonder why. And as you answer it, you may at the same time find the explanation of Israel's disregard of UN resolutions against it.
Israel is pretty aware that its security depends only on its own resources and willingness to survive. UN will not stop murderous terrorism or destruction of Israel by its foes. Oh, UN would probably issue a statement telling that they regret the destruction of Israel and the mass-murder of its Jews. The way they did for Congo (4M dead), Darfur (300 000 dead), etc.
Not that it would make any difference for the victims.


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