Linda Heard
Arab News (Opinion)
February 15, 2010 - 1:00am

The fact that Israel refuses to play according to international rules is eroding its legitimacy as a state with unofficial membership in the worldwide club of democratic nations. Israel has been somewhat of a “wild child” since its founding in terms of its flouting of international laws and norms but its doting allies have always afforded it unprecedented leeway in light of its tenuous position within a hostile neighborhood as well as a collective sense of holocaust guilt.

Let’s be honest, which other country could get away with a covert nuclear weapons program under a policy of nuclear ambiguity? It’s quite amazing to think that the big powers have conspired to accept this weird nuclear designation that is uniquely Israel’s and have happily averted their gaze from Israel’s binning of dozens of UN Security Council resolutions. It’s also astonishing that Israel has managed to keep a population of 1.5 million under blockade in the world’s largest open-air prison for years with the compliance, nay cooperation, of the international community.

It’s little wonder, therefore, that a succession of Israeli leaderships have believed they could get away with just about anything without incurring too much international censure. And especially since criticism could often be rebutted with a single word, anti-Semitism, which has, in recent times, lost its efficacy due to indiscriminate and inappropriate overuse.

But times they are a changing! Israel’s reluctance to offer land for peace coupled with Operation Cast Lead during which 1,400 defenseless Palestinian residents of Gaza were killed have incensed ordinary people all over the world. Israel can no longer maintain its carefully contrived victim status, and is, today, widely perceived as an aggressor with expansionist ambitions. This sea change in attitudes has resulted in the mushrooming of Western left-wing organizations and groups keen to punish Israel with boycotts, sanctions, divestment and, ultimately, international isolation.

A recently-published report by the Reut Institute — a Tel-Aviv-based policy think tank set up to provide strategic decision-making support to the government of Israel — finds that Israel’s legitimacy is being attacked by a variety of individuals and organizations within North America and Europe, characterized by the report’s authors as “hubs of delegitimization”.

London is singled out by the report after its compilers spent weeks there interviewing politicians, lawyers, academics, journalists, trade union officials and activists as well as members of Jewish anti-Zionist organizations, Muslim groups and human rights organizations. Following their research, the authors believe that the left-wing has joined with anti-Zionist and Islamic organizations in common cause with the aim of portraying the Jewish state in terms of South Africa under apartheid.

Reut refers to this cooperation between disparate groups as “The Red-Green Alliance” and recommends that the Israeli authorities do everything in their power to drive a wedge between “soft” anti-Israel activists who operate out of humanitarian concerns or because it has become “trendy” to support the Palestinian cause and hard-line anti-Zionists/anti-Semites out to destroy Israel completely. “It’s not the Palestinians who took over London — there are very few Palestinians within the Red-Green Alliance,” the report states. “It is leftist ideology from London that infiltrates Palestinian politics”.

The report cites various campaigns tasked to isolate Israel and make it a pariah state, a burgeoning trend of demonizing Israel as a racist apartheid state, and increased calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel in the fields of academia, economy, culture and sports. It further states that diverse groups have sought to combat Israel in the legal arena by using the laws of universal jurisdiction to bring alleged Israeli war criminals to trial in Europe or to levy proceedings against the Jewish state in the International Criminal Court.

There are numerous examples of such attempts to bring Israeli officials to justice. They include an arrest warrant issued by a British court in the name of Israel’s former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in relation to crimes committed in Gaza, a class action lawsuit filed in New York against the former director of Israel’s General Security Service Avi Dichter for “war crimes and other gross human rights violations” and a lawsuit filed in a Spanish court against Israel’s former Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, former IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz and others.

Companies that supply Israel are also not immune from prosecution. In 2005, Caterpillar Inc. was taken to court for “providing specially designed bulldozers to the IDF” in the knowledge they would be used to “demolish homes and endanger civilians”. And in 2008, lawsuits were filed in Quebec against three Canadian corporations accusing them of conspiring with Israel to carry out an “illegal act”.

In reality, such attempts rarely work; mainly because Western governments ensure that no Israeli official is embarrassed in a way that would result in a serious diplomatic incident and, perhaps, even a major rift with Israel’s Washington sponsor. But they do make Israeli officials feel uncomfortable to the extent the government has warned them that travel to certain countries could be dangerous.

Reut views its report as a wake-up call to the Israeli Cabinet, which, until now, has dismissed the new threat as inconsequential in comparison to military belligerence from Israel’s enemies. Israel’s Foreign Ministry is not equipped for 21st century challenges, maintain the report’s authors, who insist efforts to deprive the Jewish state of legitimacy must be taken seriously and proactively countered.

If the public relations tide is turning against Israel on a global level, as the report implies, this trend may become a serious thorn in Tel Aviv’s side, especially when combined with a looming demographic threat and a propensity for over 50 percent of young American Jews to marry out of their religion that elicited an Israeli government campaign against assimilation. In the event, ads referring to Jews marrying non-Jews as “Lost” triggered an anti-Israel backlash among those previously loyal to the Jewish state.

It’s a pity that when coming up with cures — mainly monitoring and propaganda — for this anti-Israel malaise, Reut omitted the obvious. The only way that Israel can hang on to any shred of legitimacy it may still retain is to change its behavior. No more siege of Gaza. No more wars of aggression. No more throwing obstacles in the path of peace. Only then will the Jewish state gain the respect, the status and, most importantly, the security its people crave so much.


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