Carlo Strenger
Haaretz (Editorial)
February 27, 2013 - 1:00am


The European Union's consuls in East Jerusalem and Ramallah have recommended the EU to strictly enforce the trade agreement with Israel. This primarily means making sure that the preferential treatment that Israeli goods and services are entitled to in the EU is not extended to products and services generated in the settlements. The sanctions are unequivocally directed against the settlements, and not at Israel itself, and none of the recommendations imply revoking existing agreements with Israel.

I have no doubt that in the coming days the chorus directed by Netanyahuwill resume bemoaning that Israel’s existence is being delegitimized. Netanyahu has laid the ground for this spiel in his speech at the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors meeting, where he decried what he called the international community’s “failure to stand up to those seeking to delegitimize Israel… one of the great moral failures of our time.”

But what exactly is this failure? Certainly some countries and organizations do not accept the existence of Israel. Hamas, for example, continues to use utterly appalling anti-Semitic language and has incorporated the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" into its charter to delegitimize what it calls the "Zionist Entity."

The international community is reacting accordingly. Hamas has been excluded from meaningful political dialogue and categorized as terrorist organization by a large number of countries, led by the U.S. A German court ruled in 2004 that Hamas’ humanitarian activities could not be separated from its terrorist and political activities, leading Germany to outlaworganizations that raise money for the group.

And who could forget about Iran. Hardly a week goes by without one of its leaders talking about wiping Israel out. But Iran, too, is paying a steep price for these statements. Unlike in the cases of India and Pakistan, which had become nuclear powers without major international resistance, the global community has made significant efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. U.S.-led sanctions against Iran have been crippling its economy for a while now, and the free world is united in its condemnation of the Iranian regime.

The moral turpitude exhibited by Hamas and the Iranian regime peaks with their denial of the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad has held “conferences” of so-called historians who deny the reality or extent of the Holocaust. And Hamas leaders continue to claim that the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is a historical document, and that the Holocaust is a Zionist fabrication meant to legitimize the Zionist entity.

The combination of the delegitimization of Israel’s existence and the denial of the Holocaust amounts to moral and intellectual cretinism. And the free world looks upon this combination as exactly that: A form of primitivism that needs to be utterly rejected and attacked on every front.

So much for Netanyahu’s claim that the free world doesn’t stand up to those who delegitimize Israel…

That being said, the free world across the board condemns Israel’s settlement activity. There is no connection whatsoever between Israel’s legitimacy as a state, which is a non-issue except for some groups on the fringe of the European left, and the delegitimizing the settlements.

States are often accused of acting immorally. All of Europe rallied against the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 – and many Americans would be very glad if the wheel of history could be turned back to avoid this dreadful mistake. Russia is condemned for its actions in Chechnya, and China for its actions in Tibet. Yet nobody says that the U.S., Russia or China are not legitimate states.

Yes, Israel is criticized for building settlements in the West Bank. But this does not mean that the free world seeks to strip Israel of its legitimacy. By drawing a link between the criticism leveled at settlement construction and the delegitimization of Israel, Netanyahu is lowering himself to an unacceptable level of cheap political manipulation not worthy of a Western democracy.

Netanyahu, who is undoubtedly a very intelligent man, continues to try this trick, even though it is obvious that it doesn’t work except in the U.S. Bible Belt. I travel a lot in Europe and often speak to European politicians, diplomats and shapers of public opinion. They just shake their heads in disbelief when the topic comes up: How can a prime minister of an advanced country continue trying to equate Israel’s legitimacy with that of the settlements?

The free world’s position on the matter has been crystal clear since 1967. Israel’s occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem has never been accepted, and this is why all embassies are based in the Tel Aviv area. Successive Israeli governments have hoped that at some point the world would change its mind on the matter, but it hasn't. Netanyahu’s attempts to obfuscate between criticism of the occupation and delegitimizing Israel don’t have any effect, save for alienating Israel’s long-term friends.


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