Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ackerman - The Curious Delegitimization Inversion

Matthew Ackerman
21 November '11


An editorial published yesterday by the Washington Post demonstrates an odd inversion regarding delegitimization that has become popular of late, in which actions taken by the Israeli government to enhance its legitimacy are deemed to further erode it. By protecting those working against Israel’s standing and constraining those who hope to fight against them, these kinds of editorials do much more to delegitimize Israel than any action taken by the country’s government.

The topic of the editorial is the latest supposedly “democracy threatening” action being contemplated by the Israeli government: legislation that would limit the funding foreign governments can supply to NGOs active in Israel. While it may be true the specific legislation the current Knesset is contemplating may not be the most effective solution, it does speak to a real problem: the support by foreign governments of a wide range of organizations active in Israel that seek to condemn Israel in international forums. Speaking to a foreign audience and not a domestic one, receiving funding from foreign governments and not private constituencies, many of these organizations are “Israeli” in name only and have become one of the more effective tools for spreading delegitimization in the West.

This is a serious problem that requires a smart, effective solution.

It won’t do, then, to claim, as the Washington Post does,“that the groups themselves are not trying to subvert the state — only to correct what they see as its flaws” or that the “groups have been targeted by right-wing politicians because many advocate for Palestinian rights.” To write this way is to parrot the justifications these groups make for themselves without investigating the many examples of public statements, positions, and actions they have made calling not for an “improvement” in the Jewish state but its end.

Thankfully, calls for the dismantling of the Jewish state remain taboo in mainstream public debate in the United States. Hence the irresistible allure of rhetoric that accuses those Israelis trying to prevent their country’s foundations from being eroded beneath them of being agents for delegitimization. It absolves the accuser from the responsibility of taking seriously the idea that powerful actors are trying, with some success, to undermine Israel’s legitimacy (for reasons that have nothing to do with any specific Israeli policies other than existence) and therefore considering what can be done about it.

It is in its way similar to rhetoric often employed during the Palestinian terror war from 2000-2004, during which many American commentators held that the problem of Palestinian terrorism could not be solved using military means, a supposition some later smartly concluded the IDF proved them wrong on. Whether attacks against Israelis come in ideological or militant form, the reflexive response of the commentariat is that aggressive Israeli attempts to fight back are at best counterproductive. In the end, however, this kind of thinking becomes an excuse for giving in to the forces arrayed against you when the smartest policy is instead to martial all the tools at your disposal and fight as well and as hard as one can.

The Washington Post’s editorial writers deserve credit for often taking sensible stands on Israel. In this case, however, they need to think more deeply.

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