The following are proposed indicators and tools to classify anti-Israel expressions or acts suspected of de-legitimization, and to examine them according to their point of origin, intent, and context:
cases in which criticism of Israel is not confined to any particular Israeli policy or behavior that can be modified, but descends, explicitly or implicitly, to the root of the fundamental ontological essence of the state. This type of criticism frequently relies on political tools, such as UN resolutions (e.g., UNGA Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism). It presents Israel as a state based on a profound moral flaw, an “original sin,” which, by implication, cannot be rectified, not even by democratic means (such as a legal system or a free press), political means (such as a peace agreement), or with other policy tools. It portrays Israel as morally irredeemable, and seizes on perceived violations of international law and the collective and private right of Palestinians to advance the conclusion that the eradication of Israel is the only just solution. Essentialist criticism is usually accompanied by opposition, even implicitly, to a two-state solution – an important indicator of its classification as possible de-legitimization. Ultimately, essentialist criticism superimposes a question mark over Israel’s legitimacy, if not an exclamation mark on the assumption of its illegitimacy.
Conceptual language –
The determination of whether an expression of criticism qualifies as “possible de-legitimization” can be found in the conceptual and discursive language deployed against Israel. The discourse developed by the purveyors of de-legitimization is an expression of essentialist criticism, and has spread and serves not only those who have created de-legitimization, but also those lacking knowledge or understanding of the matter who unintentionally disseminate it and contribute to it. This is a well-known social science phenomenon in which a conceptual language is developed to contain assumptions and implied meanings and is adopted for routine use by the wide public without necessarily comprehending or sharing the intention behind it. When mapping that language, certain expressions stand out (all taken from the Israeli-Palestinian context) such as: “apartheid state” (a clear attempt to paint Israel as a second South Africa); “Nazi state” (a comparison of Israel to Nazism and its symbols is very common among Israel de-legitimizers); “racist state,” a state that commits “genocide,” performs “ethnic cleansing,” is a “war criminal” generally (as opposed to referring to a specific case) responsible for “crimes against humanity” etc. In the end, it is important to define for ourselves which expressions are clearly beyond the scope of substantive and legitimate criticism, and to make it clear to those who use them (and those exposed to them) that they are using tools of de-legitimization.
A record of clear statements or acts of de-legitimization –
is a significant tool that can dispel confusion and doubt about the intentions of those who attack Israel. It turns out that in many cases individuals who attack Israel from a space of seemingly legitimate criticism also carry a clear record of unambiguous de-legitimization elsewhere. This record should be uncovered and exposed through various means. This is an important tool in exposing and combatting the propagators of veiled de-legitimization.
Double standard –
Double standards vis-à-vis Israel do not necessarily and automatically meet the core definition of de-legitimization. It depends on both context and interpretation. There are different degrees of double standard employed in judging Israel, and there is also a double standard deployed with respect to Israel’s right to “a fair hearing” – to present its case. In any event, in our opinion, double standards should be considered as expressions of de-legitimization or contributing to it in cases of unequivocal discrimination based on clear and known lies, or when they accompany other factors we have determined to be indicators of de-legitimization.
The verbal-conceptual indicators presented thus far are indicators of de-legitimization in the realm of perceptions. To these add indicators for de-legitimization with a practical dimension. The first is boycotts of Israel or Israeli products (BDS) – including economic, cultural, academic, or other boycotts. These are potentially dangerous weapons, as they move the struggle against Israel onto a popular avenue and invite any individual to actively participate.
There are subtleties with respect to this type of indicator that require discussion and explanation. In the intellectual debate, there are those who argue that such measures are a legitimate exercise of pressure and persuasion that have been utilized throughout the world in contexts that fall short of the de-legitimization of an established political entity (as opposed to its regime). In fact, Jews have initiated or supported particular boycotts in the past. In the specific context of Israel, there are those who interpret the above argument as a legitimate tool to pressure Israel to “end the occupation.” They claim that as such, it is not necessarily a weapon of de-legitimization, as we defined it, even if it contributes to it and notwithstanding Israel’s desire and need to counter any kind of boycott against it. However, we suggest that boycotts of Israel would by and large represent de-legitimization, since Israel is the only country in the world whose legitimacy is regularly questioned. Moreover, most boycotts launched against Israel stem from a clear de-legitimization strategy and are perpetrated by well-known de-legitimizers striving to ostracize, isolate, and weaken Israel to the point of collapse. These de-legitimizers apply double standards to Israel and boycott its people, culture, and products based solely on national affiliation (not to mention academic boycotts that, ironically, violate academic freedom).
Consider the case of the American academic Norman Finkelstein, one of Israel’s harshest critics, who for years supported economic boycotts. He caused outrage in 2012 when he publicly excoriated BDS activists for concealing their true goal: the destruction of the State of Israel. Referring to the BDS movement as a “cult,” he challenged its leaders to be up front about their true intentions.
The issue of boycotting Israeli products originating in the West Bank, which is politically charged, does not automatically fall within the scope of de-legitimization, but should be considered a potential indicator that needs to be examined. On one hand, the limitation of boycotts to the “territories” implies legitimacy to Israel proper. On the other hand, there are cases of boycotts by Palestinian and pro-Palestinian groups deliberately limited to the “territories” for political expedience. But behind them lies the intention to de-legitimize Israel by erecting a “slippery slope” designed to cross lines and eventually hit Israel proper (see below). To be clear, designating such a boycott as outside the scope of de-legitimization does not mean that Israel will not and should not fight it, but it will require using different tools from some of those used to fight de-legitimization.
“Lawfare” is another important practical indicator of de-legitimization.
This phenomenon has become an increasingly common anti-Israel weapon in recent years. It is animated by the intent to criminalize Israel, that is, to portray it as a criminal state that must, like all criminals, be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Legal warfare is waged against the State of Israel in international legal forums (the Palestinian Authority has taken action against Israel in the International Criminal Court [ICC] for alleged war crimes), and against Israeli citizens (primarily government officials, military officers, and members of the defense establishment current and former). Clearly, not every legal claim lodged against Israel satisfies the definition of de-legitimization, but a large number of them do, especially those that systematically attack Israel’s right to defend itself against threats to its national security, and those brought by known de-legitimizers. Because of this, and due to the gravity of the threat, it is important to treat lawfare as a key potential indicator that requires a systemic response.