Antisemitism and De-Legitimization

The International De-Legitimization Campaign Against Israel

As in every military campaign, this one requires developing and adopting a comprehensive strategy, focused intelligence, an operational plan that combines defensive and offensive elements, clear prioritization of efforts, and the proper adaptation of resources to the strategy. The above analysis leads to the conclusion that the struggle is not only a public relations effort, but also requires the integration of policy decisions and tools. It is important to concentrate on the phenomenon’s focal points throughout the West – including civil society and cyber space – and not to over extend by rushing to take on any expression anywhere that smacks of de-legitimization.

First, it is important that the Israeli government, and subsequently the leading Diaspora Jewish organizations, adopt a uniform definition of de-legitimization that will underpin their actions. They should also adopt the set of indicators and tools proposed above for distinguishing between de-legitimization and legitimate criticism. Accordingly, the response should be designed and directed in such a way that differentiates to the extent possible between de-legitimizers and the liberal elements that are not, and possibly even repel them from each other.

Second, based on the fundamental distinction between the circle of de-legitimization and the general circle of Israel’s image and between de-legitimizers and those who are not, one should characterize at least four different target audiences for counter de-legitimization efforts, and develop a distinct strategy vis-à-vis each of them:

  1. Hard core de-legitimizers – Groups and individuals whose mission or aim is to deliberately create, develop, and disseminate the de-legitimization of Israel (as defined above), and their main active supporters. This battle against the hard core should be at the heart of the war on de-legitimization and requires an offensive strategy, including: exposing their true intentions; naming and shaming; a media campaign to undermine them by portraying them as radical, sinister, and totally illiberal; actively fighting them in cyber space; initiating legislation that would render their activities unlawful (see below) as well as bringing  lawsuits against them on various grounds (in which Israel is not at the forefront); exposing their financing sources; pressuring banks to close BDS accounts; implementing counter boycotts in appropriate cases; and more.Focus should be on the primary de-legitimizing entities, not the fringes. This means, according to our findings, dealing with dozens of leading organizations in the West, not hundreds or thousands. This would enable an effective focused effort that moves the de-legitimizers from offense to defense. Concurrently, it is important not to leave open spaces in which they can operate freely and exclusively. This means demonstrating an active and conspicuous presence against their activities on the ground – on campuses, during “Israel Apartheid Week,” in major demonstrations, etc.
  2. Those who assist and contribute to de-legitimization, without an intent to delegitimize – these enablers must be engaged in an active discourse that sheds light on the phenomenon of de-legitimization and sharpens and clarifies the lines separating it from legitimate criticism, including unacceptable expressions that characterize the de-legitimization discourse (such as apartheid). For example, it can be assumed that Judge Goldstone did not intend to de-legitimize Israel in his famous 2009 report on the war in Gaza. But there is no doubt that the report contributed to de-legitimization in determining that Israel had killed civilians as a matter of policy, and therefore committed “war crimes” and is suspected of “crimes against humanity.” In this specific case, Goldstone retracted these accusations after being engaged in such a discourse, but it was too little too late. Israel and the Jewish organizations must include in this category minority groups and weak sectors attracted to and captivated by intersectionality, proactively approach them and seek to convince them that the connection between their case and the Palestinian issue is artificial and baseless.
  3. International public opinion at large, most of which lacks knowledge or interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but is subject to systematic brainwashing against Israel – Interacting with this target audience lies mainly in the sphere of Israel’s image, and its aim must be to prevent it from being drawn into the de-legitimization circle. Working with this target audience requires a significant reinforcement of public diplomacy efforts, including shifting the discourse on Israel, to the extent possible, away from the prism of the conflict with the Palestinians toward branding Israel as a young, dynamic, democratic state (a unique democracy in a clearly undemocratic region), liberal, tolerant, peace-loving and contributing to the good of humanity. These efforts should not be limited to using tools of knowledge and logic but also strive to appeal to emotions and capture the imagination of the target audience.  8
  4. Potential partners in the fight against de-legitimization – It is important to seek these out, and encourage and connect them to a virtual network of those fighting de-legitimization (see below). In this context, efforts should be made to find liberal and non-Jewish partners, work to develop and empower grassroots support in the main centers of de-legitimization, and to expand as much as possible the “tent” under which these partners can come together – to anyone who is willing to fight de-legitimization even if critical of particular Israeli policies.

It is clear that in order to increase the chances of success vis-à-vis these latter audiences, Israel ought to be aware that initiatives and statements made in its domestic public sphere must align with the way it presents itself or answers its enemies. This is especially true of actions (including Israeli legislative initiatives) or statements that contradict or may contradict Israel’s brand as a peaceful and liberal nation as opposed to its backward, bellicose enemies. For example, it seems that recently adopted legislation prohibiting anti-Israel activists from entering Israel could damage rather than benefit the anti-de-legitimization effort, since it could distance liberal actors who might otherwise assist in the struggle. In any case, the minister of the interior already holds the authority to block someone’s entrance into Israel.9

As noted, the main fuel for de-legitimization derives from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the rejection of a political compromise that creates political separation between two legitimate national entities. Therefore, it is important that Israel stand up to this litmus test and deny the de-legitimizers this ammunition. Utterances and initiatives in the Israeli political discourse that fundamentally reject the political solution of Israeli-Palestinian separation (as opposed to assessing the practical odds of success of such a solution at any given time), or appear to close the door to such a solution (such as settlement expansion outside the main settlement blocs), or reject granting basic civil rights to the Palestinians  undermine the effectiveness of Israel’s efforts with sensitive target audiences in the space between the circles of Israel’s image and de-legitimization. To be clear, this would deny de-legitimizers ammunition, not put an end their campaign, yet it is still significant.

Moreover, even in an age of growing populism and nationalism, it is important that Israel and the Jewish establishment in the Diaspora not abandon the liberal discourse, nor leave the universal human rights​​ discourse in the hands of their detractors who bear its name in vain. This discourse is an important tool in the struggle for the moral high ground and it serves the core argument against de-legitimization, according to which rights are inherently universal and therefore cannot and should not be denied the Jewish people. In this context, it is appropriate to conduct an open dialogue with international human rights organizations that do not operate with anti-Israeli agendas and biases. One must also be careful not to be tempted to cozy up to illiberal elements in the West (such as far right parties in Europe that espouse racism and xenophobia), even if they are friendly to Israel.

From a global perspective, Israel should aim (which it does anyway) toward additional target audiences beyond the abovementioned – large and important national and social communities like China and India for example, who are open to contact with Israel and are not tainted by classic European anti-Semitism or by the de-legitimating discourse of the West. Employing such an indirect approach strategy can make an important contribution to thwarting the de-legitimizers’ attempts to isolate and weaken Israel.

Some believe that this should be Israel’s main effort in the face of the challenge of de-legitimization, since they believe Europe is already “lost” – infected with anti-Semitism or is in decline. This is, in our opinion, a mistaken approach. One should not underestimate the importance of Europe (Israel’s largest trade partner and an important part of Jewish history) and the long-term impact of intellectual and cultural currents born and incubated in Europe, from where they move on to American elites and other parts of the world. Europe should not be considered a “hopeless case.” On the contrary, it seems that the waves of refugees and terrorism coming from the Middle East (added to the already existing tensions due to the increase in the proportion of Muslims on the continent) – increases an openness in Europe to the Israeli narrative.

Experience teaches that an effective tool for dealing with those who are not
de-legitimizers is direct exposure to Israel – its reality, its complexity, its dilemmas, its human mosaic, and its democratic fabric. This exposure often helps to refute myths that serve the de-legitimization campaign. It is also important with young Jewish audiences. Visits to Israel, direct contact with Israelis, and providing first hand presentations of the Israeli reality (such as through emissaries and delegations) in centers of de-legitimization (e.g., campuses, labor unions, international companies, etc.) can be as effective as any other tool in the toolbox. The inclusion of Israelis from Israel’s Arab and Ethiopian sectors in such exposure to target audiences abroad appears especially effective in dispelling anti-Israel stigmas.

From an organizational perspective, we conclude that the best approach is to create three centers of gravity to address the challenge of de-legitimization. Around each of these centers of gravity a variety of smaller organizations dealing with this issue will operate. Specifically, we refer to Israeli governmental, civil society, and Jewish centers of gravity:

To this end:

  1. While there are many groups involved with this matter today, in many cases they operate without sufficient coordination and transparency, and have significant deficiencies in their toolboxes. It is therefore important to create centers of gravity, each of which brings to bear its inherent relative advantages. It should be significant enough to be able to concentrate activities and initiatives, coordinate between various bodies in its domain, provide assistance and ultimately achieve systemic effects.
  2. Israel – the central object of the de-legitimization campaign – must mobilize and lead the effort, and it possesses state tools vital to this effort (such as intelligence, resources, global deployment, implementation mechanisms and other advantages only a state can offer). Although the Israeli government has assigned a single government agency as responsible for handling the issue – the Ministry of Strategic Affairs – our assessment is that it would benefit from further augmentation. Another important state agency in this respect, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has global operational and deployment capacities, has been weakened considerably in recent years.
  3. Alongside the governmental center of gravity, there should be a civil non-governmental center of gravity. First, since the main challenge stems from civil society, non-governmental civil society organizations often have an advantage in dealing with them, including being free from the need to adhere to the rules and restrictions applicable to a government, and the ability to appear as an independent party that does not espouse government propaganda. In the present reality, such a center has potential advantages mainly in the field of cyber warfare (some call for the establishment of a non-governmental NSA-like body), and in the fields of law and public diplomacy. In practice, we have encountered several initiatives to establish such a center of gravity (some with covert government support), but so far it has not yet been established, leaving a number of small and limited civil society actors acting on their own like free floating satellites.
  4. The Jewish center of gravity should mobilize the resources of the Jewish world, especially the human resources. However, as of now it does not exist, and the various Jewish organizations operate separately with only partial coordination and transparency. One of the ideas raised in this context was to create a kind of “national service” program for Diaspora youth to aid the Jewish people in the war against de-legitimization. Such service would be carried out for a defined period of time either in Israel or in the Diaspora – preferably in conjunction with the above-mentioned civil center of gravity (taking advantage of the talents of Israeli youth) or as part of it. This could be especially appealing and useful in the area of online warfare.
  5. Among these three centers of gravity there must be a central coordinating body that shapes strategy, guides the division of labor, and decides what should be (for political, legal, media, budgetary or other reasons) done by the government and what should be done by the non-governmental bodies. This includes the development of an effective interface for the two-way transmission of information, which will require a mechanism for releasing classified government information to civilian bodies. Our impression is that the existing interface is weak and lacks a synergistic effect, which hinders the ability of the civilian entities to maximize their potential in this context, especially the ability of commercial companies to fight threats against them.
  6. Moreover, there is room for developing interconnectedness and networking between those involved in countering de-legitimization (the “Blue Network” far beyond what currently exists and certainly no less and hopefully more capable than the interconnectedness and networking established by the de-legitimizers – the “Red Network”).

Israel’s current government has started moving in this general direction, yet in a somewhat different way than that outlined in this paper. At the initiative of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, the government recently adopted a resolution launching a collaborative venture of the Government of Israel and world Jewry to establish a joint government-civil society body to fight de-legitimization. The platform for this initiative will be a newly-established Public Benefit Company (PBC), named Solomon’s Sling, whose funding (initially around $70 million) and steering committee will divide in equal shares between Israel’s government and private donors from around the Jewish world – following the model of the Birthright or Masa programs. While a step in the right direction, this model presents too high a governmental profile in our view, including governmental regulatory constraints, and does not maximize the advantages of the model offered above.

In recent years, countless ideas and initiatives on how to combat de-legitimization efforts have emerged. It is neither the intent nor the scope of this paper to relate to all of them. In our opinion, it should be the role of the above-discussed centers of gravity to attract these ideas and initiatives and examine them from the point of view of an overarching strategy, based on the following cumulative criteria: what is important?, what is missing?, and what is effective?.

From this perspective, we opted to review and highlight a number of ideas and initiatives that answer all the above questions (i.e., what is important, missing and effective).

First, it is imperative to create an intellectual platform to shape an up-to-date Zionist narrative and the ideological-moral justification for the self-determination of the Jewish people in its own nation-state. This platform is lacking in the face of that of the de-legitimization campaign. To this end, a group of heavy weight intellectuals of great international stature must be recruited, including non-Jews, to write and disseminate this narrative. This narrative, which will include a human rights and collective rights discourse, should be shaped within the tension between the universal rights to which Jews are entitled and the uniqueness of the Jewish story – the definition of Judaism along both religion and national lines, and, as noted by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the fact that only the Jews established a nation-state in Palestine and only they have never been absent from that territory over the course of history.

Second, in the context of the war against the hard-core perpetrators of de-legitimization (the first target audience analyzed above):

  1. One should note the importance of legislative tools, alongside administrative decisions, in denying space, freedom of operation and legitimacy for attacks on Israel. In recent years, these have greatly progressed in North America (in the United States, over 20 states have already adopted anti-BDS legislative initiatives at the time of this writing and more are on the way, and a legislative initiative at the federal level is advancing.10 Canada has also taken steps in this direction). In Europe, France has had a law against boycotts/discrimination since 2003, which withstood a test in the Supreme Court of Appeals. The British government, in 2017, announced a legal ban on boycotts against Israel by local councils. The leading political party in Germany adopted, also in 2017, a resolution denouncing the boycott of Israel, and Germany’s mainstream conservative parties are now proposing legislation that would allow states to expel foreigners who make anti-Semitic statements, including refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Several German central municipalities have already decided to deny BDS activities public support and to ban them in public spaces. The Swiss parliament decided, in March 2017, that the state would not fund any organization that supports racism, anti-Semitism, or BDS.
  2. Decisions were taken against BDS by the Supreme Court and the ruling party in Spain. These initiatives should be encouraged and expanded to the greatest extent possible, with the aim of creating a kind of binding international code that will delegitimize the de-legitimization campaign – driving it away from debates over justice and morality – and help draw the line between criticism and de-legitimization.
  3. New offensive tools ought to be developed. This is especially relevant for lawsuits brought against de-legitimizers on various grounds. One should not be content only with legal defensive action, as successful as it may be. In such actions, the Israeli government should not position itself at the forefront but rather leave them in the hands of civilian elements. The same goes for initiatives to close the bank accounts of BDS entities, which have scored some initial successes.11
  4. The advantages of operating on the internet (currently exploited by de-legitimizers) should be utilized to the fullest extent in the framework of an organized cyber program, to be developed by Israel’s government, enlisting the talents of Israeli and Jewish youth for integrated online warfare.

Third, in the framework of the required efforts against the main centers of civil society in the West:

  1. We recommend launching an initiative with the Catholic Church, as part of an organized strategic plan, in order to elicit recognition from its leaders – at least implicitly – of the right of the Jewish people to a nation-state in its historic homeland. JPPI conducted a comprehensive project on this topic and formulated operational recommendations to be presented to relevant Israeli policy makers. For reasons not detailed in this paper, we see an opportunity for such an initiative (despite the difficulties) and believe that it is possible to recruit the present Church leadership – which holds moral influence over 1.2 billion believers – as a tacit partner in the struggle against de-legitimization.
  2. We recommend investing a broader, more comprehensive and more professional effort vis-à-vis the trade union sector.  Current efforts, undertaken mainly by the Histadrut Labor Union, are greatly lacking and require active Israeli government attention and support.
  3. Although the de-legitimization campaign on campuses has drawn increased on-the-ground counter efforts in recent years, we recommend further expanded efforts given the importance of shaping the awareness of future intellectual elites in the West. Beyond what is being done directly with students and lecturers, additional efforts should be initiated with university administrators, with the aim of defining an obligatory code of academic freedom up to the level of incitement and discrimination embodied in many de-legitimization activities.

Fourth, we recommend formulating a comprehensive plan vis-à-vis the UN, a central platform for the de-legitimization phenomenon. This includes exposing, pressuring, and seeking to change its structural systemic discrimination against Israel (in the very bodies of the United Nations and its policy agendas) and its open door to clear de-legitimizers. The current reality of a new UN Secretary-General, who openly opposes de-legitimization, and of a new American administration open to this Israeli discourse, provides an opportunity for such an initiative.

Fifth, we recommend that the Israeli government be better prepared to provide a protective umbrella for Israeli and international for-profit companies exposed and subject to BDS attacks. From what we have learned thus far, the government’s awareness of the challenge of corporate de-legitimization and the connection between it and these companies is lacking. Within the government system itself, we recommend undertaking a discrete policy project to identify which economic sectors are most susceptible and vulnerable to economic attacks (our “Achilles’ heels”), and the indicators (“red lights”) whose appearance would demand a special Israeli response deployment.

Sixth, Israel should pay careful attention to the legal dimension in these efforts. The importance of counter-legislative initiatives and lawsuits in responding to efforts to provide legal “framing” for de-legitimization, has already been noted. To these should be added, activism designed to adapt the interpretation of international law to the up-to-date security challenges facing Israel, as well as Western countries currently exposed to terrorist and guerilla threats emanating from and aimed at civilian targets. Israel must also maintain constant awareness of the fact that the independence and professionalism of its own judiciary is an essential shield against international attempts to criminalize it.

Finally, we draw special attention to the Jewish world dimension at the interface of the de-legitimizers and Israel. This dimension requires an expansion beyond the scope of this paper as it touches upon a series of Jewish identity issues that must be addressed unrelated to the fight against de-legitimization, especially Jewish education and strengthening ties with Israel. The bottom line is that Israel must relate to Diaspora Jews as being targets of a common threat and therefore as natural partners in countering it – while also being aware of the unique challenges and difficulties they face in this context and of the fact that some of them have been adversely affected by the de-legitimization discourse. Israel’s decision-making process on matters of national security, such as de-legitimization, must include a structured consideration of the broader Jewish people dimension. Alongside the establishment of Jewish center of gravity to combat de-legitimization, as recommended above, it is important to connect Jewish youth in the Diaspora to an updated Zionist narrative that can serve as a source of identification and mobilization for the war on de-legitimization. Israel should also partner with non-establishment Jewish organizations for the sake of this war.