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Delegitimizing Israel: the dictionary

The debate about the “delegitimizing” of Israel is often shallow, and fraught with vague and circular definitions. An examination of  a series of statements that are often labeled as “delegitimizing” Israel raises serious questions about this high-profile campaign  

James Besser, in the “Jewish Week” defines delegitimizing Israel in the following way:

To me, “delegitimization” refers to efforts to promote the idea that Israel is not a legitimate member of the community of nations – that its creation was improper, or that it has somehow rendered itself beyond the pale through its actions.

This is too vague (not to mention circular). Instead, I suggest we take a list of statements often labeled as “delegitimizing” and try to assess their meaning.

Let’s begin with an easy one:

Israel should be destroyed and all Jews deported to Europe.

OK, you can say this position delegitimizes Israel, but is that the worst you can say about it? How about supporting ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity? Some people do make such statements but they are not usually accused of delegitimizing Israel.

Israel should cease to exist.

I imagine that most people making this statement mean the same as the previous one. If not, they should speak more clearly.

Israel is the most evil country in the world.

This is so blatantly untrue that it is only fair to suspect it basically amounts to the same as the previous two statements.

Israel is a colonial enterprise.

Depends on the conclusion you draw from this statement. All the states of the Americas, as well as New Zealand and Australia, are colonial enterprises. The crimes that established those countries are far more heinous than anything done to establish Israel. Yet no one would argue that the last two sentences delegitimize all those states.

Israel should not have been founded.

Everything that was said about the previous statement applies to this one as well. Perhaps it is more “in your face”, but then again, it could be considered softer, as it is a judgment on the past, rather than the present.

Israel does X [X being a bad thing].

Depends on the X. If X is clearly, demonstrably false, and said only to make Israel look bad, one can say that it is a terrible lie. If the accusation is truly heinous, it might amount to statement #3 above. However, not every baseless accusation against a state “delegitimizes” it; otherwise all of them would have long perished from this earth. And if the accusation is actually true, to call it “delegitimizing” would be absurd (although that has not stopped many people from making that claim).

Israel should be sanctioned.

I think China, Syria, and plenty of other countries, should be sanctioned. There, I’ve said it. Anybody feels the legitimacy of those states has taken a hit? Neither do I. Even if you think Israel should not be sanctioned, this does not make every statement to the contrary a “delegitimizing” act. Iran, by the way, has been the deserving target of a far more successful BDS campaign than Israel. Yet no one thinks Iran itself has become less legitimate as a result. Perhaps the regime was delegitimized, but not the state.

Israel should not be a Jewish state/ should be a “state of all its citizens” / should be a bi-national state / should be replaced by one democratic state from the Jordan to the sea / etc.

These kinds of statements, along with the two previous types, are the most popular target of the delegitimizing finger-pointers. There are many gentiles in Israel, and many more in the territories under its control, who do not accept the state’s definition as Jewish. Jews want to live in a state that is defined in a way that is acceptable to them, but so do others. Shouting about “delegitimizing” will not make these people disappear.

In fact, shouting about delegitimizing does not seem to accomplish any goal, except to make Israel seem like a hysterically insecure nation, which equates people saying bad things about it with pointing a nuclear weapon at it, or sending suicide bombers to attack it.

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      Reply to Comment
    2. Avigdor Lieberman does more to delegitimize Israel than any of those shallow statements every time he opens his mouth.

      Reply to Comment
    3. anti-Israeli

      The onus should fall squarely on those attempting to LEGITIMIZE Israel.

      No credible case can be made on behalf of the Israelis. Their behavior is sickening, they are in flagrant, longstanding violation of the law, they are menacing the region with weapons of mass destruction and engaged in a vile program of ethnic cleansing and violence.

      We should take a zero tolerance policy toward them.
      They are owed nothing. They deserve no consideration.

      Reply to Comment
    4. shenhav

      Many thanks for the name you use. Otherwise we would not be able to figure this out from your comment 🙂

      Reply to Comment
    5. anti-Israeli

      Hi Shenhav

      Here in the states we have an organization called J Street. They bill themselves as “Pro-Israel and Pro-peace” which is delightfully Orwellian, when you think about it. Kind of like “Pro-Nazi and pro-peace.”

      Pro-peace means anti-Israeli. Sensible people understand this without much prodding, but sometimes one should be explicit.

      Reply to Comment
    6. shenhav

      A.I. (!)
      The neo-nazis are anti Israelis. So, they are pro peace, right?

      Reply to Comment
    7. anti-Israeli

      Hi Shenhav

      You haven’t been keeping up with things, evidently. The Neo-Nazis are in fact PRO-Israel. In fact, many neo-Nazis actively pursue their agenda IN Israel:



      “The shelling of Gaza City by Israeli forces has brought joy to the heart of BNP head of legal affairs Lee Barnes: “This sort of ‘disinfecting’ process whereby Israel is required to sterilise areas of radical Islamist support … is what all nations have to do in order to eradicate Islamist cells who have managed to take over territory either within or on the edges of their borders,” Barnes wrote on his blog on January 4. He continued, “Get used to the casualties — for without them any nation so infected with Islamism will surrender, rot away into liberal apathy and then dies as it is taken over.”


      Reply to Comment
    8. anti-Israeli


      We can certainly debate the Israelo-philic vs Israelo-phobic tendencies of this or that gang of rightwing hoodlums. The argument is probably silly and who really cares what these kinds of kooks believe? They probably couldn’t tell you themselves, though the Nazis for Israel ARE evidently a real phenomenon, as the record shows.

      What is much more important (and alarming) Is Israel’s own cozy relations with Nazis and fascists. Case in point: the very same WEEK that Silvio Berlusconi gives a speech lavishly praising Mussolini–a murderer of Jews, Abe Foxman’s rabidly pro-Israel outfit the ADL awards Berlusconi its “Distinguished Statesman of the Year” award. Israel also rolls out the red carpet for Gianfranco Fini, another well known Italian fascist. (I don’t mean ‘fascist in the loose sense–he is actually a member of the fascist party.)

      But the real clincher of course is the fact that many early zionists made common cause with the Nazis. Small wonder. Their lunatic ideas about purity of blood, the evils of assimilation, God’s Chosen People and so on were quite in keeping with the Nazi agenda. The language is chillingly familiar and we hear it all the time today from Israel’s leading rabbis. ‘Don’t let the impure blood of the gentiles mix with ours and contaminate it!’

      Reply to Comment
    9. anti-Israeli

      oh come on.

      We can massacre the palestinians and rob them of their land and dump phosphorus on their hospitals and violate every law under the stars because the f-ing mufti of jerusalem was an unpleasant SOB!

      honestly–if you Israelis could HEAR yourselves as others hear you. It’s really incredible.

      Reply to Comment
    10. SHENHAV

      Oh, AI AI…

      1. I am not “we”, and I didn’t express any support to any killing or robbing.
      2. YOU are the one who compared Israel with Nazism.
      3. The Grand Mufti Amin Al Husseini -who is regarded till now as the greatest leader of the Palestinian people- has collaborated with Hitler only in purpose to help him occupy the mandatory Palestine and exterminate its Jews.
      4. You are calling this man just “an unpleasant SOB”.
      5. By this statement, you have shamefully proven your intellectual dishonesty.
      6. Hence, I have nothing to discuss with you any more.

      Reply to Comment
    11. anti-Israeli

      “Hence, I have nothing to discuss with you any more.

      Thank goodness for that!

      Reply to Comment