Does “Delegitimization” mean “treason” in Israel?

By Roi Maor and Dahlia Scheindlin

As part of our interest in making order out of the “delegitimization” debate, we have decided to analyze some of the vocal or prominent thinking on the issue. Following Roi’s post, we hope this will become a series in which we address the charges that critics of Israel are actually seeking to delegitimize the existence of the state. We try to understand when the charges are legitimate; or if (as we fear happens often) they are used as political cover for deflecting critique of Israel.

We begin with the much acclaimed report written by the Reut Institute in March 2010.

The report begins with a number of definitions. Those pertaining to delegitimization are as follows:

Fundamental Legitimacy: “Legitimacy of a sovereign entity’s right of being. Israel’s fundamental legitimacy was recognized by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 (11/29/1947) and by the ensuing recognition by leading nations.”

Up to here, we basically agree. Israel is a sovereign entity and it is widely recognized, as stated. “Fundamental legitimacy” does not rest on the character of the state, its political system or the nature of its regime. State legitimacy is not predicated on Zionism or any other kind of ism. States that are not democracies can be legitimate (although we don’t wish this on anyone) – they are just recognized sovereign entities.

Here is their definition of delegitimization of Israel:

Israel’s Fundamental Delegitimization/Anti-Zionism: Negation of Israel’s right to exist or of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination based on philosophical or political arguments (for a list of the arguments, see chapter 4).

Denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination is wrong but it is also extremely rare.

The list of arguments (which is in Chapter 3, not 4)  has eight points. But about half of them are hardly relevant. The ultra-orthodox or Bundist anti-Zionist views they cite relate to an insignificant minority. The argument favoring a one-state solution is a political disagreement, not a negation of the right to self-determination. We submit that one-state advocacy on its own is not delegitimizing as there are many different political forms to experiment with, including confederations and autonomous regions. It is politically dishonest to lump all of these together as delegitimizing the Jewish right to self-determination.

Regarding the argument that Palestinians and Israelis have become geographically inseparable due to settlement growth, the authors themselves admit that the claim in itself is not de-legitimizing (although it may be used as such).  Finally, the argument that Israel has lost moral legitimacy is not inherently related to the legitimacy of self-determination.

The list of attitudes that we can agree serve to de-legitimize the Jewish people’s claim to self determination is thus pared down to four such arguments: 1. Judaism is a religion, not a nation; 2. Anti- (or post) nation-state arguments; 3. Jews have no legitimate connection to this land; 4. Israel is payback for the Holocaust and best resolved within Europe, not the Middle East (think Helen Thomas).

But most of the groups who are routinely accused of de-legitimization, such as Israel’s human rights and pro-democracy civil society groups – and most recently, anyone to the left of Ehud Barak – say no such things.

Even some very serious critics of Israel who address its “right to exist,” actually refer to its right to exist as a Jewish state. In other words, they protest the state imposing its Jewish character on non-Jewish citizens (or on Jewish citizens who don’t want Judaism imposed on them by the state). That may be painful for Jews to hear, but it is again ultimately about the character of the state, not the right of Jewish people to self-determination.

Why are we so concerned about what constitutes ‘de-legitimization’? Because lately, “delegitimization” is starting to sound very much like a sterilized euphemism for “treason.” It’s a serious, dangerous charge, which has ended in bloodshed already once in Israel’s history.

The onus is on those who cry “delegitimization” at every turn to prove that the groups or people they accuse are really guilty of one of those four points. If they can be found, we will still insist that those people have every right to speak, but we don’t feel the need to include their arguments in serious debate.

Check in soon for our next installment.