‘We have to take back the narrative and reframe it and get out of the docket of the accused’ – Irwin Cotler.
Over the past several years, the almost-unpronounceable word ‘delegitimization’ has become part and parcel of any discussion on Israel.
Countless lectures have been given about it, position papers have been written about it and many an op-ed writer, including in this paper, has attempted to outline the expressions and manifestations of the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
One of the many panels at last week’s Third Annual Presidential Conference was the “Delegitimization: Who is at fault? Us or them?” discussion moderated by Brig. Gen (Res.) Michael Herzog, senior fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) and former head of the IDF Strategic Planning Division.
The panelists included:
-Irwin Cotler, emeritus professor of law and chair of Inter Amicus, McGill University, a member of Parliament, Canada and former minister of justice and attorney general
-Miri Eisen, former international media advisor to the prime minister
-Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
-Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League
-Robert Wistrich, Neuberger Professor of Modern History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the author of A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad.
The Jerusalem Post caught up with them before their panel discussion on Thursday for a more intimate dialogue on the Jewish state, its image and the campaign to call into question its legitimacy, on which there were some interesting disagreements.
Ben-David: Is there a working definition for delegitimization?
Foxman: Rejection of Israel. Period. It’s just a fancy name for the non-acceptance of Israel Hoenlein: The right of Israel to exist. It’s not about policies, it’s not 1967, it’s 1947. It’s denying Israel the right that all other countries have.
Wistrich: Delegitimization is really something more far-reaching. It goes beyond the existence of Israel. They are saying that Israel is illegitimate but also that it’s existence is immoral. That it shouldn’t be here. And behind that is something else: It challenged the raison d’être of the Jewish people being able to define itself, especially in national and state terms.
Eisen: I emphasize the issue on nation terms, that is the approach of Judaism and the Jewish people as a nation beyond religion and culture.
Ben-David: Israel’s right to exist?
Cotler: It’s not only a matter of denying Israel’s right to exist but also undermining its legitimacy and that shows that delegitimization is not only an objective, it’s a strategy. And there are series of ways and means of undermining Israel
Hoenlein: It’s an attack on the collective Jew, as Bernard Lewis put it.
Wistrich: I think it’s even more than undermining. It is political and ideological warfare, designed to sap completely the basis of Israel’s existence. It’s been rather successful until now but, fortunately, not completely so.
Ben-David: So you are saying that this is linked to anti-Semitism. Would you consider it a new form of it?
Wistrich: It’s a little more difficult that it might appear a first. You could make the argument that all forms of anti-Semitism we have known, from antiquity until the present, have involved forms of delegitimization as one aspect of the way anti-Semitism works. It’s delegitimizing because the core of Jewish identity was defined both by Jews and non-Jews in religious terms, delegitimizing Judaism, presenting it as demonic, that was an extreme form of delegitimization.