The Dangerous Link between Delegitimization and Sedition

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When we think about the campaign of delegitimization against Israel, the international efforts of the Palestinians and their allies to isolate and harm Israel come to mind.  We may also recall the Durban debacle of 2011, the boycott of Israeli products, and the refusal of some performers to appear before audiences in Israel.  In reality, boundaries are unimportant, because a basic type of delegitimization takes place unrelentingly in far off lands and within Israel’s domestic discourse. 

I am referring to the ongoing campaign to discredit the idea of the Jewish state and particularly its prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu.  Most recently, a group of agitators, prominent intellectuals, and fashionable authors have accused the Prime Minister of being a dictator, a megalomaniac, and war criminal.  Moreover, they have claimed that the existing form of government is not a real democracy.  According to them, the Prime Minister, the government, and the Jewish State lack legitimacy and virtue.  They no longer deserve to hold office and even to exist. 

This aggressive and confrontational form of delegitimization exceeds the bounds of civil discourse.  In social-science terms, these adversaries reject the basic paradigm of the State of Israel, its social and political fabric, its legal organization and in its most basic sense, its constitution.    

We constantly receive these messages in our social environment, in the media, and in the marketplace of ideas.  They have become so pervasive that the public nearly does not pay attention to them, and this is dangerous. Words are used like weapons, and the violence of words can easily mutate into physical violence, as it has during the past two years.   We should be mindful of the ease with which such ideas and slogans can be internalized.

At present the timing of a major assault on the Prime Minister and the Israeli system of democracy is related both to Israel’s current security situation and to the recent visit of the Republican frontrunner in the American elections.  Mitt Romney’s visit to Jerusalem may have been much more successful than reported in the press and, to the surprise of many, his message about the relationship between a nation’s culture and accomplishments received a surprisingly sympathetic resonance worldwide.  

Some of the outstanding figures taking part in this campaign of delegitimization are, for example, David Grossman who called for protests against a preemptive strike on Iran both from the ranks of the army and the general public (Ha’aretz, Aug., 3).   Avraham Burg attacked Israel’s democracy (NYT, Aug., 5), and Tsipi Livny in an interview with Christiane Amanpour (CNN, Aug., 8) accused the Prime Minister of selling the State to the ultra-Orthodox.  This week, Amos Oz joined this group, by initiating a lawsuit which would require the whole cabinet to deliberate over major security decisions.  What is remarkable is the degree of her impassioned blind hatred for the Prime Minister, particularly in the case of Tsipi Livny.  

We must listen carefully to the message which such individuals convey and identify their ultimate purpose: that is the end-goal which they really hope to achieve.  They do not intend to bring about improvement through constructive criticism and reform. They do not seek to convince but to destroy.  Because they reject the existing structure of the Jewish state, they seek to annihilate it and wipe it off the face of the earth. Under the new order which they hope to create, they would construct a “perfect democracy” ruled by a cadre fully committed to their partisan ideological views.  They know that they can never achieve power through legitimate and free elections, so they endeavor to achieve their objectives gradually and systematically through overt means and subterfuge. This is the meaning of sedition. 

We know from experience that, while speaking of the need for democracy, the real enemies of democracy in Israel seek to exploit the legitimate grievances of the economically weak sectors of society and turn their discontent into political capital.  Similarly, they are prepared to enter Red-Green (Leftist-Islamic) alliances.  Today, this type of agitation, while bothersome and disagreeable, may not represent a first class security threat, but under conditions of national crisis it could.  The danger is present, but the immediacy of the threat depends on its scale and intensity.  It is a real possibility that within the coming year Israel will be at war, and this will present an ideal opportunity for the members of the “non-patriotic left” to shake the very foundations of democracy in Israel.  When this moment arrives, it is likely that Israel will have to confront enemies both at home and abroad.

The Dangerous Link between Delegitimization and Sedition

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Joel Fishman

Biographical Statement:

Joel Fishman was born in Winston-Salem, N. C. and has lived in Israel since 1972. He grew up in Brookline, MA, received his B.A. from Tufts University, and his Ph. D. in modern European history from Columbia University. From 1968-1970, he was a Fulbright scholar at the Institute for History of the State University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. His dissertation was published under the title, Diplomacy and Revolution; the London Conference of 1830 and the Belgian Revolt. He is married and has three children and four grandchildren.

Like many of his generation, the unsettled conditions of the seventies interrupted his academic career. By the time he completed his doctorate in 1972, the job market had evaporated. During the following years, Fishman researched and published several pioneering articles on the postwar reconstruction of the Dutch Jewish community and from 1975-1978 carried out post-doctoral work at the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation in Amsterdam.

After returning to Israel in 1978, Fishman found that he was “overqualified” for nearly all manner of salaried work, so from 1980 to 2000, he worked as a photographer until the Second Armed Uprising ruined business conditions. Fortunately, an opportunity arose to join the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, so Fishman made the transition into a new field, contemporary history, or, better stated, the history of the present. His research applies the historical method in order to explain contemporary events. One of his pioneering accomplishments was the publication of the policy paper, “Ten Years since Oslo: The PLO’s ‘People’s War’ Strategy and Israel’s Inadequate Response,”[1] which analysed the strategy of the other side, many aspects of which were borrowed from the North Vietnamese, and the failure of Israel’s military and leadership elite to understand and adapt to the new situation. His findings appear in a series of articles, which are posted on the web. A selection of his articles has also appeared in book form, in French, under the title, La Guerre d’Oslo (Prof. Efraim Karsh was the coauthor).[2] Since 2004, Fishman has been a Fellow of the JCPA.

Independently, Fishman served as Chairman of the Center for Research on Dutch Jewry at the Hebrew University (2006-2009). There, he introduced sound fiscal practice and oversaw the construction of a new library.

Currently he is Book Review Editor of the Jewish Political Studies Review at the JCPA and is carrying out research on political warfare, particularly media warfare and propaganda.

Statement about SPME:

The members of SPME comprise a community of leading scholars with whom I have been able to share ideas and to learn. In their company, I have observed the combined virtues of courage moderated by maturity and caution. I find this outlook congenial.

Most scholars of my generation who grew up in postwar America enjoyed a period of opportunity and relative grace. Now, there are signs that this era may be ending, and we are entering “interesting times.” In this uncertain environment, SPME will have an increasingly important job to do, telling the truth, fighting for freedom of thought and protecting civil discourse, in America and abroad.

[1] Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 503, 1 September 2003. .

[2] La Guerre d'Oslo. Paris: Editions de Passy, 2005.

Read all stories by Joel Fishman