A persistent undertone of angst at this week’s Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly in New Orleans centered on international efforts to delegitimize Israel. Many of the 4,000 delegates witnessed that effort firsthand when a tiny group of hecklers from Jewish Voice for Peace, a group the Anti-Defamation League has accused of consorting with the delegitimizers, disrupted the keynote address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — hardly the kind of protest likely to change hearts and minds.
JFNA has committed some $3 million to a project with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) to fight the delegitimization effort, and they are right to do so.
Israel’s adversaries are effectively manipulating criticism of Israel — some of it legitimate, much of it one-sided, some entirely specious — to reinforce their contention that the creation of the Jewish state was a mistake in the first place, or that Israel, through its occupation of Arab lands, has lost its claim to legitimacy.
This is a pernicious movement that, sadly, has misled even some in our own community, and it is particularly potent on campuses across the country, where youthful idealism is cynically exploited by those interested in peace and justice for one side only.
That effort must be vigorously resisted — by national and international Jewish organizations and at the grass-roots level, which is where JFNA and JCPA come in. It must be fought with the facts, not propaganda — starting with the fact that Israel was restored, not created, by the international community as a matter of simple justice.
That said, the effort must make a clear distinction between criticism of specific Israeli policies and the delegitimization drive. With so many genuine delegitimizers hiding behind a facade of “fair” criticism, that isn’t always easy.
Israelis are free with criticism, much of it harsh, of their government’s policies, and it’s simply unrealistic to think such criticism won’t be part of the debate among a diverse, divided American Jewish community, as well. In fighting the very real problem of delegitimization efforts, it is important not to apply that label to criticism by those who support the Jewish state but are uncomfortable with some of its current policies.
Delegitimization is a real threat to Israel’s existence, every bit as real and immediate as the threat of a nuclear Iran, and it must be fought with energy, discipline and intelligence.