The Boycott Law Plays to the Hands of De-legitimizers

The assault on Israel’s legitimacy should disturb the sleep of anyone who cares for the State of Israel. Indeed, the urgent sense that action must be taken against the de-legitimization phenomenon is both understandable and justified.

Roy Keidar & Eran Shayshon

The assault on Israel's legitimacy should disturb the sleep of anyone who cares for the State of Israel. Indeed, the urgent sense that action must be taken against the de-legitimization phenomenon is both understandable and justified. However, assumptions that the boycott law and other similar laws provide the answer to this challenge, are wrong and may well backfire.

Behind the assault on the legitimacy of the State of Israel is a network of radical organizations that deny the Jewish people's right to national self-determination and Israel's right to exist. These organizations seek to establish a link between apartheid South Africa and the political model of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in order to mobilize the international community and civil society behind a campaign to isolate Israel. Their basic idea is to turn Israel into a pariah state that is totally discredited in the eyes of the world.

Nevertheless, the organizations and individuals promoting this de-legitimization campaign are few in number, and their political power is marginal. Rather, their ability to achieve disproportionate influence, and promote the political assault on Israel, has been due to their success in harnessing liberal and progressive circles in the West. Their strategy in this regard, is to deliberately blur the distinction between de-legitimization, and the legitimate discourse on Israeli government policy. In contrast, the inability of many in Israel and the Diaspora to recognize this critical distinction has only further enhanced the de-legitimizers and increased their influence. This is why legislation which attempts to restrict the actions of parts of Israeli society in their criticism of government policy, only further serves the interests of those seeking to blur the boundaries.

The Boycott Law is, in some sense, the worst of both worlds. The law does not properly address the de-legitimization phenomenon, as the law is territorial in its application and yet the de-legitimization campaign is global, primarily operating beyond Israel's borders. Therefore, those who thought that the law would provide the legal tools to deter those promoting de-legitimization will soon be disappointed. The greater damage of the law, however, is the controversy forming around it. The internal divisions within the Israeli camp have been exacerbated, when in fact; the response to the assault on Israel's legitimacy requires unity. Instead of uniting the major factions within Israeli politics against the de-legitimization threat, the legislation has turned the discourse into a public shouting match where those supporting the government's policy and those opposing it are throwing mud at each other.

Another alarming symptom and consequence of the de-legitimization phenomenon can already be observed in some North American Jewish communities. While in the past Israel was a unifying issue, now Israel is such a polarizing issue that many communities prefer not to address it at all. The Boycott Law, which has already been the subject of much criticism from North American Jewry, certainly does not contribute toward reversing this trend of Israel becoming a factor that divides Jewish communities.

Those who view the de-legitimization phenomenon as a strategic threat and who seek to confront the challenge, should thus identify the imperative for collaboration across the political spectrum with the common goal of ‘de-legitimizing delegitimization.' On the one hand, the right must recognize that the further left an organization or individual stands when taking a position against the assault on Israel's legitimacy, the more their voice resonates and is heard among liberal and progressive circles. On the other hand, the left must understand that de-legitimization process threatens us all, not just those on the right, because it embodies the denial of the Jewish people's right to national self-determination and negates Israel's right to exist.

The response to de-legitimization begins first with separating the denial of the Jewish people's right to national self-determination from the legitimate discourse about any Israeli government policy, and then creating a unifying stance defending Israel's right to exist. Against the de-legitimizers we should focus our best efforts. The Boycott Law, however, is not the right way.