Political firewall: Strategy against the assault against Israel's legitimacy – Updated Executive Summary

This document focuses on the structural response to the challenge of Israel's delegitimization

Building a Political Firewall against
the Assault on Israel's Legitimacy
Executive Summary

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The assault on the legitimacy of Israel

1. In recent years, Israel has been subjected to a systematic and systemic assault on its political and economic model, which aims to bring about its implosion and is inspired by the fate of the Soviet Union, and apartheid South Africa.

2. This assault is increasingly perceived to be a strategic threat for Israel. This understanding underlies the recent mobilization by the Government of Israel (GOI) and the Jewish world to offer a systemic response to this challenge.

3. The assault on Israel's legitimacy is being waged by a relatively small number of ideological organizations of two types: The Middle East-based Moqawama (rejection) Network that is driven by Islamic and Arab ideology and nationalism, and the primarily Europe-based Delegitimization Network that is driven by political and philosophical ideologies.

4. The Delegitimization Network focuses its operation mainly in several "hubs of delegitimization" - geographical places, usually metropolitan areas, where there is a strong anti-Zionist sentiment, and which carry a global weight that influences the global campaign against Israel foundation. These hubs are usually global metropolises that concentrate international media, leading judicial institutions, major academic centers, and international NGOs.

In previous documents, Reut pointed at the following hubs: London, Madrid, Brussels, Paris, San Francisco, Several places in Scandinavia, Johannesburg and Sydney. In these hubs, they primarily focus on few arenas in which they enjoy structural advantages, such as the judiciary, academia, churches, and trade unions.

5. The "delegitimizers" in the West represent marginal political forces and are also relatively few in number, but are increasingly able to mainstream and achieve disproportionate influence.

6. They do so by their ability to catalyze a zeitgeist -- a spirit of the times -- of increasing hostility toward Israel. Moreover, their effort to brand Israel as the "new apartheid" has made inroads in alienating Israel from liberal and progressive circles, some of which have often unknowingly fueled the political assault on Israel by engaging in "acts of delegitimization."

7. The main drivers of delegitimization are leaders within what is commonly known as the "red-green alliance," a reference to the increasing connection between Islamists and radical-left elements.

8. In some Jewish communities Israel has become a polarizing issue - The smear campaign against Israel eroded the support for Israel in some communities. Nonetheless, Jews do not become anti-Israel overall, and instead they tend to become 'agnostic' towards Israel.

9. Polarized Jewish dynamics serve as fertile ground to promote the assault on Israel legitimacy - Whether by generation, political affiliation, or religious denomination, Israel has become a major fault-line.

Overarching principles for response

10. Caveat: This document focuses on the structural response to the challenge of Israel's delegitimization. Its scope does not cover a discussion of closely related issues such as the battle of narratives or arguments or the relation between Israel's delegitimization and anti-Semitism.

11. The logic of delegitimization stems from a rejection of Israel's existence, and therefore cannot be made to disappear by policy or public relations (PR). Hence, our working assumption is that neither changing Israel's policies nor improving PR will suffice in the battle against delegitimization, although both can have a significant impact in this context. In fact, credible and consistent commitment by Israel to ending the control over the Palestinian population and to integration and equality of Israel's Arabs citizens is essential for success among progressives.

12. Hence, the campaign against Israel's delegitimization must represent a systemic and structural approach. The following is a set of principles for such a response:

a. Narrow the definition of delegitimization and expand the definition of 'pro-Israel' in order to shrink the base of delegitimizers and expand ours: Delegitimization should be narrowly defined, i.e., as negating Israel's right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to self-determination.

b. Out, name, and shame the delegitimizers - with the narrow definition of delegitimization, pro-Israel groups should systematically expose information about them, their activities, and the organizations that they operate out of. The goal is to eventually frame them, depending on context, as anti-peace, or dishonest purveyors of double standards. By exposing the delegitimizers and engaging the critics, it would be possible to drive a wedge between those who are motivated by ideological zeal to see Israel's destruction and those who use a legitimate discourse on Israel.

c. It takes a network to fight a network - The power and resilience of human networks is determined by their 'hubs' and 'catalysts.' Hence, effectively contending with the Delegitimization Network requires embracing a network-based logic and response that focuses on hubs, and undermines the catalysts by mobilizing our network. A network based response requires that the GOI and Jewish institutions must get comfortable with a flat, loosely coordinated response.

Any organization that embraces network logic and is able to inspire and mobilize can be its catalyst, including synagogues, community centers, and formal institutions, as well as other NGOs and individuals.

d. Broad tent: It takes 'all instruments of the orchestra' to win this fight - from the political right and left. This principle requires embracing the paradox in which the more critical a voice against Israeli politics, the more credible its stance against delegitimization. Simply put, the most effective voices against Israel's delegitimization come from the progressive left.

Thus, there is a need to substantively engage liberal and progressive circles - Mobilizing this constituency to stand against delegitimization requires substantively responding to their concerns and building personal relationships. Special emphasis should be given to Jewish liberals. On this regard, Jewish communities should attempt to establish a code-of-conduct with regards to Israel, which applies to both the left and right, enhances community cohesion, and widens the anti-delegitimization tent.

e. Personal relationships - Reut concluded that in many case studies in which delegitimization attempts failed the key to success was the activation of already existing personal connections with key individuals in positions of authority, leadership, or influence.

f. Shared-values approach - a proven effective approach has been to emphasize the shared values of the general public and Israelis. This approach is designed to highlight the differences between Israel and its neighbors and encourage an appreciation of Israel as a democracy.

g. Selective and observant response - A strategic, as opposed to a reflexive, response, is crucial in fighting the assault on Israel. Reut concluded that in most cases, the mere discourse about the boycott has been key in the instigation of an anti-Israel Zeitgeist. Thus, in many cases, it was heavy-handed reactions of pro-Israel groups that boosted such conversation.

13. Legitimacy surplus: reframing the Israel discourse - In addition to successful efforts to counter the assault on Israel's legitimacy, change the anti-Israel spirit of times requires creating a "legitimacy surplus" by proactively creating new frameworks of discussion about Israel. In this regard, it is necessary to adopt a positive message approach and strive to reframe the Israel discourse - It is necessary to reframe the context through which people hear about Israel so as to associate it with 'positive' values, such as innovation, creativity, and contribution to humanity.

Branding Israel as a violent, occupying country, which abuses human rights and violates international law, is a pillar of the delegitimization campaign. The reaction of pro-Israeli groups, which is often focused on refuting the argument is not enough, and often plays in the framework created by the delegitimizers.

14. The relationship and division of roles between Israeli diplomatic missions and local leadership are critically important to fighting delegitimization. The main attributes of this cooperation are based on the unique values of each side:

- The local Israeli diplomatic mission should focus on communicating the voice of Jerusalem to the local community and vice versa; serving as a formal front of Israel that draws 'fire.' It should be tasked with exposing their arguments, mobilization methods, and structure; introducing new and innovative information and analysis; and engaging in the labor-intensive work of relationship-based diplomacy.

- The local pro-Israel community should take responsibility for: Providing people, funding, resources, and platforms for response; nurturing key relationships across liberal and progressive circles; driving local media campaigns; and mobilizing the loosely orchestrated pro-Israel network.

In general, the local Jewish community is likely to possess greater sensitivity to local contexts and nuances, enabling it to operate with greater effectiveness against delegitimization.