Israel’s first and second lines of defense

Last week, Israel’s Economy Minister and leader of the right wing Jewish Home party, Naftali Bennett, shared a YouTube video on his facebook page under the title “A brave Jewish Student reveals the hypocrisy of those who boycott Israel”. The video depicts a Jewish student addressing a crowd assembled at a US university in order to vote on a petition calling for a ban on financial investments in Israel.

In his address, the student uses the rhetoric adopted by Israeli leaders when commenting on the activities of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). First is the claim that any boycott or criticism of the State of Israel is motivated by age old Anti Semitism. In recent years, Anti Semitism has transformed from a deplorable form of discrimination against Jews to the ultimate weapon of the Jewish State, an iron clad pillar of defense that protects Israel from any form of condemnation. Whenever a German bank or European supermarket chain dares criticize Israeli financial institutions for investing in businesses in the occupied territories, Prime Minister Netanyahu orders Scotty from engineering to raise the Anti Semitic shields. Yet these shields are now so worn out that Scotty soon yells “I’m giving you all she’s got, Captain!”

Right wing leaders such as PM Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett operate in a black and white world where any criticism of Israel’s policies in the settlements is Anti Semitic; any review of Israel’s consistent violation of human rights is Anti Semitic and any discussion held at any university around the world regarding the legitimacy of the occupation is also Anti Semitic. Like George W. Bush who told Congress “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”, Israeli leaders have drawn a line in the sand according to which you are either pro Israel or you are an Anti Semite.

Yet anti Semitism is both the strongest and weakest defense employed by Israel. Strong as it can be used to discredit anyone who dares speak out against Israel or the occupation. Weak in that it prevents Israel from having to deal with such criticism and, in the process, hold an open debate  regarding the legitimacy and morality of the ongoing occupation. The line drawn in the sand by Netanyahu has not only torn apart Jewish American communities, it has also divided Israelis into two rival groups, Zionists and self hating Jews. The rivalry between the two is as fierce as the one between West Side Story’s Sharks and Jets.

The second line of defense in the battle against the BDS movement, which is also expressed by Bennett’s star pupil, rests on the theory of relativity. As the student says, there is only one reason why Israel is being discussed and not other “human rights violations that take place every day in the Middle East which is exponentially worse than what happens in Israel, exponentially worse than what happens every day in Israel”. This argument is one of moral relativity and states that while Israel may be a violator of human rights, it is far better than the likes of Saudi Arabia where women cannot leave their home or Iran where homosexuals are persecuted.

However, the relativity line of defense is even more detrimental to Israel than the Anti Semitic one for if Israel now equates itself to ignorant dictatorships than surly something is rotten in the holy land.

Opposite the video shared on Bennett’s facebook wall, is a picture of him preparing to address the AIPAC Policy Conference. Israeli leaders love the opportunity to address such crowds as preaching to the choir is always easier than facing the opposition. But if our leaders believe that we are not at fault, why do they refuse to address their critics? Why has Netanyahu never appeared at a BDS meeting? Why does Naftali Bennett always have time to meet with American senators but not the time to address students at British universities during Apartheid week? Why do the hawks hide like broken doves?

If Bennett and Netanyahu truly believe that Israel’s policies in the occupied territories are just, that Israel is not a consistent violator of the most basic human rights and that the Palestinians are not living under a military occupation  than they should be able to share their convictions with their harshest critics. Instead, they hide under the shield of Anti Semitism and bask in the embrace of pro Israeli groups. By doing so, Israel’s leaders only empower the BDS movement and increase its credibility for if Israel was not guilty of the accusations brought against it, than surly it would stand up to its accusers and defend itself.

In his masterpiece Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character explains that his grandmother never sent him gifts since she was too “busy being raped by Cossacks”. Had Bennett used the same one-liner in his AIPAC speech, he would have said “my grandmother was too busy being boycotted by BDS activists”, and he would have had the AIPAC delegates grasping for air.

About the Author
Dr. Ilan Manor (PhD Oxford University) is a diplomacy scholar at Tel Aviv University. Manor's recent book, The Digitalization of Diplomacy, explores how digital technologies have reshaped diplomatic practices. Manor has contributed to several publications including The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz and the Jewish Daily Forward. According to his Twitter bio, Manor is the inventor of the ashtray. He blogs at