Countering Delegitimization of Israel

On Mon we went to a conference entitled “Countering assaults on Israel’s legitimacy,” organized by the Center for Strategic Dialog at Netanya Academic College ( I will not describe each lecture, but I will only discuss those highlights that seemed relevant to me.

One of the best presentations was that of Dr. Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University and NGO Monitor. His talk was informative, concise and to the point. He described the organized groups involved in professional Israel delegitimization, who are beyond rational discourse. Although most of them call themselves NGOs, incongruously they accept large sums of money from governments, mostly western European (including Norway, Holland, Belgium, France, Germany and the EU), often without the knowledge of those governments, and some from Arab and Iranian sources. Their effectiveness can be undermined by exposing the sources of their income.

The US Ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, spoke briefly and coherently. He emphasized Pres. Obama’s committment to Israel’s security and the US use of it’s veto in the UN Security Council that has “saved” Israel from international censure. He discussed Iran and confirmed that the US will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, but asked for Israeli patience in allowing the sanctions and the current negotiations between Iran and the “five plus one” to have time to work. I wish I could believe his assurances.

I disagreed strongly with the presentations of Nachman Shai, MK of the Kadimah Party, and Bradley Burston, columnist for Ha’aretz. They both take a hands off approach to those organizations that oppose Israel. Shai argued that the members of the “flytilla” flying into Israel should be allowed to pass through the airport and go on to Bethlehem. Do they really want to go to Bethlehem to pray for peace? This is very naieve. No they came on one of the busiest days of the year to BG Airport (when 50,000 Israelis are returning after the Passover holiday) to disrupt operations there, to get publicity for their message that Israel is illegitimate with placards reading “This is Palestine,” and to do worse if they could. The right policy taken by the Government was to interdict with good intelligence, i.e. tell the airlines who Israel did not want to enter, to arrest those that came in and to deport them. Certainly there was some negative publicity, but it was minimized.

Burston made a plea for more tolerance by mainstream Jewish and pro-Israel groups for J-Street and other moderately left-wing organizations. He focused on the exclusion of J-Street from the Jewish umbrella council of Berkeley, and said that the whole range of pro-Israel groups should be included. He distinguished between delegitimization and valid criticism. My and others problem with this is that we are not convinced that J-Street is indeed pro-Israel since they mainly focus on the so-called “occupation” and “settlements” and further they are infiltrated by many leftist groups, such as Jews for Palestine, that are pervasive in Berkeley. Also, as people said, if they are so pro-Israel, why don’t they make aliyah? Then they can express their negative opinions here in the reality of Israel and not from thousands of miles away.

I would like to mention two speakers who I thought gave very well balanced presentations. Both Eran Shayshon of the Reut Institute and David Harris of The Israel Project (TIP) both advocated knowing the enemy, but not overstating their influence and impact. After all, the Governments of western Europe all have diplomatic and economic ties with Israel and none of the publicity stunts of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has had any measurable effect on Israeli trade with those countries. On the contrary, Israeli trade is increasing, even booming, and this so-called boycott movement has had as little effect as the Arab boycott, that is still in effect but negligable.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center (Shurat Hadin) ( gave perhaps the most impressive talk because she described positive examples of the use of “lawfare” to thwart the plans and actions of the delegitimizers of Israel. From forcing the British and Spanish Governments to change their laws to prevent Israeli politicians, diplomats or military officers from being arrested on war crimes, to pointing out that those engaged in actions such as the flotilla and flytilla are actually breaking the law and are subject to prosecution. By taking organizations engaged in anti-Israel activities to court the ILC has won thousands of dollars in settlements. This is the way to counter those who seek to delegitimize Israel.

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.