Gerald M. Steinberg

Turning Point: From Partition to Delegitimization

Today, Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day, marking 50 years since the victory in the Six Day War. Much of the international community will, however, mark the anniversary on June 6, 2017.

Now and in the coming weeks, I am speaking in Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Israel – confronting the different narratives regarding the Jewish State and the 50th anniversary. In Jerusalem, I will have the privilege of sitting with Elliott Abrams, who served in foreign policy positions under Presidents Reagan and Bush, and is now Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, to analyze the changes in the international perception of Israel.

In these venues, I will be discussing how the narrative surrounding Israel has changed.

In the first 20 years of Israel’s existence, the State and its people were “David” – small, weak, and threatened with annihilation. During these years, the international community supported Israel’s struggle to maintain sovereignty.

1967, however, marks a turning point. For some, it represents the end of the vulnerability that existed after 1948 and reunification of Jerusalem, while for others it marks the start of “the occupation” and the emergence of Palestinian victimization.

This shift in perception of the Jewish State, from the underdog to the aggressor, did not simply emerge from Israeli military victories. Numerous and well-funded human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) sprang up and pushed this narrative. While they claimed (and continue to claim) that their role was in ending Israel’s presence in the West Bank and in improving the Palestinian humanitarian situation, much of these activities delegitimize Israel as a country using the vocabulary of “apartheid” and “war crimes.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW), one of the largest and most well-known groups claiming a human rights agenda, has focused disproportionately on Israel. HRW participated prominently in the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference, joining other NGOs in referring to Israel as an “apartheid” state, guilty of “war crimes,” “genocide,” and “ethnic cleansing.” The final document called for the international community to implement the “complete and total isolation of Israel” through boycotts, exploitation of legal frameworks, and other such measures. HRW’s bias has not changed in 15 years.

Israeli groups, funded in large part by European governments, have similarly played an influential role in creating this narrative. B’Tselem, for instance, receives over half of its annual funding from foreign governments, and uses this for various campaigns. As part of its international advocacy, B’Tselem issues statements at the UN Human Rights Council, and the organization’s information is often cited in UN reports. In October 2016, Executive Director of B’Tselem Hagai Elad appeared before a special session of the UN Security Council initiated by Egypt, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Angola, where he called for “decisive international action” against Israel.

BADIL, a Palestinian NGO, has similarly influenced the international perception of Israel. While the organization claims to focus on defending and promoting “the rights of Palestinians and IDPs” the NGO regularly exploits human rights rhetoric and promotes discriminatory campaigns. BADIL utilizes demonizing language such as “Israel’s colonial apartheid regime,” “state-sponsored racism,” and “systematic ethnic cleansing,” and claims that “[i]nstitutionalized racism and discrimination” is the “root cause…of the ongoing internal forcible displacement and dispossession of the Palestinian people.” The NGO has also awarded prizes to antisemetic cartoons and is an advocate of BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns against Israel.

These examples highlight the role of international, Israeli, and Palestinian NGOs in shifting the narrative on Israel.

For further discussion, we invite you to join a discussion on the 50th Anniversary of the Six Day War with Elliot Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, on June 6th at Yad Yitzhak Ben Zvi in Jerusalem at 17:30. Please rsvp to For more information click here.

About the Author
Gerald Steinberg is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor. His latest book is "Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Process: Between Ideology and Political Realism", (Indiana University Press)