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The political war aimed at delegitimizing Israel, and at preventing the IDF from acting to stop terror attacks, is now recognized as a major threat. These are not the sentiments of alarmists; this is the conclusion drawn by Eitan Haber, a close advisor to prime ministers, including Yitzhak Rabin (“IDF isn’t enough in face of global de-legitimization campaign faced by Israel.”)
Haber’s analysis only scratches the surface of the de-legitimization campaign waged against Israel. These efforts are not new; since the 2001 UN “World Conference Against Racism” in Durban, South Africa – international NGOs and some within Israel have introduced into the public lexicon slogans referring to Israel as an “apartheid state” guilty of “war crimes” that does not have the right to exist.
The campaign is gaining strength, and as Haber notes the importance of mobilizing the Jewish people “to fight back against the ubiquitous de-legitimization process, against the indifference, and possibly also against the despair among us.”
Examples of NGO campaigns are, unfortunately, plentiful. The recent “Free Gaza” flotilla incident demonstrated the sophisticated use of the “humanitarian,” “peace” and “non-governmental” labels to cover a preplanned attack on IDF soldiers, resulting in injuries and deaths. Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation) – a Turkish “charity” with close links to Hamas, jihadist groups, and the Turkish government – led the efforts in this instance.
Working with European and American anti-Israel campaigners, including the confrontational International Solidarity Movement (ISM), they tapped into a wider diplomatic and political campaign driven by the false charges of “war crimes” and “collective punishment.”
NGOs orchestrate these incidents, stripping away the context of terror and hate, and placing Israel and its supporters on the defensive. This strategy is coupled with ongoing efforts, such as the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, to single out and isolate Israel.
A parallel tactic, promulgated by Israeli-Arab NGO Adalah (funded by the New Israel Fund -NIF and the European Union) portrays “Israel as an inherent undemocratic state.” Similarly, NGO “lawfare” cases against Israeli officials in foreign courts attempt to delegitimize the Israeli justice system.
Detailed research reports published by NGO Monitor document the damage caused by powerful NGOs that use the façade of liberal agendas, and the funders that enable these campaigns. European governments provide tens of millions of dollars annually, without the necessary transparency, to many of these NGOs.
‘Soft power’ war
Many of these groups, including the NIF, are attempting to prevent the Knesset from adopting legislation that would provide transparency regarding how and where NGOs receive their funding. These groups fear that they too would lose their funding and impact, and placed their private agendas and interests above the right of the public to know who is paying for the de-legitimization efforts.
Haber’s is a welcomed voice, joining the growing mainstream chorus that has highlighted the power of NGOs in the “soft power” war against Israel. Other prominent liberals in the US – including NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who echoed the criticism of Human Rights Watch by founder Robert Bernstein -have criticized the “foul… trend, both deliberate and inadvertent, to delegitimize Israel – to turn it into a pariah state, particularly in the wake of the Gaza war.”
Criticism and debate on particular policies is an appropriate part of all democratic societies. Blanket de-legitimization is not. The fact that Friedman, Bernstein, Haber, and others are calling attention to this danger shows that the mainstream Left and Right in Israel and the Diaspora have found an issue around which they can unify.
It also means those who care about Israel should follow their lead and take action. This includes demanding the implementation of NGO funding guidelines based on transparency and assurance that their donations will not be used for de-legitimization. Other guidelines reject the BDS campaign and international “lawfare” cases in all forms and arenas; offer criticisms of Israel in proper context; and use the vast resources available to assist those whose human rights truly are being infringed upon, in Iran, Sudan, Europe, and elsewhere, but are overshadowed by the obsessive emphasis on Israel.
Haber’s call for a military-type effort and a “huge body” to “fight back” against the de-legitimization process is understandable. But size is less important than intelligence, in both senses of the word. Israel and the Jewish people, working in partnership, need to think and act strategically, to name and shame the hardcore anti-Israel activists who use the façade of morality to promote their racism.
The funders and enablers, particularly the anonymous officials in European governments, need to be similarly exposed. In parallel, we need alliance with those who agree on the wider principles of Israel’s place among the nations, despite polity differences, including on settlements and other issues.
The alternative to this war strategy would consign us to watching from the sidelines as Israel’s place among the nations erodes further, and our ability to defend citizens against mass terror becomes more difficult. This alternative, as Eitan Haber has discovered, is unacceptable.
Prof. Gerald Steinberg is president of NGO Monitor and professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University