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Israel’s Vision Problem

Israel and I are close in age, so it is not surprising that we suffer some of the same ailments. I have both myopia and hyperopia (nearsightedness and farsightedness), due to stretching of the eye globe and increasing rigidity of the lens, making it difficult to focus on both nearby and distant objects without correction. In addition, cataracts filter and reduce the incoming light. In Israel’s case, these vision impairments are due to overstretching of credibility and rigidity of mindset, while paranoia filters incoming facts and reduces the perception of reality. Israel also needs correction.

Israel’s vision deficiencies are both the subject of and evident in The Gaza Flotilla: A Collapse of Israel’s Political Firewall, a report from the Reut Institute (RI), an Israeli think tank devoted to government policy and strategy. Although the report criticizes the Israeli government for its lack of vision, it suffers the same impairment, and therefore fails to recognize and address the problem that the RI calls the “delegitimization challenge,” i.e. increasing worldwide public criticism and reaction to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians (the “collapse of its political firewall”).

In cruder terms (my own), the RI accuses the Israeli government of trying to put lipstick on a pig, an exercise in futility. However, the RI recommendation is cosmetic surgery – not really much better. “Take our advice,” it says, “and change Israeli policy, so as to project a better image.” Neither of these approaches addresses the underlying reality: it’s a pig. The problem is with the nature of the animal itself, which Israel (and RI) is unable to see because of its limited vision.

The deficiencies of the report begin with its description and analysis of the problem. It perceives the challenge to come from two “extremist” forces. The first is the “Resistance Network,” which is Arab and Islamist, and the second is the “Delegitimization Network,” which is global, liberal and radical. The report concludes that incapacitation of these forces will remove the threat.

The failure of this analysis is stunning. In order to accept it, one must conclude that the “delegitimization network” must be spectacularly effective, despite their relatively small numbers and modest resources. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla cost millions of dollars, but that is minuscule compared to the resources of Israel and its supporters. For Israel (and the RI) to consider this relatively small convoy of humanitarian aid to be a threat to its existence speaks volumes to the paranoia that filters its thinking.

The fact is that resistance and “delegitimization” are a natural outgrowth of the historical and actual ethnic cleansing requirements of the state of Israel and of the ideological underpinnings that motivate such requirements. Neither the Palestinians nor the Arabs, nor the world community, nor even the Jewish community will remain complacent in the face of the continued dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians from their land, or of Israel’s repeated attacks and wars on its neighbors for the sake of maintaining a demography that privileges particular citizens within the state. This is the pig that neither lipstick nor cosmetic surgery can effectively disguise. The surgery may keep some from immediately identifying the animal, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

In order to fool itself, however, the RI must resort to distortions of fact, with which the report is replete. To cite only one example, it reports that “Israel managed to take over five of the six vessels in the…flotilla without violence.” This would be news to the passengers who were beaten and suffered broken bones on those vessels. The RI is apparently relying on the propaganda of its own client for information. Other sections clearly borrow from hysterical Zionist websites that treat rumor as fact and even fabricate for purposes of vilification. It is one thing to purvey misinformation but quite another to believe it oneself.

This is typical. The RI ascribes almost superhuman powers to Hamas (“Hamas’ Agility, Israel’s Rigidity”), Hezbollah and the groups of Palestine solidarity groups trying to survive on a tiny fraction of the income of organizations like the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). This is very flattering to the groups, but a much more realistic explanation is that far fewer resources are necessary when the facts speak for themselves, while much greater resources are needed to mislead the public.

The RI addresses this to a partial extent by advocating policy changes so as to make the deceit more plausible. This is a reasonable and pragmatic strategy, given the preservation and welfare of a Jewish supremacist state as an axiomatic objective. To an extent, in fact, such changes may represent a vindication for the efforts of human rights advocates that the RI describes as “delegitimizers.” In order to be completely realistic, however, the RI would need to recognize that Israel’s credibility problem is inherent in the axiom itself – i.e. that such a state is essentially racist to the core. Obviously, it cannot do this, which limits the extent to which it can provide objective advice to its client.

If, however, the RI is incapable of providing objective advice, it can nevertheless influence Israeli government policy, and should therefore be taken seriously by the human rights groups that are the targets of its recommendations. Those targets are primarily the global Palestine solidarity (“delegitimization”) network and its supporters, which the RI lumps together with Israel’s more conventional adversaries like Hamas and Hezbollah.

Unfortunately for RI and Israel, the recommendations are little more than a change in emphasis and “more of the same.” Israel and its supporters already actively work to “delegitimize” Palestine solidarity groups, and the strategies that the report proposes (e.g. “re-branding” Israel and “naming and shaming delegitimizers”) are nothing new. Palestine solidarity groups, and especially those named in the report, might possibly expect renewed efforts to undermine them. Even if such efforts are partially successful, however, they are unlikely to remain so for long, given the difficulty of promoting a racist agenda in today’s world.

We who have been engaged in civilian human rights advocacy for Palestinians (sometimes called the “peace” movement) can take a perverse satisfaction in the recognition and importance given to us in the Reut report. It is an error, however, to describe us as “delegitimizers.” We are incapable of legitimizing or delegitimizing anything. Israel’s own actions do that. At most, we draw attention to those actions and to the nature of the Israeli state, much as M. K. Gandhi did in the Indian independence movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did in the U.S. civil rights movement.

If the Reut Institute and Israel wish to address the fundamental problem, they will have to reconsider the premise upon which they are founded, namely that a state that expels, excludes and represses people simply because they are not Jews can achieve and convince others of its moral legitimacy. No amount of lipstick can disguise a pig, and even cosmetic surgery will not change the underlying reality. The only thing that will provide such legitimacy is a society that welcomes all who call it home. Even those of us who are past our prime and have limited vision can see that.

PAUL LARUDEE is co-founder of the group that first broke the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in 2008, and of the Free Palestine Movement, www.freepalestinemovement.org, which sent a U.S. delegation as part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

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Paul Larudee is on the steering committee of the Syria Solidarity Movement.

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