M.J. Rosenberg: Enough with the “Delegitimization” Distraction

I’ve said it many times- nonviolent protest against the Occupation is not delegitimization, it’s simply a disagreement/criticism of Israeli politics and policies visa vi the Palestinians. To claim that nonviolent protest is an existential threat to the very existence of Israel is a lazy, fear-mongering tactic that actually serves, ironically, to minimize some of Israel’s actual security threats.

Whenever I write about the use of the delegitimization canard to silence criticism of Israel, invariably someone comes around and accuses me of various things including anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment, being pro-terrorist etc. That’s utter nonsense and it makes a mockery of very real incidents of anti-Semitism. But it’s a great political tactic to silence debate, albeit an overused one. Luckily, more and more people aren’t buying into it.

M.J. Rosenberg has a commentary about all of this in the L.A. Times- here’s an excerpt:

Suddenly, all the major pro-Israel organizations are anguishing about “delegitimization.” Those who criticize Israeli policies are accused of trying to delegitimize Israel, which supposedly means denying Israel’s right to exist.


In a May speech, President Obama used it in reference to the Palestinian effort to seek recognition of their national aspirations at the U.N. General Assembly, as Israel successfully did in 1947. He said that “for the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.” But he failed to explain just how a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations would delegitimize Israel.

The Palestinians are not, after all, seeking statehood in Israeli territory but in territory that the whole world, including Israel, recognizes as having been occupied by Israel only after the 1967 war. Rather than seeking Israel’s elimination, the Palestinians who intend to go to the United Nations are seeking establishment of a state alongside Israel. (That state would encompass 22% of the British mandate for Palestine, approved by the League of Nations in 1922, with Israel possessing 78%.)

The whole concept of delegitimization seems archaic. Israel achieved its “legitimacy” when the United Nations recognized it 63 years ago. It has one of the strongest economies in the world. Its military is the most powerful in the region. It has a nuclear arsenal of about 200 bombs, with the ability to launch them from land, sea and air.

In that context, the whole idea of delegitimizing Israel sounds silly. Israel can’t be delegitimized.

So why are the pro-Israel organizations talking about it? The answer is simple: They are trying to divert attention from the intensifying world opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and to the blockade of the Gaza Strip, both of which, by almost any standard, are illegitimate. They are trying to divert attention from the ever-expanding settlements, which are not only illegitimate but illegal under international law. They are trying to divert attention from the ever-louder calls for Israel to grant Palestinians equal rights.

It wasn’t that long ago that neither the Israeli government nor the Israeli lobby worried about the “forces of delegitimization.”

On the contrary, in 1993, after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s recognition of the Palestinians’ right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the Arab emirates began quiet dealings with Israel.

The Arab boycott of Israel ended. Foreign investment soared. No one discussed delegitimization while much of the world, including the Muslim world, was knocking on Israel’s door to establish or deepen ties.

That trend continued so long as the Israeli government seemed to be genuinely engaged in the peace process.

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About Stacy

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2 Comments on “M.J. Rosenberg: Enough with the “Delegitimization” Distraction”

  1. thainjacobs Says:

    Thanks for posting this I hadn’t seen it and I follow MJ pretty closely. He’s one of the few people with his head screwed on straight.

    It’s a bummer to hear Obama and Clinton throw the word delegitimization around like they do. Sometimes I think they are just doing it to appease the lobby but other times I worry they actually believe the nonsense. I mean come on, how can anyone think that the PA going to the UN to declare statehood is the same as saying “Israel has no right to exist.” That’s total bullshit and if were weren’t talking about Israel most people would say that it’s BS. People have a right to criticize Israel’s policies, China’s policies, Bahrain’s policies etc. The Zionbots always say something like “well you’re an antisemite because you only focus on Israel” and I respond no I don’t just focus on Israel but what makes Israel different than some of the other countries is that it is a democracy unlike China, Saudi Arabia, Syria etc. and thus is held to a higher standard like all democracies are and also because the U.S. has a very “special” relationship with Israel, what Israel does has an impact on all of us in the US. And then there’s the whole money thing. If Great Britain was doing the same shit as Israel I’d be complaining about them too but they’re not.

    Why don’t people understand that there is something wrong with NOT opposing a military occupation that has gone on for decades? In Israel they are willing to admit that ultimately the occupation harms their democracy. I don’t know how anyone can make a logical argument that says that military occupation and democracy can work together seamlessly. It can’t. Ehud Barak said if they don’t do the two state solution thing soon Israel will ultimately be an apartheid system. Is he anti-Israel? Is he antisemitic? I don’t think so given he’s Israel’s defense minister.


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