Israel/Palestine,  Your View

Defining Delegitimization: My Response to Naomi Klein

This is a crosspost by Eran Shayshon of the Reut Blog

Several weeks ago I was interviewed on the CBC’s morning radio show about the danger of the trend to delegitimize Israel. In this context I was asked to refer to Toronto, in which we at Reut believe there is turbulent anti-Israel activity that stretches far beyond legitimate criticism of Israeli policy. Among a few other things, I mentioned the Canadian author and political activist Noami Klein as one of the few significant individuals that reside in Toronto and promote Israel’s delegitimization.

Klein published her response in an U.S. progressive blog arguing that what I said about her was “a flat out lie“; that she has “made a personal choice not to advocate any particular political outcome in Israel-Palestine”; and that(Shayshon) can search all my writing and public statements, he won’t find anything.”

Klein claims to advocate the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) campaign “for Israel to abide by all applicable international laws.” Any political outcome according to Klein, “whether one state, two state or more — must abide by these universal non-discriminatory principles.” Klein continues that though she does “have personal preferences,” she has “no secret agenda and would support any outcome that conformed to these principles.” Klein also denies she opposes “Israel’s right to exist” and challenges me “to find one single example in anything I have said or written that would in any way support this claim.”

I believe that, in many cases, criticism of Israeli policy from a human rights perspective does not amount to fundamental delegitimization. Criticism of Israeli policy is legitimate, even when it is harsh or unfair, such as in failing to acknowledge Israeli concerns. However, I believe that such criticism crosses the line into delegitimization – as does Noami Klein – when it falls into one or more of the following categories:

  • Challenges the Two-State Solution/ Promotes the One-State Solution – In a transcript of a lecture she delivered in Ramallah Klein comments that: “We need to move the bar. We need to put really radical positions out there. How about a one state solution? How about a no state solution?“In another article for the University of Toronto campus newspaper, Klein further argues that “I wish to be saved from Israel…. Some time ago I might have said that I am a Zionist against what Zionism has become in Israel. But for now, I am a Jew against Israel.“These very clear statements by Klein reflect her rejection of a political solution that maintains a separate State of Israel, and her abdication of the Zionist principle promoting the Jewish people’s right for self determination.
  • Promotes Double Standard/ Singles Israel Out – Klein argues in a few sources that Israel should be singled out for punishment not because it is the only state which deserves it, but because it is the only state where such punishment would “actually work” (see her op-ed in the Guardian and an article by David Hirsh).
  • Demonizes Israel – Klein frequently presents Israel as being systematically, purposefully, and extensively cruel and inhumane, thus implicitly denying the moral legitimacy of its existence. Examples include association with apartheid and accusations of blatant acts of evil. I found the following description of the Israeli society extraordinarily amusing: “By far the most disturbing development in Israeli men’s misogyny towards Israeli women is something known to Israeli women as “Holocaust pornography” where images of emaciated women near ovens, shower heads, cattle cars, and the like are used to sell clothing and other products.”
  • Suggests Israel was Born in Sin / Opens the ‘1948 Files’ – Klein frequently describes Israel as a colonial country born in sin, stating in one source that Israel “can only properly be understood in the context of the history of colonialism.” The obligation to dismantle such as a state naturally derives from this logic.

So while Klein may have never publicly rejected Israel’s right to exist, by undermining the paradigm of the Two-State Solution, singling Israel out, constantly demonizing Israel, and opening the ‘1948 files,’ Klein leaves very little doubt regarding her true motives. As I said in the CBC interview, I believe it is more than a “fair accusation.”

However, what really worries me is that Klein probably genuinely believes that her actions promote human rights, justice, peace, and international law. Challenging the Two State-Solution is a recipe for chaos and bloodshed. The idea of precipitating Israel’s capitulation via the apartheid South Africa model is simplistic, superficial, totally unfounded, and likely to cause more human misery.

We should not be misled by Klein’s words. It is those in our camp, in both Israel and Palestine, that promote the principle of ‘two states for two people,’ that advance justice, that encourage national as well as civil and human rights, and that carry the potential to eventually reach a true and stable peace that is in accordance with international law – currently manifested in existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and UN resolutions. It is us, and not those who demonize one side and promote unrealistic solutions.

Further discussion with Naomi Klein can be read on her website, here.