A while ago, the Reut Institute, arguably Israel's most influential think tank, published a very controversial report about "hubs of delegitimization." It attempted to equate tactics of non-violent resistance—like the growing movement to use Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to force Israel to comply with international law—with a military campaign to destroy the state of Israel.
Most worrying, the report explicitly urged Israeli intelligence agencies like Mossad to take unspecified action against peace activists using entirely legal methods: "Neither changing policy nor improving public relations will suffice...Faced with a potentially existential threat, Israel must treat it as such by focusing its intelligence agencies on this challenge; allocating appropriate resources; developing new knowledge; designing a strategy, executing it.” The think tank also called on the Israeli government to “sabotage network catalysts” – defined as key players in the “delegitimization network.”
The Reut report identified several cities with active Palestinian solidarity communities as “hubs” in this supposed network, one hub being my own city of Toronto. Another is the Bay Area, home of the indispensible and courageous Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Cecilie Surasky, JVP deputy director, has an overview of the Reut controversy with lots of links. In it, Surasky succinctly undercuts the entire premise of the attack: “What groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) seek to delegitimize is the occupation and massive inequality and human rights violations committed against Palestinians, not Israel itself.”
Recently, I’ve gotten a taste of Reut-style “sabotage” myself. Last month, Eran Shayshon, a senior analyst at Reut, was invited on CBC radio to explain why he singled out Toronto in the report. Shayshon proceeded to equate the non-violent human rights movement with Hamas and Hezbollah and made several false and damaging claims about me, including the claim that I oppose Israel's right to exist and oppose a two-state solution. There is no basis for this, as JVP called out in its response, "Reut Institute Report Lies About Naomi Klein." You can listen to the inflammatory CBC audio interview here.
What follows is going to seem like a lot of detail and he-said-she-said. But keep in mind that Reut has openly called for covert tactics to be deployed against groups and individuals using legal, non-violent methods to advocate for justice. The goal, according to the Jerusalem Post, is to “establish a ‘price tag’ for attacking Israel and punish boycotters.” In other words, they are trying to shame people into silence, which is why each one of their lies needs to be countered.
So here goes the he-said-she-said, starting with my brief response to www.mondoweiss.net, one of my favourite websites, which has been closely covering the controversy:
What Shayshon says about me is a flat out lie. I have made a personal choice not to advocate any particular political outcome in Israel-Palestine. He can search all my writing and public statements, he won’t find anything. What I do advocate, and what the BDS campaign advocates, is for Israel to abide by all applicable international laws. Any political outcome — whether one state, two state or more — must abide by these universal non-discriminatory principles. Though I do have personal preferences, I have no secret agenda and would support any outcome that conformed to these principles.
Shayshon's other big lie is his claim that I oppose "Israel’s right to exist"; indeed that I “have stated it out[right]." Once again, I challenge him to find one single example in anything I have said or written that would in any way support this claim. He won't find it. This lie could just be slander, an attempt to inflict more "shame" on BDS advocates, as the leaked internal document explained to all of us recently. But I suspect that if challenged, Shayshon would simply claim that to support BDS is to oppose Israel’s existence, a claim I have heard before. This is interesting. Since the unequivocal goal of BDS is to force Israel to abide by international law, what Shayshon seems to be saying by implication is that Israel cannot exist within the confines of international law. I would never make such an argument but it does explain the recent aggressive "lawfare" campaign taking aim at the very existence of these laws.
One last point: if supporting boycotts against a place means supporting its annihilation (the claim being made here and elsewhere), what precisely are we to make of the Gaza siege, infinitely more brutal than anything BDS advocates? Does that mean Israel is denying the right of Gaza to exist?
Shayshon and his team appeared to spend the night Googling for dirt to confirm their claims—and came up empty handed. This is the response Shayshon posted on the Reut site and sent to Mondoweiss.net
(my response follows).
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 the Reut Institute 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 Naomi Klein as one of the few significant individuals that reside in Toronto and promote Israel’s delegitimization.
Klein published her response in this blog. She argued 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 Naomi 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 that 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 advances justice, that encourages 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.
And finally, here is my detailed rebuttal, originally posted on Mondoweiss.
Is that really the best an entire think tank can come up with to support the claim that I am out to destroy Israel and should be stripped of my free speech rights?
First, I have to say that I find it hilarious that in points one and three, Eran Shayshon resorts to quoting an article I wrote for my student newspaper when I was 19. I’m almost 40 so it’s oddly flattering. As I said the last time this article was dug up, I don't respond to this kind of slime: "The article in question was written when I was in first year university. I look forward to the follow up exposé revealing that, in that very same year, I wrote college essays about books I had not actually read.”
As for the quote from my Ramallah speech, I did not advocate for a particular political solution but for a wide spectrum of debate on the subject. Here’s the quote in context:
"I don’t really think that Obama is FDR, but I can tell you this: he needs us to make him do it. He needs that mass movement, that global mass movement, putting pressure on him because boy is he getting pressure from the other side. And when he takes this tiny little tentative stand – ‘no more [Israeli] settlements [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories]‘ – suddenly this is a crazy progressive position. How about no settlements? 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? Let’s get out there and make a lot of noise and build a mass movement for peace and justice in a way that is totally unapologetic, that doesn’t cater to the racists. That doesn’t apologize for itself. That knows that it is within the greatest traditions of anti-racism whether they are in South Africa in the liberation struggle, or whether they are in the Jewish community."
I fully stand behind the statement; it’s why I like this website so much.
Shayshon claims that I have written that Israel should face BDS tactics "not because it is the only state which deserves it, but because it is the only state where such punishment would 'actually work.'" For this, he points to an op-ed I wrote in the Guardian. Please do follow the link. You’ll see that the article didn’t say that Israel is the only country that should face these tactics, it said this: "Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the strategy should be tried is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work."
Plenty of countries fit this description, and I have supported boycotts in other national contexts when they have been called for and when they had a chance at being effective, starting with the South African anti-Apartheid campaign in the eighties.
Shayshon has clearly been poring through my public statements but he appears to have missed this interview I gave to Democracy Now! in the midst of the Toronto International Film Festival uproar. It directly addresses the "double standards" accusation:
"To just give you one example, imagine that this year the Toronto International Film Festival had decided to have a cinematic spotlight, a cinematic homage, as Ha’aretz described this program, on the city of Colombo, with the full blessing of the Sri Lankan government, overwhelmingly Sinhalese-dominated, not a single Tamil director, just as there’s not a single Palestinian director in this spotlight. Now, Toronto has a huge population—a huge Tamil population, very active. They would have been protesting outside, because it would have been perceived as a sort of a whitewash in a year that the Sri Lankan government rightly stands accused of war crimes.
“For some reason, Israel is supposed to be the exception, and we are accused of singling out Israel. But, in fact, what we’re doing—and when you look at the people who have signed our letter, like Howard Zinn, Harry Belafonte, Eve Ensler, these are people who have devoted their lives to applying human rights standards across the board. They’re not singling out Israel. What they’re saying is, we insist on applying the same standards that we apply to every other country to Israel, as well. And just as we wouldn’t celebrate another country that stands accused of war crimes, we don’t believe it’s apolitical to celebrate Israel.”
Shayshon may also be aware (who knows) that I am currently supporting a campaign using BDS-style tactics against my own country, Canada, because it has flagrantly violated its Kyoto Protocol commitments, increasing emissions by 35 per cent. You can view a recent clip from a speech in which I compare Israel and Canada here.
The rest of his points are even thinner. To support the slanderous claim that "Klein frequently presents Israel as being systematically, purposefully, and extensively cruel and inhumane" not to mention "evil," all he’s got is that first-year university op-ed. And to support the claim that "Klein frequently describes Israel as a colonial country born in sin" all he’s got is a bland quote from me saying that Israel "can only properly be understood in the context of the history of colonialism." Yet he concludes from this that: "The obligation to dismantle such as a state naturally derives from this logic." This is crazy talk. I can (and do) say the same things about my own country, about the U.S., about Australia…. The purpose is not to call for the dismantling of those settler states but rather to recognize historical truths and to argue for justice and reparations for indigenous people in all those lands.
By the way, if comparing Israel to earlier settler states is to call for its dismantlement, someone needs to quickly tell Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren. Here’s what he said to the New York Times back in September:
"States are often created with great upheaval and pain, and Israel is no exception. The great excitement and challenge of living in Israel is that it is a work in progress. It’s like living in this country in 1776."
As an aside, I found it harrowing to see Shayshon overtly make the claim that to “open the 48 files” is to deny Israel’s right to exist. He is literally saying that the enemy is history, study it at your peril. I hope others will address in greater depth the profound danger of this war waged on collective memory.
As for me, nothing Shayshon managed to dig up in any way supports his claim that I stand for a "rejection of a political solution that maintains a separate State of Israel" or an “abdication of the Zionist principle promoting the Jewish people’s right for self determination.”
In truth it is my belief in self-determination — for Palestinians and Israelis — that underlies my decision not to advocate for a specific political outcome (though I do have preferences, as we all do) but rather for principles of anti-racism and adherence to international law.
I look forward to the results of further frantic Googling.
Let’s hope this ends it, but I somehow doubt it.