February 20, 2019

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Stop Being So Illegal! (Divest This!)


An intriguing spat opened up a few years ago after Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon posted this video on YouTube which articulated the position that the legal status of territories in the West Bank and Gaza are “disputed,” and not “occupied,” (thus implying that a working out their final status would require a political (i.e., negotiated) rather than a legal solution).

Ayalon’s presentation was simply a YouTube-y animated version of what has been the position of the Israeli government (and many respected legal scholars) for decades.  But for those who cannot stomach anything but their own opinion that these areas represent “illegally occupied territories,” Ayalon’s case was too much to bear. 

Unsurprisingly, the Palestinian Authority bristled at the notion that another side’s legal and political opinion should be given any legitimacy.  And Israel’s detractor’s abroad rushed to defend an enforced “consensus” that Israel is an occupier, and an illegal one at that.

One can understand the importance of this Palestinian interpretation and why they feel that it must be not only defended at all costs, but that all other possible interpretations should be banished from public discourse.  After all, if the territories are “disputed” rather than “occupied,” then a resolution to their status (and ultimately peace) requires talk, debate and (possibly) compromise.  In short, it requires the same amount of diplomacy and reasonableness that was required to resolve other territorial matters, such as the status of Northern Ireland (which was only solved when everyone put down their guns and began talking).

But if the territories are “illegally occupied,” then there is no need for dialog, for negotiation, for reasonableness (much less compromise), but simply the requirement that the party acting illegally stop doing so.  Staking out such a position provides additional propaganda benefits since explaining actual legal statuses requires a fairly detailed analysis of not-always-clear-cut legal issues and history.  This allows BDSers and their ilk to simply declare Israel an “illegal occupier” over and over and over, and then watch their audiences eyes glaze over when that interpretation is corrected with proper citation of relevant issues in international law (an analysis the boycotters will, of course, ignore as they continue to use the word “illegal” at every opportunity, facts be damned).

The use of this tactic (declaring everything you disagree with as a violation of the law) has long since spilled over to other political contexts (with everything from the War on Terror to European immigration restrictions being declared “illegal,” based on nothing but the accuser’s desire to put their opponents on the defensive).  But it seems to have reached a somewhat hysterical degree in the case of the Arab-Israeli context lately, especially among those who write press releases such as this which would consist of little more than blank pages if shorn of the words “illegal” and “Apartheid.”

I suspect that part of this has to do with the PA’s all-but-official abandonment of the Oslo process and its choice of Hamas vs. Israel as negotiating partners.  After all, if you have no intention of every negotiating in good faith or making any acceptable compromises, what better smokescreen than to declare yourself simply trying to force enforcement of (undefined) international law.

But I suspect there is another reason why accusations of illegality have become so ubiquitous and so shrill of late. 

As I’ve noted before, the boycotters have a raft of excuses as to why their political rage is applied solely to Israel and not to the many nations (including many BDS allies) whose human rights record make Israel seem angelic in comparison.  But now that the “Arab Spring” has generated more Arab corpses than every Israeli action of the last two decades combined (never mind the difference between military actions designed to stop having missiles shot into your territory vs. military action designed to crush political dissent), it’s getting that much harder for the BDS cru to claim “Yes, what’s happening in Syria and Iran and Libya is terrible, BUT our devotion to human rights requires we continue to focus all of our efforts on getting you to stop buying hummus made in New York and Massachusetts” and still be taken seriously as moral voices.

And thus the fog machine must be revved up to 11,000 in hopes that declaring Israel an “illegal occupier” and an “Apartheid state” enough times will make it so (at least in the eyes of a public that BDSers consider to be nothing more than a mob of easily manipulated dunces). 

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