A new tactic in the war against Israel is “delegitimization,” the effort to say that Israel is different from, and less than, other countries. It is, for example, the only member of the United Nations that has to insist upon its “right to exist.” And what other countries do as a sovereign right is subject to international disapprobation when done by Israel. Consider the rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. In 2010, over 235 Grad missiles, Kassam rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel with the pace increasing toward the end of the year. In the last two weeks of 2010, more than 180 rockets landed in Israel, one on the grounds of a kindergarten while parents were dropping off their children. An Israeli girl was injured. Another 200 rockets were fired at Israel, but fell inside Gaza. There were another 10 rockets the first week of 2011.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN filed a complaint with the UN Security Council: “The incidents of the past several days are part of an escalation of terrorist attacks emanating from Gaza that target Israeli civilians, towns, and military personnel. Israel holds the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip completely responsible for all of these incidents, which are carried out in clear violation of international law. In response to such attacks, Israel has exercised and will continue to exercise its right to self-defense.”
UN Middle East envoy Robert Serry did condemn the “firing of indiscriminate mortars and rockets by militant groups in Gaza at Israel which has escalated in recent days… These attacks are in clear violation of international humanitarian law and endanger civilians in Israel,” he said in a statement. He noted that Israel has “a right to self-defense consistent with international humanitarian law” and urged Israel to exercise maximum restraint and “every precaution to ensure Israeli forces do not endanger civilians in Gaza.”
This is “delegitimization”? It is delegitimization by weasel-word.
It was Israeli civilians who were attacked, but the UN was careful not to name or blame the attackers and only to limit and define the level of acceptable response by Israel. Where Israel said “terrorist attacks,” Serry said “indiscriminate mortars and rockets.” Where Israel said “the de facto authority in the Gaza Strip,” (i.e., Hamas, which rules with an iron fist) Serry said, “militant groups.” So while Israel calls Hamas responsible, Serry holds no one responsible. On the other hand, Serry urged maximum restraint by Israel and demanded “every precaution to ensure Israeli forces do not endanger civilians in Gaza.” Only Israel is named and only Israel is told how to behave. If Israel doesn’t exercise what the UN considers “maximum restraint,” it surely can look forward to the next installment of the Goldstone Report.
This “yes, but…” understanding of Israel’s position is a denial of the first obligation of a sovereign county – the protection of its population from outside attack. And the corresponding failure to name Israel’s assailant is a free pass for Hamas.
Hamas is a terrorist organization. Any internal legitimacy it gained from its legislative plurality in the election of 2006 was lost in the bloody civil war it waged against Fatah, and any hope that it would obey international law was lost in the ongoing war it is waging against Israeli civilians with the assistance of Iran. For the UN to focus on the possibility that Israel will retaliate rather than the actual attacks against Israeli civilians that have already occurred is to devalue Israeli victims and accord Israel fewer rights than other members of the community of nations.
That is delegitimization.