“Deligitimization” is an ungainly word, one which even Israel’s defenders don’t much enjoy using.
Descriptively, the term does the job in summing up a set of activities designed to deny to the Jewish state the rights to perform the same legitimate activities that are automatically granted to any other nation (including the right to its very existence). But to get a better understanding of what this word means, it’s best to look at the role of each player in the delegitmization hierarchy.
At the top of that hierarchy are the 20+ states of the Arab League, nearly all of which have refused to politically recognize Israel since its birth, nations that have also enacted economic blockades and boycotts of the Jewish state they surround for even longer. In fact, with a few exceptions, the only political relationship they maintain with their Israeli neighbor is a formal state of war which many of these nations have acted upon more than once in the last 60+ years.
These Arab League states are further aligned with over 50 countries in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), giving Islamic states with an anti-Israel agenda a 50:1 advantage over the one Jewish nation they have targeted politically, diplomatically, economically and (in some cases) militarily.
This ratio is important because of the role played by international organizations such as the United Nations and various non-governmental organizations (NGO) in furthering this delegitimization agenda. For while there exist a large number of trans-national organizations (the most prominent being the UN), the independent nation state is still the primary actor on the world stage. And if you don’t believe me, just stop and think about how much easier it is for Saudi Arabia to get the United Nations to do what it wants rather than vice versa.
And what these 50 nation states (which between them control most of the world’s oil wealth) and their allies (notably members of the former “non-aligned” bloc) want is for these international organizations to rain condemnation on their political enemy, all in the name of noble principles such as “international law,” and “human rights.”
The fact that the nations who use organizations like the UN to target the Jewish state are themselves the worst human rights abusers on the planet is actually an important component of the equation. For in focusing the attention of these global agencies (agencies originally developed to keep the peace and protect the weak) on their political enemy, the Arab League states and their friends both benefit from a propaganda victory while also taking the human rights spotlight off their own abhorrent behavior.
Specific anti-Israel groups like those who will be represented at the PennBDS conference are the beneficiaries activity that originates above them, using the condemnations that come out of institutions like the ghastly UN Human Rights Council to launder their own choices and activities through what NGO Monitor cleverly (if depressingly) illustrated as the BDS Sewer System.
This laundering allows anti-Israel groups (whether they prioritize the BDS tactic or not) to claim that they are fighting for noble causes like human rights, or targeting Israel (and only Israel) because it is in violation of “international law,” which avoids having to admit that they are simply partisan advocates in one side of a political and military conflict.
And it is when the conflict turns military that these “Friends of the Palestinian People” show their true colors. For during the months or years when groups like Hezbollah and Hamas are making war all but inevitable (by kidnapping Israelis or firing hundreds or thousands of rockets into Israeli territory, an act of war by any possible definition of the term), these groups are completely somnambulant.
Yes, if you back them into a corner, they will make a grudging condemnation of Hamas rocket fire and the like (usually with a “big but” as in “Yes, rocket fire is inexcusable, BUT it wouldn’t occur if not for “The Occupation”). But once Israel does the inevitable and returns fire, these once silent organizations roar to life and take to the streets demanding an immediate ceasefire coupled with more political condemnation of a Jewish state that has dared do what any other nation in the world would do if hit with endless volleys of munitions for weeks and months on end.
As I’ve discussed before, the inevitability of massive street protests (coupled with demands for international intervention) when (and only when) shooting goes in two directions in Gaza, Lebanon or elsewhere becomes a component of the conflict itself. In addition to providing a platform for the creation and propagation of propaganda (the primary role of third parties such as PennBDS in the Middle East Conflict), it’s also a factor that any military leader (in Gaza, Lebanon or elsewhere) must take into consideration when they decide how far they can push before triggering Israeli reprisals, or how long they have to hold on before international pressure forces Israel to cease military operations.
So in many ways, the term “delegitimization” really describes what the BDSers and their friends and allies do to themselves. For while they would like to portray themselves as pure-hearted, human-rights champions fighting for what’s right against overwhelming odds, the truth is that they are simply partisan players allied with one side in a political (and sometimes military) campaign, a cog in militant machinery whose role is to provide crucial propaganda support for allies who represent many of the most wealthy, powerful and nasty political regimes on the face of planet earth.