Bad Idea: Arrogant arguments

There is any number of things wrong with Building a Political Firewall Against Israel's Delegitimisation, a new report from the Israeli think tank
the Reut Institute. First is its suggestion that the Israeli intelligence services should gather information on those seeking to "delegitimise" the state of Israel, often non-violent activists.

The report specifies certain areas - London, Madrid, Sydney, the San Francisco Bay Area, Paris, Toronto and Brussels - where apparently there are organisations and individuals intent on undermining Israel. In Britain, these organisations include War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Although it repeatedly says that there is a distinction between "delegitimisers" and those who simply criticise Israel, it never explains where it draws the line. Instead, it accuses activists of "deploying double standards" and blurring lines themselves. Eran Shayshon of the Reut Institute says this involves "making pro-Palestinian activity trendy". But are students wearing keffiyehs really a security threat?

The report suggests that Israeli intelligence should identify and study activists, and, "to the extent possible, undermine [them] by legal, media, political and diplomatic means". Ominously, it advocates "establishing a price tag", saying that "today, attacking Israel is 'cheap' and convenient, but it can be turned into a more risky enterprise". This means discrediting journalists and activists who compile negative reports on Israel by seeking out past misdemeanours.

Apart from the moral problems with this, the institute's report defeats its own argument. It says that Israel must be rebranded, as it is associated "with excessive and repetitive use of force, aggression, arrogance, and disruption of regional and world peace". The Reut Institute's preferred impression is of a "contribution to humanity".

But is getting spies to keep an eye on activists a classic way of contributing to humanity? If this does not qualify as "arrogance", I'm not sure what does. It's an idea that will also be received badly overseas. The response to the use of forged passports in the January assassination of a Hamas commander in Dubai - both Australia and the UK expelled Israeli diplomats - highlighted how governments react to such interference on their shores.

The report seems to conclude that Israel must accept that it is often criticised in part because of its policies, but that it needs to polish its brand so that it can continue to implement such policies. The solution, therefore, is not to address concerns, but to suppress those who voice them. One thing is clear - if the Israeli government adopts the measures suggested by the Reut Institute, any decline in legitimacy will grow worse.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 07 June 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The myth of Mandela