The Re-legitimation of Israel

"Since it’s politically unfair, morally reprehensible, and strategically dangerous, we must strive for Israel’s re-legitimation and defend the principle that Israel is a regular country just as any other one"

2011-02-16 by José María Aznar

The following is the text of a speech by José María Aznar to the WIZO delivered on February 16th, in Miami.

"It’s an honor and source of personal satisfaction for me to be here, at the Women’s International Zionist Organization, tonight with all of you.

One week ago, in one of my trips to Jerusalem, a senior member of the Israeli government told me while speaking about the changes taking place in Egypt: “José María, not only the Islamists are against democracy in the Arab world, but the husbands! Those men don’t want to see their women being strong and independent.”

Therefore, it’s an honor, as I say, to be here today, invited by WIZO, an organization with a proven record that women, Jewish women, Israeli women, are simultaneously strong, independent, entrepreneurial, and very practically minded.

I wish their example could spread to Israel’s many neighboring countries, because there can be no modernity without equality of opportunities for both sexes. Congratulations for all your work throughout these decades – I really mean it.

Well, I’ve always thought that when it comes to politicians, their deeds, are more important than their words.

For that reason, I’d like to, not only give you my opinion about Israel’s situation, but, mainly, to tell you what I’m doing regarding Israel, its legitimacy as a state and its right to be fairly treated. To “re-legitimate” Israel requires to take very concrete steps.

A few months ago, I began to contact some friends in order to start up the Friends of Israel Initiative. My idea was to put together a good number of personalities, able to have a real impact on people. I didn’t want to simply bring together former politicians, but a more representative group of diverse sectors, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, artists or professionals.

Amid an increasingly hostile environment towards Israel, a certain sense of urgency, shared by us all, made possible that the initiative got underway with people such as Vaclav Havel, Alejandro Toledo, Marcello Pera, Andrew Roberts, Lord Trimble and John Bolton – just to name a few.

It’s easy to denounce the harshness of Israel’s military actions, while refusing to acknowledge not only Hezbollah’s non-stop rearming before the very eyes of the impassible U.N. forces deployed in Southern Lebanon, but that Hezbollah’s leaders keep on expressing their intentions to destroy the State of Israel – or that Hamas, in Gaza, hasn’t renounced that same shared objective and continues advocating the annihilation of Israel.

It’s easy to denounce the wall that partially separates the West Bank from Israel, while refusing to acknowledge that the same wall has allowed Israelis to go out for a walk, to the movies, or to send their children on the same school bus, without the constant fear of being blown up in a suicide attack.

It’s easy to condemn Israel and to portray it as a new apartheid regime without taking into consideration that Arab parties have representation in the Knesset and that Arab-Israelis hold high-ranking positions in several state institutions.

It may be easy; yet it isn’t right. It’s actually quite the opposite. And, for that reason, we must do something about it.

Let me tell you that our first meeting in Paris took place on May 31 – the same day that the misnamed “Freedom Flotilla” was approaching Gaza and Israel had to stop it. It was a real coincidence that convinced us even more about the need to fight against the increasing delegitimation of Israel.

And it’s because this is something very important for us: We aren’t opportunists; we launched the Initiative – and we still endorse it – due to deep conviction – since we believe in Israel’s right to exist and because we believe we must act now to counter the efforts to demonize Israel.

If there was a special something we were looking to achieve in these first months, it’s been to open a space in which reason, not passion, and decency, not manipulation, rule when speaking about Israel.

I’d like to emphasize a fact that defines us as a group and makes us different from other projects with similar ambitions: We aren’t just “one more” Jewish organization – actually, none of the founders is Jewish. People may be able to criticize us for many things, but not for being one more lobby of the “Zionist universal conspiracy.”

I’m sincerely convinced that our intent is better served by essentially being a non-Jewish group. I believe it provides us with a different kind of moral authority than if we were Jewish. Nobody can accuse us of having ulterior motives or to be at the service of “this” or “that” leader.

We’re a group of private individuals that doesn’t represent any governmental organization, nor do we depend on state funding for our work – we just count on the generosity of private donors.

What unites us and inspires our efforts is that Israel be regarded as just one more country. We don’t aspire nor do we pretend to become spokespersons for a particular government. We don’t defend nor do we justify specific policies of current governments in Jerusalem, nor do we promote the particular interests of any political party. What we aspire to defend is the State of Israel, its right to exist in peace and to be treated with fairness — nothing more, nothing less.

In the same fashion, we don’t pretend to become a sort of fast-response corps that must intervene every time a crisis afflicts Israel. Not only do we think that it would be detrimental for our final objective, but , I’m afraid we wouldn’t have a moment’s rest. We act and we’ll act consistently, but at our own pace. We believe in sowing the seeds with patience.

In fact, we think that the moment has come to explain certain things plainly and unabashedly. For example,

• that Israel has the right to exist as just one more nation: it’s not fair to question its very existence;

• that Israel is as legitimate a state as any other one and it’s not judicious to call its legitimacy into question;

• that Israel is an integral part of the Western world: It’s not wise on our part to weaken Israel;

• that Israel is a democracy comparable to ours; it’s neither fair nor reasonable to only point out its shortcomings;

• that Israel shares the same values that we do; it’s illogical not to defend what’s ours;

• that the enemies of Israel are our enemies, too; it’s unreasonable to leave Israel aside in our quest to avoid risk;

• that Israel is a land of opportunity and it has a future; it’s not reasonable to portray Israel solely as a land of conflict, instability, and wars.

The treatment given to Israel by international instances; the media’s general portrayal of Israel, and what public opinion says, particularly in Europe, are not only unfair and morally reprehensible precedents, but a first-magnitude strategic error.

By delegitimizing Israel, we allowed that our roots, values of pluralism, innovation, and human dignity come into question.

By criticizing Israel’s right to self-defense, we allow that others put into question our own capability to stand up against the aggressions of those who want to put an end to our way of life and impose theirs.

By criticizing Israel’s will to resist and to survive, we feed our own weakness, and, at the same time, we promote that our adversaries feel stronger and more able to attain their objectives.

I firmly believe that if we encourage Israel to give up, we would all sink along. If Israel were to fall under the pressure of its enemies, the West, as we know it today, would stop being what it is.

For all those reasons, since it’s politically unfair, morally reprehensible, and strategically dangerous, we must strive for Israel’s re-legitimation and defend the principle that Israel is a regular country just as any other one, a liberal democracy and an integral part of the West – in spite of the fact that Israel is nestled in the heart of the Middle East.

That’s the strategic vision shared by those of us who are part of the Friends of Israel Initiative and that’s what we advocate. Because we think it’s necessary to do it. We don’t share the complacent vision stating that everything’s OK or that everything will necessarily improve.

There are those who believe that Israel is at its best moment right now. It’s been recently admitted to the OECD organization; it has enjoyed extensive diplomatic relations in its 62 years of existence; it hopes to conclude successful peace talks with the Palestinians; and with a thriving economy, Israel has managed to escape the worldwide financial crisis.

Nonetheless, the automatic response to blame Israel for almost everything bad happening in the Middle East doesn’t want to recede. It’s quite the contrary.

In March 2009, right after the Israeli elections that took the conservative coalition to power, I told my good friend Bibi Netanyahu: “Be careful because the world is anxiously looking for a new George W. Bush to blame for everything and you have all the numbers to win.”

The fact that the military actions to stop the misnamed “Freedom Flotilla” on its way to Gaza were subject of almost unanimous condemnation due to the number of casualties and that almost no one would publicly question what a NATO country and a traditional ally of Israel such as Turkey was doing there, backing that sort of aggression, only proves once more that we cannot be complacent with the current atmosphere created around Israel.

However, Israel’s image problem in the world isn’t simply a matter of public diplomacy or something that will be easily solved with a good PR campaign. I’m afraid that’s not the case.

Why not? Because Israel’s image problems have to do with the big picture. They aren’t isolated issues. Israel, unfortunately, is still at war – not in an exercise of free will, but because his enemies want it to be that way.

It’s not a conventional war as in 1948, 1956, 1967 or 1973. It’s not the kind of terrorism endured during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and after 2000. We’re dealing with a new form of attack against Israel’s legitimacy, against Israel’s right to exist. It’s a “soft war” in which the enemies of Israel use legal tricks, exploit multilateral bodies, and use dubious NGOs to portray Israel as an illegal state, a barbaric state, one that must be isolated and turned into a pariah state.

It’s a war, not against IDF forces, but against the idea of Israel.

Precisely for that reason, we decided to say enough is enough; stop blaming Israel for all the bad things that happen in the world. Stop allowing the effort to delegitimize Israel and to deny its right to exist. Stop all those errors.

That’s why we created the Friends of Israel Initiative.

I can say that in these few months since the launch, we have enjoyed a good deal of success.

And I must say that, in spite of all kinds of criticism that our adversaries might disseminate, I have found great personal satisfaction in this advocacy. Some weeks ago, while at a dinner event in London to honor the IDF soldiers, I started speaking with my dinner companion and asked him about his family – his parents had met in Auschwitz and had survived long enough to bring him to the world. Vividly moved, he told me; “At this very moment, you are my family.”

Moments such as this one make you forget the awful experience of being stigmatized by those who cannot understand what’s actually at stake.

Our desire is to continue defending Israel because, in that way, we think that we’re contributing to better defend the entire Western world – something we find vital and urgent, because Israelis at stake; yet Israel is the West’s first line of defense.

I wouldn’t like to conclude my participation without talking about what the world is experiencing at this moment.

The Arab world, from Morocco to Pakistan, is teetering at the brink. It’s the first time that we see something like this. The people of these nations are fed up to watch the twenty-first century unfolding on their TV sets, but not in the streets where they live. It’s quite reasonable that they aspire to a better life, to a different future.

I know all too well that moments of change are filled with uncertainty. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t see these transformations in fear. If we must choose between corruption and freedom, between autocrats and democracy, we aren’t to have a moment of doubt: We are and we will be with freedom. Trying to prop up our dictators is nonsense.

And yet, it’d be naïve to think that by overthrowing the current leaders, the Arab world is easily going to embrace our societies’ characteristic democracy and tolerance. There are many keen on that it isn’t that way. Iran is one of them, of course.

Nobody knows for sure where these changes taking place now will lead. Yet, it depends on us, on the international community, to avoid repeating past errors. For example, free elections must be held. However, that doesn’t mean that we must necessarily allow intolerant forces and those seeking to kill fledgling liberties to have a place in political institutions or government.

We don’t need to look far back in time to realize how Hezbollah is now the center of power in Lebanon. First and foremost, it’s necessary to avoid the Lebanization of Egypt.

Second, we must have certain clear parameters in order to measure the progress of these reforms. It’s very clear to me: I believe that examining the nature of these countries’ attitudes with Israel will be a definitive sign to see if they’re gravitating toward our political models – or not.

From the Moroccan Atlantic basins to the Pakistani mountains, Israel has been the sole oasis of freedom, prosperity, and stability. So, at this moment of uncertainty, we must let friends and adversaries know about it.

That’s my intention with the Friends of Israel Initiative."

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