Eran Shayshon, who leads the Reut Institute’s team in the political and security spheres; makes it clear that the attempt at delegitimization of Israel – the denial of Israel’s right to exist – is a phenomenon very different from criticism of Israel’s policies. The Reut Institute, founded in January 2004, is an Israeli non-profit organization founded to address the mismatch between the complexity of the challenges that Israel faces, on the one hand, and the weakness of its institutions, on the other hand.
“Israel’s enemies could not compete with Israel in the military field, so they moved from the logic of military destruction to an attempt at implosion from within,” said Shayshon, who visited Orange County in January. “Israel not only faces an existential threat but also has a weak political system in which most governments get dissolved within three years. There’s no incentive to plan for the long term.”
The Reut Institute, created in January 2004, is an Israeli non-profit organization conceived of by Gidi Grinstein following his service in the Bureau of the Prime Minister for the Ehud Barak government’s negotiations with the PLO. Grinstein concluded that Israel suffers from a weak capacity for professional and non-partisan long-term systemic thinking on issues that are complex and require transformations. He understood that the reason for this gap is structural and institutional, stemming from an electoral system that generates short and unstable tenures, and fragmented legislative (Knesset) and executive government branches. Reut was founded to address the mismatch between the complexity of the challenges that Israel faces, on the one hand, and the weakness of its institutions, on the other hand. It is an apolitical organization “that is not telling the government what to think but how to think,” according to Shayshon.
A Zionist organization, the Reut Institute’s vision aims toward “a secure, prosperous State of Israel; a state whose existence is secured and citizens are safe; a prosperous state that is a leading nation in terms of its quality of living; a state that is predominantly Jewish, offering Jewish added value at the heart of the Jewish world and providing a significant contribution to the existence and prosperity of global Jewish peoplehood; a democratic state, which embraces universal humanistic values and aspires to create a society, which sets an example for the family of nations,” according to Reut Institute literature. The organization focuses on ensuring Israel’s national security; aspiring towards the ISRAEL 15 Vision, which calls for Israel to become one of the fifteen leading countries in terms of quality of life, in 15 years; pursuing the vision of a “model society” which offers an example to the family of nations; enhancing the Jewish character of Jewish society’s public sphere in Israel; and creating effective governance.
Reut’s 30 analysts are supported by “multiple medium donors, rather than one or a few large donors” worldwide, he said. It has dealt with different aspects of the national security challenges facing Israel, specifically the challenge posed by the Resistance Network, which is led by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as the orchestrated attempt by various groups to paint a picture of Israel as a pariah nation.
Fundamental delegitimization challenges Israel’s right to exist as an embodiment of the Jewish people’s right to self determination based on philosophical or political arguments, according to Shayshon. Often, this phenomenon represents anti-Semitism manifested as anti-Zionism. Another phenomenon, demonization, is the act of presenting Israel as being systematically, purposefully and extensively cruel and inhumane, thus denying the moral legitimacy of its existence. Examples include association with Nazism or apartheid or accusations of blatant acts of evil.
Since summer 2008 the Reut Institute has been focusing on the challenge of delegitimization. The organization presented a publication, “The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall,” at the Tenth Herzlya Conference in January 2010. It published another analysis, “The Gaza Flotilla: The Collapse of Israel’s Political Firewall,” which demonstrated that this event could be understood in the broader context of the delegitimization campaign.
According to the Reut Institute, the Gaza Flotilla is “the latest manifestation of a systemic and systematic attack on Israel’s political and economic model, rooted in undermining Israel’s legitimacy. Other prominent manifestations include the Durban Conferences; the international response to Operation Cast Lead; the Boycott, Divertment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel; the legal war against senior Israeli leaders; and events following the publication of the Goldstone Report. In this context, the Gaza Flotilla may be an additional event in the fundamental surprise that emerged during the Second Lebanon War and exposed a crisis in the relevancy of its security and foreign affairs doctrine. In relation to the Gaza Flotilla, the crisis was manifest in the fact that Hamas and the Delegitimization Network openly and uninterruptedly acted for nearly a year and a half throughout Europe and the world to produce this political-strategic attack against Israel.”
“It takes a network to fight a network,” Shayshon explained. “We have to understand who the catalysts are and drive a wedge between the catalysts and the pro-Israeli people.”
Shayshon said that the delegitimization network has several key cells that are attempting to sabotage the two-state solution and cooperative efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. There is handful of “hubs” of delegitimization, metropolitan cities that disproportionately drive the global campaign, the most prominent of which are London and the Bay Area. Having published a report on the former in November, the organization is now conducting a case study on the latter with the help of other organizations. The Reut Institute believes that if it can catalyze an effective response in these two hubs, it can “significantly weaken the global delegitimization campaign.”
AJC ACCESS and the Reut Institute are partnering to bring together global activists engaged in the daily work of combating the assault on Israel’s legitimacy at the ACCESS 20/20 Weekend in Washington, D.C., from Friday, April 29, to Sunday, May 1. The AJC Global Forum will provide a selection of breakout sessions exploring the assault on Israel’s legitimacy from a variety of angles, also including a panel discussion on the topic.
Meanwhile, the Reut Institute is “acting as a catalyst to impact the global ecosystem” in messages about Israel, Shayshon said. It is influencing the language to make it more relevant to the problems, trying to create a sense of urgency and building strong partnerships inside and outside of Israel.
“We’re developing a productive counterattack to the global delegitimization campaign,” Shayshon said. “Delegitimization is not going away, but we have fertile ground for strategic surprises through an organized, thoughtful, pro-Israel response.”