Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, now Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East, was the keynote speaker of the August 24 symposium entitled “The De-legitimization of Israel: Threats, Challenges and Responses” organized by The Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at IDC Herziliya in cooperation with the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
Speaking to an auditorium packed with press, students, and security, Blair, calling himself a proud friend of Israel, distinguished between the obvious Israel deniers (Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah) and the more “insidious” critics who say they accept a two-state solution but don’t sincerely try to understand Israel’s position.
“It’s not about an overt denial of Israel’s right to exist,“ Blair said. “It’s an application of prejudice in not acknowledging that Israel has a legitimate point of view.”
For example, those who de-legitimize Israel would take issue with Israel’s desire to inspect incoming vessels into Gaza but wouldn’t acknowledge Israel’s legitimate concern over the transport of weapons in the Gaza.
He sympathizes with critics of the Occupation, “but there has to be security once they lift the Occupation….Hamas, with an unchanged position on Israel running the West Bank, Israel would have a legitimate right to be concerned about its security.”
He tells those who condemn Israel defensive actions: “Don’t apply rules to the government of Israel that you would never dream of applying to your own government or country,” a statement which elicited fierce applause form the audience.
He proposed five steps to combating the de-legitimization Israel.
First: “The aim is not to make people agree with Israel’s point of view but to insist that they listen to it and persuade them at least to a point of understanding.”
Second: “Israel has to be staunch and unremitting actor for peace.“ The restart of negotiations next month is a positive step and “shows there is a simple and sincere yearning on part of people of Israel to live an enduring and honorable peace with their neighbors.”
He acknowledged cynicism about the peace process, but believes “if Israel can receive real and effective guarantees about its security, it’s willing and ready to conclude negotiations for a Palestinian state.”
Third: Negotiations must include discussions of final stages. “Proposals on this issue will be a litmus test to seriousness.”
Fourth: While taking into account legitimate security concerns, Israel must do what it can to improve quickly the daily life of the Palestinians.
“No top down negotiations will work without it.”
Fifth: “It is our collective duty, yours and mine to argue vigorously against the de-legitimization of Israel. It is also our collective duty to arm ourselves with an argument and narrative we can defend and with which we can answer the case made against Israel with pride and confidence.”
Having spent more time in Israel since his premiership, he has come to admire the democratic nature of Israel: its vibrant parliament, freedom of the press, and enforcement of individual rights. The creativity of the Jewish state, he said, stems from the Jewish spirit of achievement in the arts and sciences.
“The best answer to the de-legitimization of Israel lies in the character of Israel itself and the openness, fair-mindedness and creativity of all Israelis. That character is what built the state of Israel.”
He received a standing ovation when he concluded with: “What you’ve created is remarkable for you, but what you’ve created is remarkable for the rest of us.”
Here’s some (amateur) footage of the first few minutes of his talk: