The phrase “delegitimization of Israel” characterizes the rhetorical demonization of Israel, holding Israel to a double-standard, and denying Israel’s right to defend itself, all in pursuit of discrediting Israel, damaging its reputation, and isolating it globally. It has been used as early as the 1970s. It is often used in contrast to 'criticism of israel'. Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Benjamin Netanyahu, Michael Oren, Mahmoud Abbas and others have used the term.

Etymology and UsageEdit

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “delegitimize” as, “to diminish or destroy the legitimacy, prestige, or authority of."[1] This term has become increasingly associated with attempts to deny Israel’s legitimacy, right to exist, and right to self-defense.[2]

Delegitimizers use myths and misinformation,[3] similar to psychological warfare. Delegitmization is the “key sociopsychological mechanism that frees human beings from their normative and moral restrains and therefore leads individuals and groups to engage in acts that intentionally harm others, including discrimination, oppression, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide[4]

Delegitimization occurs primarily during conflicts, when the ingroup perceives the negating goal(s) of an out-group as influential and evil. “The feeling of threat becomes intensified and delegitimization may be used to explain the conflict. Then, to prevent danger, the in-group may harm the threatening group and justify the harm by delegitimization, which in turn increases perceived threat and intensifies harmful behavior toward the other group.”[5] This is also described in the sociological construct of Othering, referring to the ways in which cultural texts, books, films, and various forms of mediated communication discursively construct a group identity as distinctively different from the perceived in-group.[6]

Professor Daniel Bar-Tal, from Tel Aviv University, explains that delegitimized groups are viewed as violating basic human norms or values, and are therefore excluded from being characterized as ‘good’ or even ‘acceptable’ people.”[7]

Delegitimization makes it difficult for either Israelis or Palestinians to live peacefully in present-day Israel, due to the consistent violence, religious intolerance, and political struggles.[8] Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, says “for 100 years, through violence and delegitimization, Israelis and Palestinians have made sure that the other was never allowed to really feel at home in Israel.[9]

Anti-Semitism and Anti-ZionismEdit

Natan Sharansky, head of the Jewish Agency, discussed a “3-D” test for determining new antisemitism. The third of the three D's is delegitimization. He explains "when Israel's fundamental right to exist is denied - alone among all peoples in the world - this too is anti-Semitism."[10]

Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird has characterized Israel’s delegitimization as the new antisemitism.[11]

Delegitimization and the BDS MovementEdit

Though not synonymous, delegitimization is often part Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaigns.[12][13]

United Nations Resolution 3379: Zionism is RacismEdit

The United Nations and its subsidiaries have also been identified as participating in the delegitimization of Israel. In 1979, The UN passed Resolution 3379, in the United Nations General Assembly which determined that ‘Zionism is a form of racism.” [14] United States ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan likened the resolution to delegitimizaton.[15]

George Will, writing about then US president George H.W. Bush, then Secretary of State James Baker, and UN Resolution 3379, said that this “resolution is integral to the UN's principal enterprise: the delegitimization of Israel.”[16]

Durban ConferenceEdit

The World Conference against Racism 2001, later known as Durban I, was a UN sponsored event to present an international front against racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Instead, with the encouragement of some NGOs, the conference became a source of basic delegitimization against Israel.[17][18] [19][20] Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor says that “The delegitimization of Israel by NGOs did not begin at Durban in September 2001, although that conference was doubtless a peak in the process.”[21]

Steinberg also says that donors to non-governmental organizations and governments are “involved in the Durban strategy based on delegitimization campaigns targeting Israel.”[22]

UN anti-Israel resolutionsEdit

According to Irwin Cotler, the lopsided number of anti-Israel resolutions passed by the UN is an example of delegitimization.[23]

UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable rights of the Palestinian PeopleEdit

According to several members of the European Parliament, the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, “despite the neutrally sounding title of its conference, CEIRPP has a proven record of anti-Israel bias, spreading propaganda that presents only the Palestinian narrative, including the delegitimization of Israel - a UN member state.”[24]

Use of violence and right to defend itselfEdit

Delegitimization of the adversary, among all the psychological themes, is “one of the major detrimental forces that turns a conflict to be vicious and violent, while preventing its peaceful resolution”[25]

Some argued that demands for Israel to not enter into Gaza and defeat Hamas during Operation Pillar of Defense, is a “delegitimization of Israel's right to defend itself.”[26].

Tzipi Livni said that "the threat of delegitimization intensifies other threats facing Israel, and limits our ability to protect ourselves.”[27]

Perspectives and PrevalenceEdit

United StatesEdit

US President Barack Obama said in a May 2011 speech “for the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state.”[28]


Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said that the “constant barrage of rhetorical demonization, double standards and delegitimization” of Israel is the new anti-Semitism.[29]

Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Attorney General, said that delegitimization is “masked under the current discourse”. It is hidden in the anti-Israel resolutions passed by the UN, universal jurisdiction is “often abused” regarding Israel, it is “laundered under the cover of human rights”, and is hidden behind the use of accusations of racism and apartheid.[30]


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in discussing Israel's legitimacy, said, “we know that the attacks on Israel are threatening its existence, since we constantly hear people saying 'go back to Poland or Morocco'. They are essentially telling us to dismantle the Zionist enterprise."[31]

Netanyahu said “the delegitimization of Israel in the face of attempts to destroy it is one of the great moral failures of our time.”[32]

Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said “increasingly the delegitimization campaign focuses not on Israel’s policy in the territories but on its essence as the Jewish national state.”[33]

Amos Yadlin, former head of Israeli intelligence said that “delegitimization of Israel is a graver threat than war.”[34]

Palestinian AuthorityEdit

Palestinian Authoriy leader Mahmoud Abbas, said while speaking at the UN regarding Palestinian recognition, "We did not come here seeking to delegitimize a state established years ago, and that is Israel.”[35]


Abraham Foxman said that “if not for the continued Palestinian delegitimization of Israel, Mustafa Barghouthi's hope of a sovereign Palestinian state could have been realized years ago”.[36]

Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times, says "what Israel in turn must realize — before it is too late — is that the real threat it faces today is not one of destruction but of delegitimization. The armed conflict between Israel and Palestinian Terror entities has given anti-Israeli protesters much material for delegitimization. As a result, contradictory and one-sided accounts of Arab-Israeli events have become commonplace, particularly on western university campuses – where much delegitimization work has been focused.”[37]

Israel is facing a global campaign of delegitimization, according to a report by the Reut Institute[38]

MJ Rosenberg wrote that “Israel can't be delegitimized.” He argues that the Israel occupation of the West Bank leads to delegitimization, and that "the leading delegitimizer is Binyamin Netanyahu."[39]

Combatting DelegitimizationEdit

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "the delegitimization [of Israel] must be delegitimized.”[40]

The Israel-based Jewish Agency has 400 emissaries around the world fighting delegitimization.[41]

US President Barack Obama has said, “whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them.” [42]

US Vice President Joseph Biden said, regarding United States-Israeli Relations, that “to put it bluntly, there is only one nation -- only one nation in the world that has unequivocally, without hesitation and consistently confronted the efforts to delegitimize Israel.”[43]

Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper said "When Israel – the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack – is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand," and that it is everyone's responsibility to stand up to the "'three D's – demonization, double standards and delegitimization-- of Israel."[44]

See AlsoEdit


  1. Merriam-Webster Delegitmize
  2. Full text of Biden's speech at AIPAC policy conference
  3. Will standard activist toolkit be enough to fight delegitimization?
  4. Oxford’s Conflict, Delegitimization, and Violence
  5. Causes and Consequences of Delegitimization: Models of Conflict and Ethnocentrism. Journal of Social Issues
  6. Limited Representation
  7. Beyond Intractability
  8. Israel Defense Minister Danny Ayalon: The flotilla’s goal is the delegitimization of Israel
  9. Promised Land; Israel and the Palestinians See a Way to Co-Exist
  10. 3D Test of Anti-Semitism: Demonization, Double Standards, Delegitimization
  11. Delegitimization of Israel is new anti-Semitism
  12. Will standard activist toolkit be enough to fight delegitimization?
  13. Advocacy group releases manual to fight delegitimization of Israel
  14. On this day: UN Resolution 3379
  15. Israel: 'Delegitimization' is just a distraction
  16. ". . . And Terrorists". Washington Post  – via HighBeam Research (subscription required). December 1, 1988. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  17. ‘Durban,’ Delegitimization Seen Linked
  18. REUT Institute
  19. Anne F. Bayefsky, "Terrorism and Racism: The Aftermath of Durban," Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, No. 468, 16 December 2001, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
  20. Bayefsky's thesis is supported by the analysis by Eli Karmon, "International Terror and Antisemitism - Two Modern Day Curses: Is there a Connection?" February 16, 2007, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism
  21. Selective Human Rights – NGOs and the Delegitimization of Israel
  22. Groups spar with NGO Monitor over foreign funding
  23. of Israel masked as good vs. evil'
  24. NYT Despite the neutrally sounding title of its conference, CEIRPP has a proven record of anti-Israel bias
  25. Scholarly Journal Beyond Intractability
  26. Israel conflict draws reaction
  27. Livni: Delegitimization of Israel exacerbates other threats
  28. Obama Speech, Full Text
  29. ‘Delegitimization of Israel is new anti-Semitism'
  30. 'Delegitimization of Israel masked as good vs. evil'
  31. Netanyahu to human rights activitists: Sail to Tehran, not Gaza
  32. N. Korea proves sanctions not enough, Netanyahu says
  33. Seven Existential Threats
  34. ‘Delegitimization’ of Israel a graver threat than war, former intelligence chief says
  35. U.N. approves Palestinian 'observer state' bid
  36. Leaving Gaza
  37. Roger Cohen on Israel an Delegitmizaton
  38. Think tank: Israel faces global delegitimization campaign
  39. Netanyahu Is the One "Delegitimizing" Israel
  40. Delegitimization of Israel must be delegitimized
  41. Jewish Agency boosts presence abroad to fight delegitimization
  42. President Obama 2012 AIPAC policy conference transcript
  43. Full text of Biden's speech at AIPAC policy conference
  44. PM pledges government’s support for Israel

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