Brief historical notes on “red lines” in intra-communal Israel discourse

Yousef Munayyer’s latest piece linked to a report titled “The Assault on Israel’s Legitimacy: The Frustrating 20X Question: Why Is It Still Growing? Condition, Direction and Response”1 by the ADL and the Reut Group, an Israeli think-tank.2 Some quick research shows that the paper seems to have been originally leaked3 to pro-Palestinian website The Electronic Intifada almost two years ago, despite now being hosted on the website of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

The authors explain the “20X Question” in the title of their report as follows:

The focus of this report is the ‘20X question:’ How can it be that the collective investment of the Jewish community in dealing with this challenge is estimated to be twenty-fold bigger over the past six years, yet results remain elusive? [emphasis mine]

I’m still working my way through the paper, though it is easily digestible in its numerical/bulleted list format. (There are 113 listed points.)

For now, I’ll make some quick comments about a section that jumped out at me:

92. However, even a broad tent has limits, and therefore establishing red lines with regards to the discourse on Israel is also essential:

This caught my attention because “broad tent” and “red lines” are terms that originated with Reut, according to a 2011 policy paper4 on their old website. I first learned about this paper several years ago as a student activist with the Open Hillel campaign, which advocates against Hillel International’s Guidelines for Campus Israel Activities, specifically the Standards of Partnership (which, as noted in the 2011 paper, were developed in consultation with Reut.)5 The basic idea is that the Jewish community should allow for a “broad tent” of Israel supporters within the communal conversation, but actively work to exclude Israel’s “delegitimizers” from the same:

[T]he broad tent approach must be compounded by complementary principles such as:
* Narrowing the definition of ‘delegitimization’ (Reut suggested delegitimization to mean the rejection of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination or of the State of Israel to exist), and then
aggressively outing, naming and shaming delegitimizers [emphasis mine]

(Fun fact: in the paper, Reut mentions that the original framing was “open tent” before it was “broad tent.” Can’t have an open tent now, can we?!6 7 🙂 )

So the section on “red lines” in this new paper is an ideological continuation of Reut’s previous work. Given that almost six years had passed between the publication of these two papers, I wanted to see if there was an evolution in strategy.

I continued to scan and saw the bold-faced intros to each bullet: “On the left…” and “On the right…” Coincidentally, I was recently speaking with the Hillel director of my alma mater (who certainly did not agree with my activism as a student!), who mentioned to me that she and other Hillel directors have been brainstorming proposals for “red lines” for individuals and organizations on the Right to mirror the current Hillel policies, which exclusively affect those on the Left.8

So when I saw these bullet points, I was intrigued. Perhaps this is evidence of (finally) some symmetry, even if I think it’s ill-advised and counterproductive on the Right as well as the Left? The section on the Left is about what you would expect:

On the left, the red lines need to distinguish between legitimate criticism and acts of delegitimization. Such a slippage can occur when criticism is consistently and repeatedly one-sided, not nuanced and without context, for example, when placing all the blame for the current state of the political process with the Palestinians on Israel. This is particularly sensitive since such criticism can quickly feed into the delegitimization campaign;

So I was ready to hear Reut’s idea of what constituted “out of bounds” discourse on the Right.

On the right, the red lines also need to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and delegitimization. In this case, when legitimate criticism is framed as an act of delegitimization and its conveyers as delegitimizers, the pro-Israel community is fragmented and drawn into infighting. In fact, liberal Zionist Jewish organizations are the most effective tools against delegitimization among liberal progressive circles. Moreover, efforts to combat delegitimization will fail if they are accompanied by anti-Muslim sentiments that push soft critics and bystanders toward the delegitimization movement”

…but it turns out it’s not red lines for the Right, but rather, what right-wingers need to keep in mind when those to their left criticize Israel! (Also, LOL @ “don’t be Islamophobes, guys!”)

This is unsurprising, not only because Reut wrote this report under the guidance of the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry, but because it would be impossible to write an ideological litmus test for the Right that didn’t exclude significant number of high-ranking Israeli politicians.

Of course, red lines existed far before Reut created this strategy. During my organizing in undergrad, I remember talking to an older woman who remembered when support for the two-state solution was what got one kicked out of the tent. (She mentioned Hillel directors fearing for their job over the matter.)

But communal discourse shifts and we have more access to information and dissenting voices than any time in history. Mainstream Jewish institutions can pour resources toward hasbara as much as they want, but they can’t pay anyone not to listen to ideas outside of their ideological lines. “Outing, naming, and shaming” the (disproportionately young, female, and non-White) Jews who espouse dissenting views only delegitimizes the communal institutions themselves.

Notes

  1. (pdf download) THE ASSAULT ON ISRAEL’S LEGITIMACY: The Frustrating 20X Question: Why Is It Still Growing? Condition, Direction and Response, January 2017; And yes, there really are that many subtitles! It’s also designated as “Version A.”
  2. Formerly known in English as the Reut Institute, and bizarrely in this report “The Institute by Reut” (were they midway through rebranding?), Reut is nonpartisan within the Israeli political space (though avowedly Zionist), and the about page of their website is mostly vague talk of “strategies”, e.g.:”Reut creates and scales innovative models that tackle critical challenges facing the State of Israel, Israeli society, and the Jewish world.” But what I have read over the years suggests that much of their work is focused on combating “delegitimization” of Israel.
  3. Leaked report highlights Israel lobby’s failures, The Electronic Intifada, April 2017
  4. Policy Paper: Reut’s Broad Tent and Red-Lines Approach, July 2011
  5. Thanks to all of my Open Hillel friends who have contributed to my knowledge here. I remember our Zoom calls fondly!
  6. According to certain midrashim, Abraham’s tent was open on all sides. One example in Rabbeinu Yonah’s commentary to Pirkei Avot here.
  7. It is not explicit in the paper, but you can find an explanation of the distinction between “broad tent” and “open tent” in an op-ed by Reut’s Eran Shayshon.
  8. I told her that I think this is a bad idea, even if it were to somehow be implemented. We’ve agreed to continue the conversation after things become less hectic with her Hillel’s hiring search for two different positions.

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