The late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan once coined a pithy test for whether you have landed in a free country or not. Take a look at the newspapers, he suggested, "If all the news is good, you're not in a free country. If all the news is bad, you are." A corollary to Moynihan's test could apply today: If a nation is beset by concern about human rights violations and injustice within its borders, it is a free country. If it concerns itself only with the supposed human rights violations of other nations, it is not.
In this sense, Israel is just like the United States and other open societies. A free press and an independent judiciary, along with civic organizations, political activists, and professors, are watchful for any perceived deviation from the nation's high standards.
But it is different in Israel, too. Alone among the world's 195 nations, only Israel is the target of a delegitimization campaign. This intellectual and moral assault is distinct from criticism of Israeli actions (always legitimate). The delegitimization effort asserts not that Israel behaves badly, nor that it should refrain from this or that activity, but that it has no right to exist at all and/or that the Jewish people do not exist. Long the position of the Arab states and the Palestinians, the denial of Israel's essential legitimacy has spread over the course of the last decade to include a number of governments, non-governmental organizations, and, perhaps most significantly, a non-trivial number of writers and intellectuals.
It's also different for Israel because national morale is far more important for Israelis than for others. If significant numbers of Canadians or Poles become disillusioned with their countries, well, it's not healthy or desirable (nor would it demonstrate clear thinking about the alternatives), but it's not a threat to national existence. But because Israel is in persistent physical as well as ideological danger, an extraordinarily high degree of courage and commitment is required of each Israeli, starting with, but by no means limited to, extended service in the nation's armed forces.
Israel is the Middle East's only democracy and the only country in the region that respects human rights -- period. So it's remarkable to see the degree to which elements within Israel itself have joined the delegitimization campaign.
Like professors in the U.S., the overwhelming majority of academics in Israel (at least in the social sciences and humanities) are left-wing. It is not a matter of indifference that American professors are so tendentious. But in Israel, adopting leftist intellectual fashions means swallowing ideas that spell the destruction of the state. A study of political science syllabi in Israel's five universities, for example, found that about 80 percent of the course material took a "post-Zionist" or anti-nationalist position.
Neve Gordon, a professor at Ben Gurion University of Beer-Sheva, has led international efforts to boycott the Jewish state. Rachel Giora, a professor at Tel Aviv University, actively encourages international divestment campaigns. Shlomo Sand, the son of Holocaust survivors and a professor at Tel Aviv University (and Berkeley), proclaims that "There is no Jewish people and no justification for a Jewish state." The leading announcer on the Army radio channel, Merav Michaeli, has urged Israelis to resist the draft. Israeli professors have cheered the idea of issuing international arrest warrants for leading Israeli politicians and army officers -- though none has so far volunteered to renounce his own salary as a contribution to international sanctions.
Israeli organizations like the New Israel Fund have financed groups that participated in the libelous "Goldstone Report" about the 2009 Gaza operation and helped distribute disturbing films in Israel like "Paradise Now" (2005), which offered a highly sympathetic fictional portrayal of two Palestinian suicide bombers. To be clear: Israelis helped to promote a film, the message of which was that Israel was so profoundly evil that even mass murder could be justified against it.
The corrosive effect of this sustained assault on Israel's soul is obvious. Today, around the nation, a popular bit of graffiti sourly satirizes Theodor Herzl's famous phrase inspiring Jews to believe in their state. Regarding Israel, the wall art proclaims, "We don't need it. We don't want it." The percentage of young Israelis resisting the draft was 18 percent in 1991 and is estimated to be 25 percent today. The number of emigrants continues to rise.
There is push back. Im Tirtzu, a group begun by four army officers after the inconclusive, and many believed, incompetent war with Hezbollah in 2006, is attempting to reinvigorate Israeli self-respect and confidence on a number of fronts -- though facing a stiff headwind from Israeli media, academia, and civil society. The disillusioned are far from a majority, but they are a worrying minority, and in this, as in everything else, Israel has little room for error.