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Israel's doomed 'lawfare' strategy

A report in the Jewish Chronicle last week stated that a "secret conference" had been held in London whose aim was to combat the "delegitimization of Israel". The three-day event was reportedly held amid heavy security and was attended by representatives of Israel's spy agencies and by Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz.

"Delegitimization" is the Israeli propaganda term for Palestine solidarity activism, especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. And it seems pretty obvious from the amount of conference detail reported by Marcus Dysch (who himself is incredibly hostile to BDS) that the conference is not really much of a secret, and that its Israeli organisers very much want it to be known of.

"We will draft and lobby for legislation that will withhold government funding from academic institutions that boycott Israel," World Jewish Congress president, and right-wing American billionaire Ronald Lauder reportedly told conference delegates.

Also participating in the conference were several British Zionist groups heavily involved in pro-Israel lobbying efforts, including previous legal strategies against BDS.

All this, taken together with recent action led by the Academic Friends of Israel to nullify student democracy at King's College London Student Union, where students had strongly voted in favour of BDS last month, could be indicators of a new wave of anti-Palestinian "lawfare" in the UK. It seems they have learned few lessons.

"Lawfare" is an Israel strategy to use courts around the world to intimidate Palestine solidarity activists into backing down or from implementing decisions of boycott Israel. A little over a year ago, the strategy received a huge setback in a British tribunal, when Ronnie Fraser's case against the University and College Union (for merely discussing BDS) was ruled "devoid of any merit" and "an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means".

Nonetheless, there seems to still be appetite for the strategy. Should activists and other supporters of Palestine be worried? Yes and no.

There's no doubt that lawfare can be extremely costly as lawyers fees soon rack up. The UCU eventually won the case with flying colours, but it was strung out over years, and must have racked up substantial costs. Indeed, the union is, justifiably, still seeking back its legal costs from Fraser – who although only lone a retired college lecturer, was backed to the hilt by some of the most powerful pro-Israel forces in the UK.

There's also the psychological factor, the intimidating affect that litigation can have, especially for activists with few resources. Dysch report from this supposedly "secret" conference is a clear attempt to intimidate: "We have the resources. We have the intelligence. Most important, we have unbound determination".

However, I maintain that lawfare is a doomed strategy in the long run.

Although that last reported quote from Lauder was probably meant to sound intimidating (especially with the article's multiple references to Israeli "intelligence") it actually reads more like preaching to toe choir: the die-hard anti-Palestinian faithful are still trying to convince themselves.

Israeli lawfare represents at its heart, a movement that has so thoroughly lost the debate it has to increasingly resort to bullying tactics. It's another indicator that BDS opponents just don't get it.

In those circles, there is a perception that Israel's case is so self-evidently correct that the only problem is explaining it in the correct way – an image problem. Hence the failed "Brand Israel" strategy of a few years ago.

If Israel has an image problem, it's only because it ultimately has a morality problem. As long as it tortures Palestinian fathers to death, and leaves millions of people whose lives it controls without some of the most fundamental human rights, Israel will continue to have an "image problem".

As long as millions of Palestinian refugees are refused their inherent right to return to their homes in current-day Israel, for the crime of simply not being Jewish, the Palestinian struggle will continue. "Lawfare" is just a finger in the dam.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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