Delegitimiting the Jewish State
The Islamic Republic of Iran regularly contests the legitimacy of the State of Israel, evidenced by the disparaging ways in which it refers to the Jewish State in political discourse (Jaspal, 2013a; Litvak, 2006; Shahvar, 2009). Articles in the corpus reproduce the anti-Zionist political agenda by contesting the social representation that Israel is a Jewish state:
1. Benyamin Netanyahu's government is facing serious conflicts within the occupied territories as a result of his insistence on the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state … However, there are serious disagreements about the definitions of the word “Jew” and the expression “Jewish state” inside Israel … Despite this high level of disagreement, Netanyahu is still adamant about Israel being recognized as a Jewish state4
When Prime Minister Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel in 1948, he explicitly referred to it as a Jewish State (Ben-Gurion, 1948), and indeed the Basic Laws of Israel continue to define the state as a “Jewish and Democratic State”5. ProPalestinian proponents of the one-state solution tend to contest the Jewish character of the territory, which they view as being occupied by Israel, and instead regard it as Palestine (see Shahvar, 2009). Similarly, in extract 1, there is clear contestation of the notion that Israel should be recognised as a Jewish state. It attributes the “serious conflicts within the occupied territories”, which could refer to either the West Bank/Gaza or present-day Israel, to this “insistence” upon being recognised as a Jewish state. Thus, the very existence of the Jewish State is constructed as the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, implicitly suggesting that the conflict
4 Demos are a sign of the decline of Israel's regional influence, Tehran Times, 8 August 2011.
5 The Existing Basic Laws of Israel: Full Texts, The Knesset knesset. gov.il/description/eng/eng_mimshal_yesod1.htm
Similarly, there was a clear tendency in the corpus to resist social representations of Israeli statehood, by conversely constructing Israel in terms of a “regime”:
2. The IAEO [International Atomatic Energy Organisation] chief said that the Zionist regime's agents carried out the terror plot with the help of the US and UK spying agencies6
3. The Tel Aviv regime has ordered the Israeli navy to use all possible means to
prevent the incoming international aid flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip7
4. Yet Tel Aviv … continues to accuse the European governments of negligence in backing the Hebrew regime8
The category “regime” evokes negative connotations of an authoritarian form of government and, thus, its use here serves to delegitimise Israel. Use of this category was consistent across the whole corpus of articles, although it was characterised differentially in terms of the “Zionist”, “Tel Aviv”, “Hebrew” or “Israeli” regime. The use of “Zionist regime” in extract 2 seemed to further anchor this “authoritarian regime” to a political ideology which itself has acquired negative connotations (Takeyh, 2006). Indeed, the political ideology of Zionism is frequently represented in negative terms as an “expansionist” colonial ideology (Litvak, 2006), which therefore poses a hybridised threat to surrounding countries.
Extract 3 referred to the “Tel Aviv regime” and thereby constructed the city of Tel Aviv as the centre of the “authoritarian” regime, despite the fact that Jerusalem is the political capital of Israel and the location of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). This served to distance Israel from the city of Jerusalem, which the Iranian government regards as Islamic territory (Takeyh, 2006). Similarly, the designation of Israel as “the Hebrew regime”, as in extract 4, delegitimised the Jewish administration of Israel. Indeed, there is a coercive social representation that Palestine is in fact “Muslim land” and that the Jewish population of Israel is illegitimate (Shahvar, 2009).
Articles in the corpus resisted social representations of Israeli statehood through reference to Israelis as “Zionists”, rather than as citizens of the State of Israel.
6 UK complicity in Iran terrors exposed, Press TV, 20 September 2011.
7 Israel navy siege: Gaza-bound French aid ship, Tehran Times, 19 July 2011.
In both political and media discourses, the category “Zionist” was commonly employed to substitute the demonym “Israeli”, which served to anchor the seldom-mentioned people of Israel to the political ideology of Zionism. It is noteworthy that the articles seldom made reference to the people of Israel. This contributes to the “politicisation” of the people of Israel, since their identities as both individuals and citizens of the State of Israel were attenuated vis-à-vis their constructed affiliation and adherence to Zionism. The “politicisation” of the Israeli people foregrounded the “regime”, rather than the citizenry, that is, the Israeli people. This served to rhetorically “de-populate” the State of Israel, objectifying the “Zionist entity” as a malevolent “regime” rather than a people consisting of human beings (Klein, 2009).
Iran achieves its aim of delegitimising Israel by anchoring it to social representations of colonialism in political rhetoric. This is particularly evident in the Friday sermons delivered by the upper echelons of the theocratic political establishment (Shahvar, 2009). Similarly, in the corpus, the inhabitants of Israel are represented as (Zionist) colonisers or occupiers:
6. Some American journalists said that these Zionists who come from all over the world should go back to their origins and not stay in Palestine.10
As highlighted above, articles in the corpus rarely acknowledge the inhabitants or citizens of Israel. When implicitly acknowledged, as in extract 6, they are anchored to Zionist ideology, which in turn constructs their presence in “Palestine” as a colonial occupation. This extract delegitimises “these Zionists” by representing them as a foreign presence in Palestine “from all over the world”, that is, they are not “indigenous” to Palestine and hence have no right to be there. Extract 1 attests to the emerging social representation that the notion of a “Jewish state” is flawed due to the “serious disagreements” concerning the definition of Jewishness. Similarly, this extract implicitly draws on this representation by delegitimising any Jewish claim to Israel in the first place – the historical Jewish connection to Israel is simply not acknowledged (Webman, 2010). Conversely, Israelis are constructed as individuals “from all over the world” who “should go back to their origins”. Crucially, their Jewish origins are not deemed to constitute sufficient cause for settlement in Israel. It is noteworthy that, by naming the territory “Palestine” and resisting social representations of Israeli statehood, articles in the corpus are able to delegitimise Israel rhetorically.
In addition to denying any Jewish connection to Israel, there is a misrepresentation of the demographic distribution of Israel, which serves to
9 Iran calls for massive turn out on International Qods Day, Tehran Times, 24 August 2011.
7. How could the Palestinians be called terrorists in their own land when they are fighting a foreign occupation by some Ashkenazi Zionist Jews from Europe?11
As in extract 6, the presence of Jews in Israel is represented as a “foreign occupation”. Here, the “origins” of these occupiers are said to be “Ashkenazi” and “from Europe”. This statement is erroneous given that over 50 per cent of Israelis are in fact of (non-European) Mizrahi or Sephardic background.12 However, its invocation here contributes to the social representation that Israel constitutes an illegitimate, racist occupation of Palestine, due to the implicit anchoring of Israeli occupation to historical European colonial policies. There is an implicit racialisation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by referring to it as one between Palestinians, the “legitimate” inhabitants of Palestine, and (White) “Ashkenazi Zionist Jews from Europe”. Race is strategically deployed to further divide and delineate the inhabitants of Israel (see Richardson, 2004 for an example of how the press deploys the construct of “race” in relation to Islam.). It is against this backdrop of constructed occupation that the article implicitly rationalises Palestinian attacks (against civilians) in Israel. Extract 7 contests the social representation that Palestinian perpetrators of attacks against civilians are terrorists by constructing them as “fighting a foreign occupation … in their own land”. This reflects the common “terrorist versus freedom fighter” dichotomy in political discourse (Halmari, 1993).
Many articles in the corpus referred to an Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, although it was sometimes unclear whether “occupied territory” referred to the West Bank (which indeed is recognised by the UN as an occupation) or to the State of Israel (which the Iranian government regards as “occupied Palestine”). However, the following extract clearly represents the entire State of Israel as “occupied Palestine”.
8. The recent massive demonstrations in occupied Palestine are regarded as public protest against the economic situation and unemployment13
Referring to the widespread protests against the rising costs of living in Israel, the extract expressed Israeli public protest against a domestic issue as “demonstrations
11 Palestinians should not negotiate now!, Press TV, 21 September 2011.
12 Central Bureau of Statistics, Government of Israel, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2009, no. 60, Subject 2, Table no. 24 cbs.gov.il/reader/shnaton/templ_ shnaton_e.html?num_tab=st02_24x&CYear=2009
13 Demos are a sign of the decline of Israel's regional influence, Tehran Times, 8 August 2011. in occupied Palestine”. The newspapers consistently resisted social representations of statehood and thereby downplayed the existence of the people of Israel vis-à-vis the “Zionist regime”. When citizens of Israel were mentioned, they tended to be politicised in terms of “Zionists”. Yet, this particular article did refer to the popular protests of the Israeli people, which acknowledged the reality that Israeli citizens exist, live in Israel and participate in public protests against their government. However, it seemed that this story was covered in accordance with the dominant ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which officially regards the whole State of Israel as “occupied Palestine”, by anchoring the Israeli protestors to occupation and colonialism. This represents the people of Israel as occupiers, rather than legitimate citizens.
In addition to the particular categories employed in order to refer to the State of Israel, articles objectified the “regime” in terms of a tangible, malevolent and threatening entity.
9. The regime is a cancerous tumor that will metastasize if even a small part of it remains on Palestinian soil14
Political rhetoric in the Islamic Republic tends to construct the State of Israel in terms of a threat to Iran, to Muslims and even to the West (Jaspal, 2013a). Extract 7 evoked imagery of threat by objectifying the State of Israel in terms of a “cancerous tumor”. Objectification in this way served to construct what was already represented as an authoritarian regime as a growing threat in need of immediate attention. The metaphor of a “cancerous tumor” was effective in creating a sense of mortal threat, on the one hand, since cancerous tumours actively undermine human life, as well as a sense of urgency, given the proclivity of malignant tumours to metastasise, posing a mortal threat to the victim. Incidentally, the extract explicitly employed the verb “metastasize”, which forms part of the semantic field of cancer. Crucially, Israel was constructed in terms of an inanimate, dehumanised entity which threatens its host, namely the Palestinians. Here too stereotypical power differentials between the Israelis and Palestinians were reproduced in order to construct Israel as an authoritarian, malevolent regime, on the one hand, and the Palestinians as the perpetual victims of this mortal threat, on the other. Anchoring Israel to malevolence and threat, and the Palestinians to the position of victimhood, reproduced these stereotypical power relations. Furthermore, the objectification of Israel in terms of an inanimate, yet authoritarian entity represented it as threatening and utterly devoid of humanity. The processes of anchoring and objectification collectively served to encourage some form of action against the “regime”. This in turn represents Israel as a hybridised, multi-faceted threat. It has been shown how threat representations can be employed to mobilise groups against outgroups
(Bar-Tal, 2000; Oren and Bar-Tal, 2014).
14 Recognition of Palestinian state not the final step: Ahmadinejad, Tehran Times, 26 August 2011. In addition to delegitimising Israel, articles in the corpus represent Palestine as indivisible and thereby advocate the destruction of Israel:
10. Ayatollah Khamenei [Supreme Leader of Iran] said, “Our declaration is the freedom of Palestine not the freedom of parts of Palestine”.15
11. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Iran believes Palestine cannot be partitioned and Palestinians are entitled to the entirety of the Palestinian territories.16
In both extracts 10 and 11, there was an explicit rejection of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was depicted as inconsistent with “the freedom of Palestine”. Articles employed the toponym Palestine in order to construct it as the legitimate state vis-à-vis the delegitimised State of Israel. Furthermore, by constructing the Palestinians as being “entitled to the entirety of the Palestinian territories” rather than to “parts of Palestine”, these articles represented the two-state solution to the conflict as unjust and illegitimate. In fact, it depicted the existence of Israel as a violation of Palestinian rights, thereby bolstering the threat representation. The delegitimisation of Israel in these articles vis-à-vis the legitimisation of Palestine convincingly contested the two-state solution and served to rationalise the dismantlement of Israel.
The delegitimisation of Israel (as an occupation) was employed in order to legitimise all forms of Palestinian violence against Israelis, including extreme genocidal measures:
12. “We advise them (the Zionists) to return to their countries as soon as
possible if they want to survive”, Naqdi [Basij commander] said.17
The rhetorical technique of disseminating a social representation through the quotation of a “socially powerful” source has been referred to as strategic quoting (Jaspal, 2011b). Similarly, extract 12 strategically quoted the commander of Iranian Basij organisation, which is a volunteer paramilitary organisation established by the Supreme Leader in 1979 (Abrahamian, 2008). Like extracts 6 and 7, this one constructed the Jewish inhabitants of Israel as “Zionist” foreigners and suggested that they “return to their countries as soon as possible”. Furthermore, the commander was strategically quoted as constructing the survival of the Zionists (that is, the Jewish inhabitants of Israel) as conditional upon their departure from Palestine. Articles in the corpus rationalised Palestinian violence against Israelis as legitimate action against an “illegitimate Zionist regime”. Extract 12 drew upon this social representation by implicitly threatening “the Zionists” with death if
15 Leader rejects two-state solution, Press TV, 1 October 2011.
16 Palestine cannot be partitioned: IRI, Press TV, 18 September 2011.
17 Netanyahu should get prepared for cage trial: Basij commander, Tehran Times, 10 August 2011. they did not vacate Palestine. In short, the delegitimisation of the State of Israel culminated in implicit threats of genocide against the people of Israel.
Delegitimising social representations, which called for the dismantlement of Israel, accentuated the threatening character of Israel.