TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Foreign protests, boycotts, embargoes and sanctions, along with internal resistance, helped bring about the isolation and eventually the end of apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s.
Now Israelis fear pro-Palestinian, or anti-Israeli, activists are using the same tactics against their country, with increasing effect.
Carlos Santana, Gil Scott Heron, Elvis Costello, Gorillaz Sound System, the Klaxons, the Pixies, Faithless, Leftfield, Tindersticks, Meg Ryan and film director Mike Leigh have all decided not to go to Israel in recent months.
Some older, established acts -- Paul McCartney, Elton John and Rod Stewart among them -- have ignored boycott pressure.
The activist website boycottisrael.info keeps count.
Israeli analysts say pressure is brought to bear on artists by a global “delegitimisation network.”
White South Africa was ostracized in a campaign lasting years. Today, Facebook and Twitter can flash protest messages globally in seconds, putting pressure on entertainers to stay away from Israel, and drawing the attention of millions of fans.
For Israel, it is not just a matter of feeling isolated and misunderstood. There are serious strategic implications.
With U.S.-brokered peace negotiations at a standstill since September, Palestinians feel they are “in the driver’s seat,” according to Yuval Diskin, head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency, in an assessment to parliament.
“This process is gaining momentum,” he said. “There is a growing trend toward recognizing a Palestinian state, and a decrease in Israel’s ability to maneuver diplomatically.”
No country has recognized Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem or its settlements in the occupied West Bank. It is equally unlikely that the United States and allies would recognize a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood.
Major powers and the United Nations insist the only durable solution to the Middle East conflict is a negotiated settlement leading to creation of a Palestinian state. Both Israel and the Palestinians say they are committed to that elusive goal.
Nevertheless, Israel is worried that some unilateral move -- perhaps at the U.N. General Assembly in September -- could be a game-changer, marking a diplomatic triumph that those bent on the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state would relish.
Israel was battered by international criticism over its three-week assault on Gaza which killed 1,400 Palestinians in 2008-2009, and again over the killing of nine Turkish activists last May in a raid on a flotilla trying to break its Gaza blockade.
Under pressure from foreign allies, it eased the blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in June. But there has been no real recovery from the damage to its image. Israel says activists cynically and unfairly ignore the fact that Hamas and other armed Islamist groups in Gaza are committed to its destruction.
The Reut Institute think-tank that focuses on security and socio-economic issues says delegitimisers seek to negate Israel’s right to exist, depicting it as “systematically, purposefully, and extensively cruel and inhumane, thus denying the moral legitimacy of its existence.”
Israel is “branded as the new apartheid South Africa,” which, delegitimisers argue, can only be tamed by coercion.
They deliberately blur the line between genuine criticism and demonisation, so even well-meaning critics of Israeli policy potentially play into their campaign, says the think-tank.
Delegitimisation is a word now used frequently by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and some of his ministers.
When young American Jews heckled him in New Orleans in November, he castigated them as unwitting delegitimisers.
His ultranationalist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate the funding of Israeli and foreign groups, such as Human Rights Watch, which he suspects are part of the global delegitimisation network.
Critics of Lieberman says it is he who is trashing Israel’s reputation as a democracy, by publicly dismissing the chances of a Middle East peace.
Over 80 percent of the 192 U.N. member states recognize Israel. With the recent addition of eight Latin American states, 108 countries now recognize the Palestinians. With sufficient pressure from public opinion, the Palestinians hope the number will grow.
The impression among some Israelis that much of the world is biased against them was recently lampooned in a kindergarten spoof by a popular Israeli television satire show, called “Wonderful Country.”
Reciting their lesson, the children chant: Israel has “no one to talk to” about peace. “Removing settlements does not bring peace,” they sing. “Israel’s army is moral.” “Give them the West Bank and they’ll want Haifa.”
When their teacher points to “tiny Israel” on a world globe and asks: What do we call the rest of the world?, the children all chorus: “Anti-semitic!”
Editing by Crispian Balmer