The Palestinians are well on their way to successfully delegitimizing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, but the campaign may morph into the delegitimization of Israel itself, warned Middle East expert Shai Feldman.
“There are others competing with them in the way [the issue] gets framed who will say it is about Israel itself,” said Feldman, director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University.
In a conference call with the Israel Policy Forum, Feldman said: “It is not easy for them to keep this boundary between challenging the occupation and Israel itself, and that is something we and they have to keep in mind.”
The delegitimization of Israel as a nation is the “flip side” of the United Nations’ Durban conference against racism held in 2001 that turned into nothing more than an anti-Israel forum, according to Dore Gold, a former Israeli UN ambassador.
Speaking at a conference last week titled, “The Perils of Global Intolerance,” in a hotel across the street from the UN, Gold observed that part of the “Palestinian drive against Israel is to position Israel as a colonialist late comer with no connection to the land.”
But, he told the conference, sponsored by the Hudson Institute and Touro College, that the “League of Nations acknowledged the Jewish people’s historical connection to the land and their right to reconstitute their national homeland there. … Israel is the only state whose national movement received the support of the League of Nations and the United Nations, and yet we are attacked.”
The conference was held just one day before the UN “celebrated” the 10th anniversary of Durban with a one-day session at the UN dubbed Durban III; a second so-called Durban II conference was held in 2009. Last week’s session, which reaffirmed the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic declaration issued in 2001, was boycotted by at least 14 nations, including the U.S., Canada, England and Israel.
At the conference on global intolerance, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said that in the last three months he visited 22 countries whose leaders agreed that without an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement there should not be UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
“But they said that because of what their people think and heard as a result of all the anti-Israel rhetoric, they have no choice but to vote for it,” Lauder said. “They said over and over again, ‘We know why the Palestinians and Israelis can’t negotiate — it’s because of the hate of Durban.’
“I said, ‘Why can’t you tell them the truth?’ and they said, ‘They don’t want to hear the truth. They only want to hear what’s bad.’ And when I went to Palestinian town, they said they want to negotiate but their leaders don’t. … We have not done an excellent job in getting our message out. We’re fighting a huge amount of negative publicity against Israel and all the things it stands for.”
Dan Diker, secretary general of the WJC, said flatly that there is a “direct connection between Durban I, II and II and UDS [unilateral declaration of statehood], which is a political expression of hatred against the Jewish people.”
The anti-Israel bashing at Durban should not be seen as an “aberration that can be corrected — this is the way the UN is everyday,” according to John Bolton, a former American ambassador to the UN.
“The pervasiveness of anti-Israel, anti-Zionism is there as an undercurrent all the time,” he continued. “Don’t be shocked by what’s happening. What’s going on here is delegitimization.”
He dismissed the claims of those who insist the anti-Israel bashing came only during an NGO conference in Durban, saying that then-Secretary of State Colin Powell decided to withdraw the American delegation in protest because “the process was fundamentally flawed — and it has not gotten better with age.”
The only way to “defeat” it, Bolton said, is to play hardball by threatening to withhold American financial support to the UN.
“In 1988, the PLO declared a Palestinian state and over half the U.N. recognized it,” he recalled. “It then tried to get into UN bodies and the first it chose was the World Health Organization. The PLO had overwhelming support and Western states said to me the only reason we were against it was because of domestic politics.
“Then [Secretary of State] Jim Baker said the U.S. would cut funding to any UN body that advanced the status of the PLO and we stopped the PLO dead in its tracks. If you want the U.S. to be listened to, talk about money. If the U.S. had been willing to cut off funding to the UN Human Rights Council for its support of Durban III, we might have an impact there.”
He pointed out that the U.S. successfully lobbied the UN General Assembly in 1991 to repeal a 1975 resolution equating Zionism with racism.
“Some in the UN said it was undo pressure,” Bolton said. “Well, thank you. It’s not easy, but it is possible to overcome the bias. I thought after the resolution was rescinded that Israel would be treated like a normal nation. I was naïve in 1991 to think that things had fundamentally changed. … Remember, the best antidote is to keep fighting.”
He observed that there are members of Congress who have suggested cutting funding to the UN; the White House is against it. Bills introduced by Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen would end American funding of the UN if the General Assembly enhanced the Palestinian’s position to that of an “observer state.”
Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel told the conference he is continually “astonished” to find that anti-Semitism is still so prevalent in the world.
“I thought that after Auschwitz there would be no anti-Semitism,” said Wiesel, an Auschwitz survivor. “If Auschwitz didn’t cure the world of anti-Semitism, what could and what will? I thought it would take eight or 10 generations for it to come back, but it never disappeared.
“What can we do to stop anti-Semitism? Assimilation didn’t work. You may ask how come anti-Semitism is universal? Stalin and Hitler had nothing in common but both hated Jews. Why? I don’t know. [Theodore] Herzl was convinced ant-Semitism would end only when there was a Jewish state. We have a state and now the state is hated. What is happening today is a disgrace. The UN was a great idea, but they have perverted it.”