What does a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum at the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001 have to do with an October 2017 University of South Florida event called USF Divest?
Featured at the USF event were Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour—the organizers of the Women’s March and the recent Women’s Convention in Detroit—along with Ahmad Hussam Saadaldin, USF alumni and past president of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).
The description of USF Divest is “a coalition of students, faculty, staff, student orgs, and alumni that are in support of divestment from fossil fuels, human rights violations, private prisons, and sweatshops.”
As a left progressive, this all sounds great. But as you watch the presentation, it becomes evident that the core of USF Divest and the subject the speakers return to again and again is BDS, the economic, cultural, and academic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against the state of Israel. It’s a package deal. If you favor divestment from fossil fuels, are against private prisons, and pro-human rights, then BDS is an integral part of the mix.
As the USF Divest event progresses, one of the most striking comments is from speaker Ahmad Hussam Saadaldin, who unabashedly declares, “Palestinians called for BDS because after decades of negotiations, and wars, and murders, ethnic cleansing, trying to erase the Palestinian identity forever, Palestinians themselves called for BDS.”
Even though his statement is rife with falsehoods, the other speakers listen as Linda Sarsour nods in agreement. I waited for any pushback or correction. None. Instead, Tamika Mallory proceeds to continue with her own full-throated endorsement of Saadaldin’s words and of BDS.
The BDS campaign is not a grassroots movement of the Palestinian people as supporters often portray. It was conceived at the final Durban Conference planning meeting in Tehran–that deliberately excluded Israel and Jewish NGO’s—and then included in a declaration at the now infamous 2001 Durban NGO Forum.
Elihai Braun writes of the Durban Conference:
Copies of anti-Semitic work, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were sold on conference grounds; anti-Israel protesters jeered participants chanting “Zionism is racism, Israel is apartheid,” and “You have Palestinian blood on your hands”; fliers depicting Hitler with the question, “What if I had won?” circulated among conference attendees. The answer: “There would be NO Israel and NO Palestinian bloodshed.”
Israel and the U.S. withdrew from the Conference prematurely. Secretary of State Colin Powell issued a statement, in part: “I know that you do not combat racism by conferences that produce declarations containing hateful language, some of which is a throwback to the days of ‘Zionism equals racism;’ or supports the idea that we have made too much of the Holocaust; or suggests that apartheid exists in Israel; or that singles out only one country in the world—Israel—for censure and abuse.”
In other words the NGO Forum and the main UN Conference became by design an Israel hate fest where both “Nazi-style” and “anti-Israel” anti-Semitism merged to produce what was later to become the BDS campaign. Excerpts from the declaration produced at the NGO Forum sum it up:
423. Call for the launch of an international anti Israeli Apartheid movement as implemented against South African Apartheid…
424. Call upon the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state as in the case of South Africa…
425. Condemnation of those states who are supporting, aiding and abetting the Israeli Apartheid state and its perpetration of racist crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide.
Let’s be very clear. To accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and of “trying to erase the Palestinian identity forever” as Saadaldin stated at USF Divest is to accuse Israel of genocide. Just as what was outlined in Durban in 2001, this all-too-common form of anti-Semitism continues to be used by the pro-BDS left to this day. It is not only false, it is a most insidious lie and slander given the history of the Jewish people and genocide.
Genocide, the intentional mass murder of certain groups of people shrinks the population of the targeted group. Hitler’s Holocaust, for example, reduced Europe’s Jewish population from 9.5 million in 1933 to 3.5 million in 1950.
Conversely, the Palestinian population has soared. In 1955 it was 987,760; in 1995 it rose to 2.6 million and is currently 4.9 million. A U.N. study from December 2016 anticipates that it will double to 9.5 million by 2050.
So how do we bring to the attention of BDS supporters the contradictions on which their campaign is built? Unfortunately, this is a very difficult task because the BDS policy of anti-normalization prohibits dialogue. As the Anti-Defamation League states:
Anti-normalization is designed to marginalize and suppress the views of the pro-Israel community. While Israelis, Palestinians, and their supporters around the world have long been locked in a difficult and heart-wrenching conflict, fuel is added to the fire when one side wholly rejects the legitimacy of the other’s position. If unchallenged, anti-normalization has the potential to further isolate Israel and exacerbate tensions among pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian advocates.
The right to speak out against the policies, leadership, and/or decisions of Israel or any other country with which we disagree must always be protected. Engagement, dialogue, and debate are the lifeblood of any thriving democracy. However, lying with impunity when it comes to Israel has become common practice at the UN, among certain NGO’s, on college campuses, classrooms, social and other media.
Demonization and isolation tactics are very much alive today in events such as USF Divest. False descriptors such as apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, racist, and “white” supremacist, are meant—as was outlined in Durban in 2001—to isolate and demonize Israel on the world stage. They are built on a foundation of lies that have become an integral part of left activism and even by association the mainstream of the Democratic Party. The three organizers of the Women’s March and the recent Women’s Convention—Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez, and Linda Sarsour—wittingly or unwittingly advocate for and promote the Durban strategy.
And those that know better too often remain silent. Whether their silence is born of fear, naiveté, or faith in the underlying goodness of people, we have only to look at history to know it will not go away on its own. It is incumbent upon those of us who know better to play an active role in rebutting the lies, misinformation, and demonization.
The time for silence is over.