Susan M. George
Nonprofit executive and proud left-wing Zionist who sings and acts sometimes

A call for solidarity, from Durban to California

I’ll admit, I was nervous with the impending September 22 event at the UN, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (Durban IV). It seemed like a perfect storm with the off-the-charts antisemitism in Durban, South Africa in 2001 (Durban I), coupled with the uptick in hate rhetoric on social media and violence directed at Jews during the recent Gaza-Israel conflict. 

Durban I is the perfect lesson in how a conference with so much promise can turn ugly due to anti-Israel and anti-Jewish animus. In what has come to be known as the “Durban strategy” Durban I marked a turning point in the framing of Israel delegitimization that racializes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is where the Soviet propaganda UN Resolution “Zionism is racism” was resurrected from the dung heap of history after being formally revoked and widely condemned ten years earlier. Durban I is where the framework of the BDS movement was establshed at its NGO Forum and subsequent declaration, “Call upon the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state….” 

As Jason Edelstein pointed out in his assessment of Durban I:

There was no call to build mutual understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, no charge to take steps to foster coexistence, and no implementation of programs – business, cultural, or other – that would lead to practical changes in how Israelis and Palestinians see the other. Similarly, there was no call to build Palestinian society and infrastructure, to take tangible steps to achieve a state living in peace with Israel. No, the sole focus was on strategies to delegitimize Israel.

What coalesced at Durban I lives on in California Democratic politics. The rhetoric from this hate festival is given a wide berth on social media, in progressive organizing spaces, and even in official California Democratic Party (CDP) committees. More time is spent on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Resolutions and Platform committees than on many other issues combined; there are organized efforts to marginalize CDP delegates who support Israel’s existence; and some of the Jewish-related Democratic clubs throughout the state have encountered unusual delays—even protests—by anti-Israel members in their county chartering process. 

While the right-wing is in denial about science and election results, silent on the Capitol insurrection and replacement theory conspiracies, the far left is working to popularize what happened at Durban I—to cast Israel as the evil empire which doesn’t deserve to exist. Both of these scenarios are bad for Jews, with one important distinction. While the problems on the right have seeped deep into the base of the Republican Party machine, the Israel demonization campaign still remains on the fringes of the CDP. However, without action from both the grassroots and leadership, this will not hold.

The CDP Platform is updated every two years. It concretizes the primary values and direction of the state party on a number of important issues or planks. The first of six virtual hearings for the 2022 CDP Platform was recently held. Over half of the 90 minute hearing was testimony on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The anti-Israel testimony was to remove language that Israel is a “Jewish and democratic state” and advocate for a unilateral Palestinian right of return of the 1948 refugees and all of their descendents (estimated at 5 Million) to Israel. If this forced transfer were to happen, Israel would no longer be the sole Jewish and democratic state in the world. It would become another of 22 Arab and Muslim majority states already in the region. This is the Durban strategy in action—advocating for the end of the self-determination of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland and the end of the world’s only Jewish and democratic state. 

Still, there is good news on many fronts! In a show of unprecedented solidarity, 38 countries chose not to attend the recent UN Durban IV conference due to its history of antisemitism, the CDP unanimously passed a resolution commending the countries’ boycotting Durban IV, and the House overwhelmingly approved funding for Iron Dome in a vote of 420-9.

The Durban strategy needs to be exposed for what it is: anti-peace, anti-engagement and antisemitic. Solidarity, not hate, will ensure that the CDP Platform remains unwavering in its support for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, for two states for two peoples, and the self-determination, dignity, and security of both the Palestinian and Israeli people. 

About the Author
Susan George is the Executive Director of Progressive Zionists of California (PZC), a California 501c4 nonprofit. She has served as an elected assembly district delegate to the California Democratic Party for two terms and was an elected Democratic National Convention delegate in 2016 and 2020. Susan lives and works in San Francisco with her partner Matthew.
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