A Palestinian conference in the heart of Tel Aviv

A conference which would certainly trouble the leafy quiet of the prosperous neighbourhood of Ramat Aviv looks likely to go ahead, despite reports that it has been cancelled.

The conference, which is due to be held on 29 and 30 September, is called ‘From truth to redress’. In fact the innocuous-sounding title cloaks in human rights terminology the conference’s real agenda: the destruction of Israel through the ‘realisation of the right of return of Palestinian refugees’.

To most right-thinking Israelis, the ‘right of return’ of millions of Arab ‘refugees’ is a euphemism for the demise of Israel by demographic means. The Zionist group Im Tirzu and Knesset Likud MK Ofir Akunis have been pressing for the conference’s cancellation.

The speakers are a roll-call of the most hard-core of hard-core pro-Palestinian activists from Britain, the US and Israel itself. They are lawyers, human rights activists and academics in the forefront of the BDS (boycott) and Israel Apartheid movements. One speaker, Dr Salman Abu Sitta, is a founder of the Palestine Return Centre – a Hamas front.

It is no accident that the organisers, the Israeli NGO Zochrot, have deliberately chosen to hold their conference in Ramat Aviv: the supposed site of “Al-Shaykh Muwannis” (Sheikh Munis), an Arab village abandoned by its 2,000 inhabitants in 1948. To drive home the delicious irony, Zochrot chose as the conference venue the Eretz Israel Museum. What could be more provocative than a Nakba conference calling for the demise of Israel, at its Zionist heart ?

According to MK Akunis, Zochrot have got their facts wrong: “If they had looked into the history of the place they would have found that Tel Kasila was the location of an ancient Jewish community, even before Sheikh Munis, and then this silly NGO could have saved itself and us this provocative gathering.” Tel Kasila is the archaeological mound on which the museum sits.

At first, when pressured to cancel the conference, the Eretz Israel Museum disclaimed all responsibility for the private hire of the premises by outside parties. Then the Museum set the organisers security conditions it knew they could not meet, in the hope that they would move the event elsewhere.

From the Eretz Israel Museum the conference may still be moved to another, albeit less symbolic venue. If the event takes place, the organisers reap the publicity. If it is cancelled, the organisers will have pulled off a stunt to draw attention to their cause and make Israel look bad. They will milk an outright cancellation for all its worth as an assault on freedom of speech unworthy of a democracy.

It’s a win-win situation. If the speakers coming from abroad are deemed personae non gratae and banned from entering the country at Ben Gurion airport, Zochrot will relish the attention. The media will have a field day condemning the fascist, apartheid Zionists. ‘Silly NGOs’ on the fringes of public opinion can yet wreak a great deal of havoc.

Israeli institutions would be well advised to learn from this episode and do their homework next time a ‘silly NGO’ seeks permission to hire out their premises, albeit for private events. Meanwhile, the question remains as to how so many well-meaning churches and international NGOs have been hoodwinked into supporting an event advocating the destruction of a UN member state. Zochrot acknowledges funding from, among others, Misereor,Christian Aid, Finn Church Aid, Broederlijk Delen, AFSC, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, Mennonite Central Committee, Trocaire, St. Het Solidariteitsfonds, Oxfam GB and private donors*.

While wringing their hands about depopulated Sheikh Munis, these bodies and Zochrot remain ignorant, silent and unmoved by another, forgotten tragedy: the cleansing of scores of Arab cities of their substantial Jewish populations simply for being Jews. There are almost no Jews living in Baghdad, Cairo, Alexandria, Tripoli, Rabat, Damascus and Tunis today. Most exchanged places with the Palestinian refugees.

Imagine for a moment if a Zochrot-style conference were held in Baghdad, where Jews, who numbered 80,000, were once the largest single ethnic group.

On second thoughts, don’t. It would not be a pretty sight: the Jews would be run out of the city and would be lucky to escape with their lives.

*Update: NGO Monitor has published a report on the funding of the Zochrot conference. It reveals that both Oxfam and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation have denied sponsoring the conference.

About the Author
Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK. She is the author of 'Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight.' (Vallentine Mitchell)