Letter to Kofi Annan the Elder

Mr Kofi Annan, Chairman
The Elders Foundation, London, UK

Mr Annan,

We have noted your election last week in Dublin as Chairman of The Elders, a group billed as “independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights.” In fact, its members are a self-selected number of former politicians and UN civil servants, sharing common positions and apparent prejudices on international issues. The Elders’ mission statement proposes “bringing people together to catalyze action and forge alliances.” Yet its very first initiative under your Chairmanship, was “to call for labeling guidelines for goods produced in Israeli settlements.”

As you are well aware, Tel Aviv and most other Israeli towns and villages, in the minds and words of Palestinian leadership, are defined as settlements. Such a statement indirectly endorses the so-called BDS. (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel, a campaign that was born under the stewardship of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, the Durban anti-Semitic hatefest, chaired by Elder Mary Robinson, herself a former UN official.

Ironically, her Elder statement belies her sensitive J’Accuse at the Durban Funders dinner: “I stand with the victim here,” and to the amazement of all, I heard her repeat three times: “Tonight,I am a Jew!” Another Elder, former US President Jimmy Carter – known for his application of apartheid analogies to demonize the Jewish State – made similar calls for the European Union to adopt BDS-style approaches.

If such appeals were to also address goods from “Chinese settlements in Tibet,” “Turkish settlements in north Cyprus,” or other conflict scenarios, they might project a semblance of objectivity. But The Elders’ compulsive default page is the inexorable singling-out of Israel alone. The Elders website correctly asserts that “many communities look to their elders for guidance.” Indeed, in our respective traditions – both Jewish and African – the concept of elders inspires wisdom, experience and respect.

There are, sadly, those who might criticize The Elders you now chair as has-beens acting, perhaps, as spoilers while representing no one but themselves. Genuine ‘elders’ could provide a discreet alternative track to broaden diplomatic options. But has-beens seek to steal the limelight by outrageous initiatives, regardless of whether they damage or worsen the situation.

Mr. Annan, your eminent diplomatic experience places you far above the one-sided political agenda of the so-called Elders. Their exercise in Israel-bashing have tainted the final days of the EU Irish Presidency, which concludes at the end of June. It was an opportunistic outburst that neither assists in Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation nor mitigates grievances in the Middle East.

As the new Chairman of The Elders, you could rebrand its image and your own leadership by a public denunciation of campaigns to harm the State of Israel and, by association, its Jewish and Gentile supporters. Indeed, as you are surely aware, such campaigns were defined by the EU in 2004 as contributing factors to anti-Semitism. Surely your Elders group would wish to avoid any possible associative link with another “Elders,” the fabricated Protocols of which brought calamity on the Jewish people.

Shimon Samuels

Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and was the only Jew elected to the Durban Preparatory Committee in 1999 from which he was expelled at the Conference in 2001

About the Author
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has served as Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, European Director of ADL, and Israel Director of AJC. He was born in UK and studied in UK, Israel, U.S. and Japan.