Focus on BDS

June 1, 2016 Agencies
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More than 1,500 students, dignitaries, public officials and representatives of Jewish organisations have taken part in a conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York focusing on combating diplomatic attacks against the State of Israel and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder addressing the conference at the United Nations in New York    Photo: Shahar Azran

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder addressing the conference at the United Nations in New York Photo: Shahar Azran

The forum was organised by Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and the World Jewish Congress (WJC), along with a number of other partners.

Addressing the opening plenary in the UN General Assembly Hall, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder pointed out that the United Nations, which had been “created on the broken bones of the Jewish people” after World War II, was now singling out the only Jewish state for criticism.

“It is no accident that we chose to look at an equally dishonest campaign against the Jews – the BDS  movement – right here at the United Nations,” the WJC president pointed out.

Lauder said the key to fighting the anti-Israel campaign was to tell the truth about Israel, and to expose what he called the hypocrisy of BDS activists “through every means possible.”

“I wonder if all those people who support BDS have the slightest understanding of what this movement really means. Those BDS supporters who join protest marches on campuses and chant: ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!’,” Lauder added. “I wonder if they realise that the River is the Jordan, the Sea is the Mediterranean. These activists are calling for the destruction of the State of Israel.

“Make no mistake. The BDS movement doesn’t support the Palestinian people. It is strictly a campaign to delegitimise Israel, which is simply the latest attempt to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination. Every other people on earth have that right, but BDS wants to deny that basic right to Jews,” declared Lauder. The WJC president pledged that the World Jewish Congress “will commit all of our resources, and all of our abilities, to help fight BDS.”

Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon, said: “The truth is the best weapon in the battle against the lies and distortions of BDS.

“BDS is a modern-day anti-Semitism and we must unite to reveal its true face and put an end to its ideology of hatred and lies,” Danon said. “Here, from the parliament of nations, we commit to fighting BDS on campuses, in the courts and in the halls of the UN. We will not allow the forces of hate to demonize Israel. Together, we will defeat BDS.”

Other speakers at the opening session included Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, the vice-president of Israel’s Supreme Court, and a Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice. The US singer Matisyahu, who last year faced a boycott by a Spanish music festival, gave a rousing performance in the General Assembly Hall which had the audience on its feet.

The plenary assembly was followed by two simultaneous panel discussions, on the effects of the boycott in academia and in the legal realm.

The closing session of the conference was organised by the World Jewish Conference and moderated by its CEO, Robert Singer, with a focus on delegitimization in the public sphere.

In a message to young people, Singer said: “The State of Israel today is fighting two fronts. One in the field of security, and the other in the field of diplomacy. In Israel today, hundreds of thousands of young people your age have enlisted in the army, for the protection of the state and for the protection of the Jewish people as a whole.

“And on the second front, the front of diplomacy – this is where you, the next generation of Jewish and diplomatic leaders living in the Diaspora, come in. Because this is your duty. This front is no less important. We cannot stand by – and you must not stand by – as the world shouts slogans against Israel, defaces Israel, and discriminates against the Jewish people in words and actions that are nothing short of anti-Semitism.

“This is your struggle to face. This is your battle to fight. Nobody will do this for you. The World Jewish Congress, and the other critical organisations here with us today, will support you at every step. But you, the next generation of leaders, must step up to the challenge.

Singer opened the session with a one-on-one conversation with Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of the Israeli SodaStream company which found itself at the heart of the BDS controversy a few years ago.

“There are two things you can do. You can either go to your campuses and fight back – and I am urging you to do that – there are a tremendous amount of facts to support us. We are not an apartheid state,” Birnbaum said. “And there is another thing we can do, and that’s what we did at SodaStream. And we did that by mistake. We discovered what peace looks like by mistake. While we fight with all the ammunition we have, with the facts, let’s also build bridges. Let’s get to know the Palestinians. There are good Palestinians, they are not all terrorists, believe me. We all love Israel, but I think we can all do more to embrace coexistence and peace.”

“I want a better future. I believe that one day there will be peace,” Birnbaum added. “Give in to trust. Get to know them as human beings. Find a Palestinian friend. It’s time to be strong. Israel is here to stay. Israel is indestructible.”

A panel session followed, featuring Mosab Yousef (author of “Son of Hamas”), Bassam Eid (founder of Palestinian Human Rights), Alan Johnson (Senior Research Fellow, BICOM) and Emily Winkler-Neilson (founder of LINK Ltd.)

Mosab Yousef said: “The international community creates chaos. In a state of chaos, you distract everybody, and the thief knows how to find the way. They are manipulating the friends of Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East… To compare Israel to apartheid South Africa – this is no comparison,” he added.

Bassam Eid said: “We should focus our criticism on the international community. All of them try to run their own initiatives, their own conferences, and in the end, it is we the Palestinians who really at the end of the day are suffering, not just from the foreign policy of the international community, but from the policy of our own leadership… It is one of the tragedies of the Palestinian people right now is that we don’t have a strong Palestinian leadership now to defend us from those who are trying to victimize us.”

Alan Johnson described the intellectual paradigm framing the narrative about Israel, saying that “BDS presents an extremely simplistic view of the world,” and expressing the need to “reframe BDS as bad for Palestinians, and bad for peace. We need to move into a place where we talk about the complexity of the conflict, the tragedy of the conflict,” he said.

Emily Winkler Neilsen argued, on the other hand, that BDS was not an intellectual issue at all, but rather emotional. How many people in the room have read BDS leader Omar Barghouti’s book on the subject, she asked. After four people raised their hands, she said: “We couldn’t possibly approach dealing with BDS until we know what we are dealing with.”

The conference was held in coordination with Keren HaYesod, the American Center for Law and Justice, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, Israel Bonds, StandWithUs, B’nai B’rith International, Hillel, CAMERA, and other organizations.

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