On September 22, the UN will host a conference marking the 20th anniversary of the 2001 “World Conference on Racism in Durban.” The original Durban conference was hijacked by people and a terrorist-supporting agenda rife with antisemitism and bashing Israel. Clearly, the organizers this year missed the irony of hosting a conference 11 days after the 20th anniversary of the infamous terrorist attacks of September 11. Today, the Durban conference and everything that has come out of it is synonymous with hate. Delegitimization of Israel is its sole target. It should be canceled, not celebrated.
The good news is that (so far) a number of countries are boycotting the upcoming conference: Australia, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Hungary, Netherlands, UK and the US. The bad news is that the rest of the world seems to think that there’s no problem with the UN hosting another conference whose sole purpose is to smear Israel. That’s not new, of course, for an institution that is rarely on the right side of the issues when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.
It’s worse because a conference that’s supposedly about racism not only perpetuates a lie but diminishes addressing (much less overcoming) actual rampant racism or the suffering that people have endured. If only the UN or another international body would take on racism seriously, without deflecting the issue to bash Israel.
Durban gave birth to the canard that Israel is an apartheid state and paved the way for the BDS movement: boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel. No countries that actually foster racism were sanctioned or even mentioned. BDS may not be about flying planes into buildings, but its terrorist intent to destroy Israel is no less clear. The founder and “brainchild” behind BDS, Omar Barghouti, leaves no doubt, “It is not the occupation of the West Bank that is the problem, but the existence of Israel itself.”
There’s an egregious and abjectly false parallel made between the racist laws that existed in South Africa, encompassing every facet of the life of black people and people of color. Calling Israel “apartheid” is a lie. There are no such racial laws in Israel and never have been. Israel’s Declaration of Independence affirms equal rights for Arabs and indeed all citizens. Arabs serve in the government as members of parliament, throughout the judicial system, on TV and in other cultural pillars, and even in the military on a growing basis. There are many mixed Arab-Jewish cities, and Arabs exist in just about every facet of Israeli society. Calling Israel apartheid exploits and diminishes the actual suffering of those who were discriminated against and fought to change the system of apartheid.
The other egregious part of why the lie of Israel as an apartheid state is so bad is because those who boycotted South Africa sought to change the system. Nobody ever sought to destroy the very existence of South Africa as a state. Today, when BDS cloaks itself in the apartheid lie, they neglect to reveal one salient fact. BDS is not about changing Israel but delegitimizing Israel, and ultimately advocating for destroying Israel.
Yes, Israel has a challenge with what Barghouti and others call “the West Bank.” They perpetuate a myth that Israel is occupying a place that was ever an independent state or people who were citizens of that state. The fact is, there is a very real issue of Palestinian Arabs wanting their own state and to be citizens of that state, although some don’t. Israel does not want to absorb 2.5 million Palestinian Arabs as citizens of Israel, specifically because Israel is a democracy and wants to remain a Jewish state. While Israel accepted the idea of two states in 1947, one for Jews and another for Arabs (and the Arabs went to war to prevent Israel from ever becoming a state), there never was a state called Palestine.
When people refer to Israel as an apartheid state, they want you to believe that all the suffering of Palestinian Arabs is all, and only, because of Israel, and that they experience the same kind of racial discrimination that encompasses their lives on a daily basis that was the case of South Africa. That’s a lie. The weapons of those who seek to delegitimize and destroy Israel are not social justice but terror and death. They try to oversimplify a decades-old conflict based on lies.
Few see the irony in the fact that what was born at a conference about overcoming racism has devolved into a racist movement itself, embracing a hatred that is as old as Biblical history and delegitimizing Israel as the nation of the Jewish people. Ideally, the Durban IV conference should be canceled altogether, not just boycotted. Barring the possibility that the UN will come to this realization, many more should be boycotting the September 22 conference. If your country is not one of the ones already boycotting the conference, contact your UN Mission to express that it should be.
Actual racism is indeed a global problem and should be addressed. Wasting resources on a conference that hijacks a conversation that needs to be had about the reality of racism with one that simply blames Israel for all the problems is not just wrong. It does a disservice to the world. But of course, when BDS leaders shout “justice for Palestine,” they really don’t care about the well-being of Palestinian Arabs. They don’t care if the victims of their economic boycott are, in fact, the Palestinian Arabs they claim to want to help. Their sole purpose is to delegitimize and destroy Israel, and no amount of scorched earth and harm to Jews and Arabs is too much to fuel their blind hatred.
As a call to action, the Genesis 123 Foundation is hosting a webinar on September 13 to discuss these issues and is undertaking a letter-writing campaign to the UN Secretary-General asking that the conference be canceled entirely.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has been blessed by the calling to fellowship with Christian supporters of Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He writes regularly for a variety of prominent Christian and conservative websites and is the host of Inspiration from Zion, a popular webinar series and podcast. He can be reached at [email protected].