Durban Conference IV: just another attempt to delegitimise Israel

By Samuel Hyde — writer, and Jewish and Israel rights activist

The United Nations held multiple anti-racist conferences throughout the 1970s and 1980s but the event often referenced for its antisemitic past is the 2001 gathering in Durban (Durban I).

Participants at that event released a document known as the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which condemned racism and all related forms, including antisemitism. However, an initial draft of that declaration attempted to equate Zionism with racism. The anti-Israel sentiments were compounded by some of the attending NGOs who accused Israel of genocide and questioned whether Hitler’s murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust was justified. The infamous antisemitic text, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion was also sold at the event.

The past decade has witnessed an intensification of the delegitimisation campaign against Israel. This is a global and ongoing effort to undermine Israel’s right to exist as an indigenous Jewish and democratic state. Often fronted by the BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) through the use of negative branding, the campaign attempts to imitate the logic of the struggle against the South African Apartheid regime and turn Israel into a pariah state – thereby undermining Israel’s international legitimacy in a manner that would lead to its isolation and eventually cause collapse.

This threat goes beyond the movement’s notable short-term achievements. Long-term success of the delegitimisation campaign holds the potential of serious damage to the security of the State of Israel as well as to Jewish communities around the world. Its main goal is to mainstream delegitimisation – therefore to reposition anti-Zionism from the radical margins into the mainstream of western liberal-progressive circles. This became apparent in 2021 as we witnessed these effects in real-time during the recent conflict, as antisemitic incidents spiked throughout Europe and America.

A key strategy to mainstream delegitimisation is to blur the differences between criticism of Israeli policy and challenges to Israel’s basic legitimacy. This includes efforts to turn items of the delegitimisation agenda into an integral part of the political debate about Israel. As a result, many critics of Israel’s policies end up supporting efforts that are led by the delegitimisation campaign.

The international delegitimisation campaign negates two core principles of the majority of the west’s foreign policy. First, it stands in direct contradiction to its core commitment to Israel’s right to exist. Second, it promotes rejectionism in Palestinian society as an alternative paradigm to the long-standing approach of a negotiated solution with Israel.

The key to confronting delegitimisation while providing latitude for criticism is the application of constructive differentiation between criticism of Israel and delegitimisation. Delegitimisation is something that the Jewish collective throughout the ages have learned only too well, and that their enemies have learned to use with lethal effect. A perfect example of this slow-burn ‘radicalisation’ is Peter Beinhart, A Jewish American columnist, who started out as a critic of specific Israeli policies. In 2016, after actively engaging with these movements, Beinhart’s opinions began to change from criticising the Israeli government to questioning its very right to exist, going as far as viewing Israel as a state born in sin.

Many of the founding goals of BDS include denying Jewish people the universal right of self-determination as indigenous peoples in their ancestral homeland. Many individuals involved in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state. Oftentimes, BDS campaigns give rise to tensions in communities – particularly noticeable on college campuses – which have resulted in harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters. All too often, BDS advocates employ antisemitic rhetoric and narratives to isolate and demonise Israel. This dynamic can create an environment in which antisemitism can be expressed more freely and once again normalised in society. As the ‘Disneyland of hate’ continues to grow rapidly against the Jewish State, Israel and its allies must continue to drive a wedge between those few catalysts of delegitimisation and critics of Israeli policy; mainly by isolating and exposing the former and systematically engaging with the latter.

Samuel Hyde, is a political writer and Jewish & Israel rights activist based in Tel Aviv, Israel. He studied antisemitism and the Holocaust, and aims to redefine the way in which the non-Jewish world interacts with Zionism and the Jewish State.

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• Published in the PDF edition of the October 2021 issue – Click here to get it.

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