By DANIEL SCHWAMMENTHAL
September 3, 2007
"Israel is an apartheid state," was the most often-heard charge, closely followed by calls for a boycott. The West should cut its economic ties with the Jewish state, the speakers urged, and engage the "democratically elected" Islamists now running Gaza.
No, this was not a Hamas rally somewhere in the Palestinian territories. This was Brussels, where the European Parliament last week played host to the "United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace."
If the conference title's inversion of the truth is reminiscent of Communist-style propaganda, this is no coincidence. The meeting was organized by the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, a Soviet-era body founded around the time of the 1975 U.N. "Zionism is racism" resolution. That anti-Semitic resolution was revoked in 1991 but the committee continued its activities in the resolution's original spirit.
Speaker after speaker at the European Parliament on Thursday and Friday presented the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from an exclusively Palestinian perspective. Israel was accused of human rights violations while
Palestinian terrorism and incitement went unmentioned. The delegates invoked the Israeli occupation as the underlying cause for the conflict without mentioning the Palestinian rejectionism and violence that prevent further Israeli withdrawals. The "right of return" of millions of
Palestinians, which would lead to the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, was upheld despite the official claim to favor a two-state solution.
Amid this standard-Israel-bashing, a few delegates managed to come up with a few innovative charges against the Jewish state.
There was Clare Short, a member of the British Parliament and Secretary for International Development under Prime Minister Tony Blair until she resigned in 2003 over the Iraq war. Claiming that Israel is actually "much worse than the original apartheid state" and accusing it of "killing (Palestinian) political leaders," Ms. Short charged the Jewish state with the ultimate crime: Israel "undermines the international community's reaction to global warming." According to Ms. Short, the Middle East conflict distracts the world from the real problem: man-made climate change. If extreme weather will lead to the "end of the human race," as Ms. Short warned it could, add this to the list of the crimes of Israel.
The U.S. also came in for criticism. Pierre Galand, chairman of the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine, admonished Washington for increasing its military aid to Israel. What really worried Mr. Galand was that this aid would allow Israel to build a missile defense system. In Mr. Galand's view, Israel's ability to protect itself against possible nuclear-tipped Iranian missiles doesn't serve the "cause of peace."
Speaking at the conference's opening session, Edward McMillan-Scott, British vice president of the European Parliament, told the audience that, "It is also worth noting that I am related to Colonel T. E. Lawrence of Arabia." Having thus established his noble pedigree, he later told me that Hamas was "not a terrorist organization." Perhaps Mr. McMillan-Scott is aspiring to the title of Edward of Hamastan?
The only attempt among the dozens of speakers to present the other side came from an Arab-Israeli. Nadia Hilou, a member of the Israeli Parliament (so much for the "apartheid" charge) explained why her countrymen are pessimistic about the prospects for peace. "It's the disappointment that the withdrawals from Gaza and Lebanon, which were seen as gestures of good will, have worsened not improved Israel's security situation." Having failed to stick to her assigned role as witness for the prosecution, Ms. Hilou is unlikely to be invited back.
One is tempted to dismiss the conference as of little practical
consequence. Another U.N. conference bashing Israel -- what else is new? Bronislaw Geremek, a former Polish foreign minister and current member of the European Parliament, disagrees. That his house has played host to this "revolting" meeting, he told me, will further diminish Europe's
credibility as an even-handed peace broker in Israeli eyes. Mr. Geremek, together with a group of like-minded lawmakers, many also Polish, tried in vain to stop the conference from taking place.
The U.N. gathering in Brussels, though, did more than just sow distrust between Europe and Israel. It was a further step in the growing campaign to delegitimize and demonize Israel. The calls for a boycott, championed first by radical Palestinians, have already been adopted by some
mainstream organizations, such as various British unions. Similarly, the idea of establishing contacts with Hamas has been echoed recently by high-profile politicians. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a former EU Commission President, suggested talking to Hamas last month to help it "develop." (He later backtracked.) The British Parliament's foreign affairs committee also recommended last month to engage with Hamas. The U.K. lawmakers even added Hezbollah and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to their wish list of dialogue partners -- all in the interest of peace, of course.
By hosting this conference, the European Parliament has lent its good name to propaganda and helped to make radical anti-Israeli claims more
mainstream. It's a huge disservice to the search for Mideast peace, which must be based on compromise and dialogue.
Mr. Schwammenthal edits the State of the Union column.