Jewish groups ready to 'fight the good fight' in Geneva

Advocacy groups were unprepared for the attacks on Israel last time, but say they have learned their lesson.

gerald steinberg 88 (photo credit: )
gerald steinberg 88
(photo credit: )
Jewish groups have implemented the lessons learned from the first Durban anti-racism conference and are gearing up for next week's "Durban Review" in Geneva with extra vigor, according to various NGO leaders, some of whom are already in Europe, making the final preparations for massive counter-protests. "A lot of lessons have been learned since [the first Durban conference in] 2001," said NGO Monitor's director, Professor Gerald Steinberg, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post by telephone from Geneva. "A lot of people, and Jewish groups in particular, were not prepared for the attacks against Israel that took place there, especially by the [anti-Israel] NGOs. Now there's a much larger group coming in, and they're much more prepared. We're ready to fight the good fight." Israel and the US walked out of the 2001 conference in Durban, South Africa to protest its virulent anti-Semitic atmosphere. Next week's conference in Geneva, scheduled to start on April 20th, is expected by many Jewish and non-Jewish groups alike to be more of the same - a forum in which countries hostile to Israel gather to single out and vilify the Jewish state. The main difference this time, according to Prof. Steinberg, is the amount of planning and coordination Jewish and pro-Israel NGOs have done to make sure Durban II is not a repeat of its predecessor. "I see this week as an opportunity for historic statements," he said. "The image that's going to be seen is one of a very active Jewish and pro-Israel community, which wasn't seen during Durban I. Hopefully, we'll be able to roll back the way in which human rights were used there as a weapon against Israel, much like the UN declaration of 'Zionism is Racism,' which was passed in 1975, was repealed in 1991." Steinberg also said there were a few main areas in which a Jewish presence would be significantly noticeable. "Our presence is going to be felt in three specific places," Steinberg said. "The first will be on the streets, where the NGOs hostile to Israel will be marching. Our groups will be out there as well, with counter-banners, and we're going to be extremely vocal, particularly if [Iranian president and Holocaust denier Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad arrives." The second place, Steinberg said, would be during a conference on Human Rights held outside the Durban Review conference. "It's going to be very visible, and it's not just Jewish groups that will be taking part," Steinberg said. "The message there will be one of universal human rights - that these issues don't only pertain to the Middle East, but say, [to] the caste system in India. The message there is going to be, if you really want to deal with human rights, you can't ignore these issues." Additionally, Steinberg said there would be a large vigil held on Holocaust Remembrance Day, during which Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, among others, was expected to speak. "Another point is that although there are a lot of different groups coming with different tactics, we have a unified message," Steinberg continued. "That message is that human rights should no longer be exploited as part of the war against Israel. They should be universal and based on the frameworks set up after the Holocaust. The US and Israel have been far more vocal about this, whereas the European countries have been far too quiet." Peleg Reshef, who led a delegation of World United Jewish Students (WUJS) to Durban I, echoed Steinberg's statements, telling the Post: "We're much more prepared this time around, and we've coordinated a lot more in advance." Reshef, who is now working with a delegation of young professionals representing the World Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps, said he saw his group as a kind of "elite force" on the ground in Geneva. "These are highly trained, extremely intelligent young men and women who have been in Geneva for some time already," Reshef said. "They've been at the prep conferences for Durban II and they know the texts, we know what to prepare for. This time around, we're well acquainted with the issues in advance and we know what to expect." "Furthermore," Reshef continued, "We're not just defending Israel, but human rights [as] a whole. Our message is that human rights should be upheld around the world, and [that] the violations and atrocities that are committed should not go unnoticed. That's why it's resonating with non-Jewish groups as well. We're saying this doesn't have to do with just the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but of course, we'll be there to defend against the lies that will undoubtedly be perpetrated against Israel as well."