Jewish students prepare to defend Israel at Durban II

Though Livni has announced boycott of conference, Israel is hard at work assisting its defenders who plan to attend.

Though Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has formally announced a boycott of the April 2009 Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Israel is hard at work assisting its defenders who plan to attend. On Monday, the World Union of Jewish Students formed a special task force of 60 students from around the world who will travel to Geneva for the conference to participate in the NGO summit expected to take place there and, if necessary, to defend Israel from expected attacks from anti-Israel groups. The 2001 World Conference against Racism that took place in Durban, South Africa, saw virulent anti-Israel rhetoric and demonstrations, both inside and outside the various summit meetings, particularly in the NGO conference that took place alongside the diplomatic one. Israel's declared boycott applies to the summit of states in Geneva. The as-yet unconfirmed NGO summit, in which WUJS participants will take part, is a parallel arena that Israeli officials do not want to abandon to the country's detractors. "We plan to participate inside the conference to try to influence the draft [declarations] being created," said Tamar Shchory, chair of WUJS. "Our message: The conference is also on important issues such as human rights and xenophobia. It should be dealing seriously with these issues and not be 80 percent obsessed with Israel," she said. If the NGO summit turns ugly, she added, "then we have an advantage as students - we can be less formal about the process. The street will become an important center of activity." The WUJS activists spent Monday in a seminar at the Foreign Ministry, to prepare for dealing with the challenges posed by Durban II, as the review conference is known. While Israel is urging other states to boycott the official review conference, which will be a summit of diplomats, it is withholding judgment on the NGO conference. The NGO element will only be formally announced in January, and many Jewish NGOs are planning dramatic events in support of Israel, whether or not Israeli diplomats want them there. "The Foreign Ministry is not asking [Jewish and pro-Israel] NGOs not to go," said a senior ministry official. "We don't yet know what the conference will look like. We're not sure what organizations will be there, or the size and importance of the conference." According to the official, the NGO summit is a key part of Durban II's potential for imploding into an anti-Israel hatefest. "In 2001, it was the NGO summit that saw the catastrophic demonization of Israel. There are indications this conference is taking a similar direction, but the planning process is still under way." Of the ministry's training seminar for the WUJS student-advocates, the official remarked that it was in Israel's interest "that the NGOs that choose to go to Geneva are able to prevent or contest the demonization of Israel." The WUJS project is being funded partly by a European Jewish umbrella group and partly by the Israeli government. A majority of the funding comes from the European Jewish Fund, whose chairman Moshe Kantor has set his sights on the Durban Review Conference, while additional funding came from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, the World Zionist Organization, the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Agency.